This is Oliver, a SustainUS delegate from the United Kingdom. Durban is my first Conference of Parties (COP)– I got involved with SustainUS this year while working in New York, where I recently completed my Master’s degree. As an international member of the delegation, it has been great working with young people from the US who are also passionate about stopping climate change.
I arrived in Durban on Monday morning to join up with the rest of the delegation, just in time for the start of the conference. I spent two days travelling from the US via New York, Amsterdam, and Johannesburg, so I’m still recovering from the jet lag! It’s been exciting to explore the conference centre and meet the other youth delegations – there’s a lot happening every day, so I will try to describe some of the cool things going on so far…
A lot of people are not expecting Durban to deliver the kind of action needed to stop climate change. People are frustrated with the slow pace (or lack) of progress in climate change negotiations. In October, Mohamed Nasheed, the President of the Maldives, went as far as to call UN climate change talks ‘stupid, useless and endless’!
So, why are we here? SustainUS delegates, along with other international youth delegations, are part of YOUNGO, which represents youth in the UNFCCC process and stands for “Youth Non-Governmental Organizations.” We are determined that young people can positively affect the outcomes of these conferences through cooperation and collaboration. For example, US youth have worked with youth delegations from China since 2009. Last year in Cancun, we brought US and Chinese negotiators together at a joint press conference, and this year are partnering again to organise a workshop and press briefing.
Katherine and Louise wrote about the inspiring efforts of the Africa Youth Caravan that travelled from Burundi to South Africa. In Australia meanwhile, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition brings together more than 70,000 youth from across the country, and has played a major role in passing a new law on carbon taxes. The UK Youth Climate Coalition (including my younger brother!) represents young people in my home country. In total there are more than 350 youth from around 50 countries attending the COP.
Here in Durban, we’re working alongside these youth to draw attention to some of the most important climate issues facing the world today. One example is water: climate change will mean that many local communities around the world lose access to our most important natural resource. Adam and Jon, two of our delegation members, are working hard to draw attention to this issue.
Other delegation members are also making a splash at the conference. On the opening day of the conference, Abigail Borah, a native of Vermont and a second-year SustainUS delegate, delivered a speech on behalf of international youth to a scientific advisory body to the convention. Congratulations Abigail!
US youth have been encouraged by the support of the US negotiating team. On Tuesday evening delegation members met with Jonathan Pershing, the US Deputy Special Envoy on Climate Change. Dr. Pershing talked about the key issues facing government negotiators at the conference, and said that youth engagement at conferences, with negotiators, policy-makers, at home, in schools, and with their communities is critical for ensuring that our generation takes effective action to prevent climate change. Dr. Pershing left us with some inspirational thoughts: he told us that our voices are being heard. “I need you guys to be the next generation to figure out the solutions.” That’s exactly what we’re doing here in Durban.