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Countries from around the world come together annually to discuss one of the most pressing issues of our time: climate change. This year, the United Nations Climate Change Conference—where all the details of the Kyoto Protocol are hashed out—is in Nairobi, Kenya. This is my second time attending a UN climate conference, but my first time experiencing such a deep sense of frustration. From dawn to dusk each day it seems we aren’t getting anywhere; when we go home at night, driving past the slums of the city and hearing stories of drought from farmers directly affected by climate change, I wonder if the connection between the hardships of developing countries and the luxuries of the industrialized countries will be made with the urgency required.

It is 10:02 PM and my feet are up in the library in the basement of the United Nations complex. I sit with a laptop warming my thighs, and five more busy bodies typing away on laptops around me. A beer lingers nearby and cell-phones work away their batteries. Eyes droop and ties loosen, but the work doesn’t stop. We are developing press releases. We are talking about lobbying. We are planning our strategy. We are detailing a day that is a step towards our future.

We are stuck in a space where we work ourselves to the edge because we don’t want the rest of the world to be pushed over the edge. As we reach the "high-level" segment of the conference—when the discussion ends, and the decisions begin—every country is moving forward more slowly than a slug stuck in Alberta’s tar sands. The negotiations have stalled. This is not something new, but is increasingly frustrating as climate change grows more serious by the day. The worst part is that half the countries are saying the same things, and aiming for the same goals, but are using different vocabulary.

The majority of the negotiators at the UN are bureaucrats—i.e. people who work within the government, sent by politicians, to work out an agreement with other bureaucrats. The politicians send off their representatives with a position, and are instructed to defend it to the end. There is little room for compromise. So why am I here? What’s the point if the process is so apt to stalling and so stuck in the grasps of bureaucracy?

I am here, with 20 other self-fundraised Canadian youth, to jump into this process. Believe it or not, we go to these conferences to integrate into this mess, with a goal to unravel the knots. The beauty of the youth movement is that we see these issues with a sense of simplicity. We break down the policy and see it for what it is—a tool to leverage concrete action that will actually change the situation we are in.

The Ministers of the Environment arrived with four days of negotiations to go. I have met with our Environment Minister Rona Ambrose three days in a row, including 45 minutes of hard-nosed questioning, 15 minutes of planning student engagement in government decisions on climate change, and two hours of hors d’oeuvres, wine and dancing at the Canadian Ambassador’s house. In 72 hours she has moved from saying, "Our Kyoto commitments are impossible" to "Our views have evolved so that our domestic policies can parallel that of Kyoto. We didn’t have the knowledge of Kyoto before that we do now." Is it progress? Or is it rhetoric?

It is evident that public opinion and concern for the environment are finally getting through to the Canadian Government. The rhetoric has improved, but the fact remains that all actions taken to date have dropped Canada behind the rest of the world. We are the only Kyoto country publicly stating that we will miss our targets.

As the discussions draw to a close, I feel bewildered, slightly disappointed, and a little confused. How could last year’s conference have been so progressive and this year’s so uneventful? Welcome to international politics, Zoë.

Here is what has happened in the last two weeks:

• Developed countries with targets under the Kyoto Protocol agreed on a work plan to set targets for greenhouse gas reductions beyond 2012.
• The Kyoto Protocol was reviewed, and will be reviewed a little more at next year’s conference (i.e. what is working, what isn’t).
• Countries agreed to work on making it easier for developing nations to join Kyoto by possibly starting with voluntary rather than mandatory commitments. (This is a sticky issue because it lowers accountability, but at the same time allows more countries to be part of the work.)
• Details of the Adaptation Fund (cash for projects in developing countries that will help pay for damages caused by climate change) were agreed upon.
• The issue of deforestation (which is over 20 percent of the climate problem) was bumped to a workshop in the spring.
• Developed countries refused to give funds to developing countries for new sustainable technologies.

The ongoing and overarching goal is to get countries to agree to a package deal (a "mandate") that would take the outcomes of all of the above decisions, and set a strict timeline of one year—two at the most—to finish these specific talks. This agreement needs to happen to ensure there are continual and deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

We had 12 days. We had 12 days to influence one of the most important sets of negotiations in the entire world. You get sucked into the nitty gritty by at least Day Five, and are almost delirious by Day 10. But even the nitty gritty needs to be taken in moderation. Those lobbyists and leaders in the climate movement that can balance the details with the bigger picture are admirable. It’s just as any other process in life: you must have faith that some systems are actually functional and are helping you achieve your goal. You also need to recognize that you are only in the world once.

Tangled in all these late nights and strategizing is a beautiful sense of belonging. There is an incredible building of friendship. There is a strong sense of community. We take the time to dance. We take the time to learn. We are teaching each other and meeting new people and setting a foundation for our future, whatever it might look like. We are also being hit with cultural differences and social divides—and at the same time, finding beautiful and comforting similarities between people.

Bureaucrats or politicians, industry or non-governmental organizations, young students or seasoned lobbyists, we're all in this together. As President Bill Clinton said at last year’s conference in Montreal, "If we all work together on this, it’s hard to see how we can fail. And if we don’t, it’s hard to see how we can succeed."

From the nitty gritty to broader horizons, it’s up to us. Period.

www.cydnairobi.ca

Originally posted to zcaron on Mon Dec 11, 2006 at 10:25 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Outstanding diary ... (5+ / 0-)

    ... I hope you blog much much more on this!

    You say:

    • Developed countries refused to give funds to developing countries for new sustainable technologies.

    I find it inconceivable that this could be the case -- could you give some reasons as to why developed countries would refuse to give funds for something so important?  Yes, it is no doubt bureaucratic decisionmaking, but do you know their rationale?

    Highly recommended.

    •  Definitely...keep posting. (5+ / 0-)

      recommended.

      The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it -- GB Shaw

      by kmiddle on Mon Dec 11, 2006 at 11:33:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Re: Dev'd country funds to dev'g countries (5+ / 0-)

      Good question - Thanks!!

      Allow me to clarify...

      This is specificallly with reference to discussins within the subject of Technology Transfer; essentially developing countries wanted to change the way technology transfer is handled in order to secure more money- but developed countries didn't budge.

      A decision was deferred to next May's mid-year meeting to see if at least a draft decision could go to the conference next year. This is a critiical issue for developing countries and whatever the final mandate is that's agreed on in the next year or two.

      In other areas of aid, not specifically related to transfering technology, there has been a fabulous response from developed countries to helping developed countries - so this one mis-hap is not meant to be misleading!!

      A positive press release from the UN on climate aid from developed to developing countries to adapt to climate effects can be read here in the News section.

      •  Could you perhaps ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        parryander, Thursday Next

        ... give me a little more explanation on what "technology transfer" means in this context?  I'm not sure I understand; this is a subject I'm not well versed upon, which is why I appreciate this diary so much.

        •  Technology transfer, neocolonialism, and policy (9+ / 0-)

          I don't know the context of "technology transfer" in terms of the UNCC conference, but I'm going to guess based on what I do know.

          Bottom line: developing countries don't want to stay poor. What's more, from their perspective climate change is a problem because the developed countries have used up the planet's capacity for buffering carbon by burning lots of fossil fuels. Therefore, we should be taking the lead to fix the problem.

          If the developing countries all try to get to a modern society the way we did, using the technology we used to get there, we are all dead. All of us. If developed countries decided to keep everybody else in poverty so that they could continue their extravagant lifestyle, the world fifty years out would have a couple of billion angry people with nothing, and with nothing to lose, and we are all dead. All of us.

          The only graceful way out of this problem is to make it easy for those developing countries to leapfrog the planet-wrecking indutrial phase that the US and Europe and Japan went through, and move directly to a post-industrial infrastructure with a lighter carbon footprint. To do that, those countries need money and access to all of that cool post-industrial technology.

          Developed countries rarely spend much money on helping out anybody else, and we're talking a lot of money here, so there's already a problem.

          But the big conceptual issue that most developed countries can't seem to get past is that it also means giving away the intellectual property embodied in the technology and the infrastructure it takes to make it. It seems nutty, but the recent fight over global access to HIV medications, and the lack of interest by most developed nations about debilitating diseases like malaria (development economist Jeffrey Sachs says that malaria alone is a 1%-2% drag on GDP in the countries where it is endemic) reflects the same dysfunctional relationship between technology, intellectual property, and the common good.

          The unwillingness of developed nations so far to make the investment in bringing the rest of the world into the post-carbon era is probably the single biggest problem we face in making this all work. It's fixable. But it's going to be a big job, and it's time to get started.

          •  Thank you ... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            FrankFrink

            ... for that utterly outstanding comment, a diary in itself!  It truly is something I had not understood before until you put it this way.

          •  Tech Transfer (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            FrankFrink

            That is essentially the background of what Tech. Transfer means within UN climate talks - thanks converger!

            It's using the wealth of developed countries to help developing countries "leap-frog" over our technological problems, justified by the fact that it is our technological choices that have caused the situation we are now in - so, at the very least, we "owe them one".

          •  Is there any structure for private funding? (0+ / 0-)

            What smaller-scope projects could possibly be funded with a citizen action drive?

            "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

            by Odysseus on Tue Dec 12, 2006 at 02:25:13 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Yes, It is up to you, (5+ / 0-)

    Your life man depend on it.  It is not that we arn't working, because we are, but you will have to live with it.  Good Job.

  •  Zoe, please post a 'tip jar' (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Thursday Next, paul2port

    as diaries can not be rated (although we can recommend). But it will give you a sense of how the membership responds to your post.

    As per dkospedia.per dkospedia

    The Grasshopper Lies Heavy

    by FrankFrink on Mon Dec 11, 2006 at 11:43:52 AM PST

  •  Great diary! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FrankFrink

    I hope you were actually making progress with Rona Ambrose rather than being on the receiving end of her rhetoric.

    I would like to hear that the developed countries, especially my own Canada, really get this, perceive the risk of global warming and the urgency to do something about it.

    The Next Agenda a dkos-style blog for Canadian politics

    by Thursday Next on Mon Dec 11, 2006 at 04:28:34 PM PST

    •  The thing about Rona Ambrose... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      parryander, FrankFrink, JML9999

      ... is that it seems she is doing specifically what she is being told to do.

      Our first meeting was specifically focused on greenhouse gas reduction targets, Canada's position (or lack there of) and timelines for these reductions. Although not much moved on the government's end within the 45 minutes, we made our points very clear.

      I think that the Canadian Youth Delegation was being as progressive as possible at this conference - We were the only Canadian group who had one, let alone three, chances to meet with Minister Ambrose.

      I felt that our approach was constructive - especially as we are still in regular communication. And I do think that PM Harper is having to seriously rethink his course of action as more pressure is being put on issues such as climate change.

      The lobbying efforts at this conference were just one of many in the road of relationship building that is really necessary for any two people or groups to work effectively together.

      I don't think our (Canada's) government really gets it yet. I feel as though it really depends on public pressure to influence where the political weight is placed - We all have a part to play. Including Rona Ambrose.

      •  Did you get any more info (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FrankFrink

        on the proposed (no more) Clean Air act?

        I think it's fantastic that you were able to attend a conference like this, get involved and hopefully make a huge difference to so many of us!

        Oh, I have such high hopes for Dion when it comes to Canada's position on the environment... and no faith in Ambrose or Harper. I'll be quite interested to see who Dion picks for the environment portfolio in his shadow cabinet.

        Canadians: We love our pot so much that when we run out, we send the army to find more!

        by KiaRioGrl79 on Tue Dec 12, 2006 at 04:52:55 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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