During my past efforts to decipher the UN climate negotiations on this blog, I’ve said once or twice that the most important thing about the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conferences, a.k.a. the COPs (Conference of the Parties), is not so much what they deliver – often very little – but rather the conversations they start, the incoherencies they lay bare, and the movements that emerge in their trail.
At the Regional Workshop organized by CliMates in Bogotá, Colombia last week, I had the chance to observe it for myself. CliMates, an international, student-led think-and-do-tank dedicated to the elaboration and implementation of innovative solutions to climate change, had put together this conference in an effort to gather young climate leaders from the LAC region, so that they could share skills, exchange climate knowledge, and elaborate together a strategy for Latin American youth involvement and influence in 2014.
Indeed, after the upcoming COP hosted by Poland – a controversial COP Presidency choice, which I’ve analyzed here and there, the 20th round of climate negotiations (COP20) will be hosted by Peru in December of 2014. Venezuela, which has also signaled its interest in organizing the conference, will be in charge of the “pre-COP” – which will likely be a hybrid of a high-level political summit to prepare the conference agenda, and a global civil society gathering akin to the “World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth” organized in Bolivia in 2010 in response to the perceived failure of the Copenhagen climate talks (COP15) in 2009.
As a result, 2014 is expected to be a key year for climate action in the Latin America & Caribbean (LAC) region, with some predicting that COP20 will be, in many ways, a “Latin American COP”. Why this particular conference? Because, unlike Mexico, South Africa or Qatar (the three COP hosts before Poland), Peru is a country that looks very much like most of its regional peers: medium-sized (30 million inhabitants), multiethnic, facing drug and organized crime issues, with a booming upper middle income economy that remains crippled by enduring inequalities. In this way, it reflects quite well the challenges and opportunities of the LAC region. With Peru as COP host, the entire LAC community will be expected to demonstrate regional unity and global leadership on climate change in 2014.
Another factor contributing to the importance of the Lima climate talks is that UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres – herself a Costa Rica citizen and firm believer in the role of her home continent as a positive force for climate action – has repeatedly said that COP20 will probably be ‘make or break’ for a global climate deal. In Lima, negotiators will develop a draft agreement, aiming to refine as many details as possible and set the stage for a successful outcome at COP21 in Paris in 2015 (the deadline for a global deal). The experience of Copenhagen, where heads of state drafted a 200-page document before scrapping it and redacting a last-minute, 3-page “accord” from scratch, is still vivid in everyone’s mind. This makes COP20 a much more important conference than many might assume – fortunately, the Peruvian government seems to be aware of the pressure resting on its shoulders.
Now, how can young climate activists find their place in this grand order of things? Here again, the wounds from Copenhagen are still fresh. Young people started getting organized in climate negotiations during COP13 in Montreal (2005), where the first “Conference of Youth” (COY) was held. The COY is now an annual event held before each COP, used to connect, learn, and elaborate strategies leading up to the “grown-up” conference. Through YOUNGO (read: YOUth NGOs), young people earned official constituency status at the UNFCCC in late 2009, joining indigenous communities, women, trade unions, and environmental NGOs. As a result, they can now provide input and make statements during plenaries.
Since the traumatizing failure of Copenhagen, my generation has questioned its involvement in the UN process, pondering whether it should stay deeply involved, adopt a balanced strategy, or turn its back on the negotiations altogether and build a global climate movement from the ground up. These questions were, of course, very present during the CliMates’ Regional Workshop. The intent had precisely been to gather a diverse group of young climate leaders from across the LAC region, some of whom already had three or four COPs under their belt, others who had barely heard about it before, and a significant minority who openly distrusted the process.
For a full week (see the program here, and summary videos here), young participants shared skills and knowledge useful to climate action in Latin America, on a wide range of themes: from using social entrepreneurship as a powerful tool against climate change, to helping poor communities take local adaptation measures, and investigating the complicated relationship between water supplies and climate change in the LAC region. The group also used well-known community-organizing tools including power-mapping, SWOT analysis, and spectrum of allies to forge a common understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of Latin American youth climate groups, of the actors they could collaborate with and those they should be wary of, and finally of the strategic path to Lima and beyond.
Not only did participants make the best out of this mutual learning and teaching opportunity: they also decided to make up for one of the things they lacked. In contrast to their European, African and Arab counterparts, LAC youth have not had a regional umbrella organization gathering national and local youth climate groups, providing a space for collaboration and capacity-building, or opening the doors to more effective communication and stronger advocacy. Through ¡Clic!, the youth climate movement of Latin America and Caribbean that was created at the CliMates Bogotá Regional Workshop, LAC youth will now be able to enrich and replicate what they already do so well: Ecuadorians cruising the region by bike to investigate local populations’ attitudes towards climate change; Brazilians coming up with creative actions to “sexify” climate issues and “take them out of the closet”; Colombians planting the seeds of eco-innovation in the hope of harvesting a new generation of climate-friendly entrepreneurs. These young and bright climate leaders are now ready to blow a breeze of fresh air across the LAC region – expect them!