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Monday, March 2, 2015
- Beatrice Yeung, a youth delegate at the United Nations climate talks, travelled all the way from Hong Kong to Doha, Qatar to bring her generation’s message that “we will live in the world you are creating for us.”
But Yeung is not allowed inside. We met in a hallway outside the “security zone” at the Qatari National Conference Center (QNCC), where this reporter was ordered by U.N. police not to take any photographs.
For no obvious reason, security at the meeting known as COP 18 is very strict. Worse, the much smaller than usual contingent of participants from civil society is under a number of restrictions. No posters. No flyers. No demonstrations except in designated locations well away from the negotiations. When allowed to speak at official sessions, civil society organisations’ (CSO) speaking time has been cut in half to a single minute.
“I’m very frustrated and disillusioned,” Yeung told IPS. “I was at COP 15 in Copenhagen at the Children’s Climate Forum and was really moved by what I heard from children in the developing world who were living with climate change.”
She is one month shy of being 18 years old and that is the reason why she is barred from entry. “It was a complete surprise to me there is a ‘no minors’ rule,” Yeung said.
Yeung was an active participant at the much bigger U.N. Rio+20 conference last June. She was part of a student delegation called Students on Ice who are concerned about the Earth’s Polar Regions. They wrote a peer-reviewed position paper, held an official side event, and prepared a one-page summary of policy suggestions.
“In Rio, I was able to talk directly with country delegates,” Yeung said.
Some delegates in Rio welcomed youth involvement and the opportunity to meet knowledgeable and engaged young people, she said.
“Civil society is increasingly seen as inconvenient and is being phased out of this process,” said Trudi Zundel, a Canadian student at the College of the Atlantic in the U.S. state of Maine.
“It’s hard enough to participate here without an official role. Now civil society, along with the media, are shunted off into the furthest corners of this giant building,” Zundel told IPS.
The 1.4-billion-dollar Qatari National Conference Center spans 40,000 square metres (10 acres) on three levels with 57 meeting rooms, three auditoriums, a 2,300-seat theatre and more.
Zundel was initially barred from entry to COP 18 because she had participated in an “unsanctioned protest” on the final day of the previous conference of parties in Durban last year and was ejected. Despite signing a declaration promising not to participate in anything similar in Doha, she was required to undergo a one-on-one interview with the head of U.N. security.
“I had to convince him that I wouldn’t do it again,” Zundel told IPS.
She succeeded, but her fellow College of the Atlantic student Anjali Appadurai did not. Appadurai, who is also Canadian, delivered the viral “Get it Done!” speech at the close of COP 17 in Durban, garnering media attention from Al Jazeera, The New York Times, The Guardian and Democracy Now!, among others.
Appadurai had also participated in the Durban “unsanctioned protest” but signed a declaration promising not to protest. After a week of appeals and a “twitter storm” by CSOs, she was re-admitted Monday.
“CSOs and youth are being pushed to the margins here,” Appadurai told IPS.
Appadurai is apparently being monitored, and was forced by the UNFCCC Secretariat to amend a tweet thanking people for their support.
“My tweet thanked people for lobbying the secretariat on my behalf. They did not like the suggestion lobbying helped me get re-admitted,” she said.
The UNFCCC is United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an environmental treaty created to deal with climate change. The UNFCCC secretariat organizes and runs the annual COPs along with the host country.
Intimidation and punishment, combined with black and white enforcement of the rules, has badly damaged the relationship between the Secretariat and CSOs, said Appadurai who has been a youth delegate at the two previous COPs.
“We represent the broader public,” she said. “Our input should be valued, but it’s not at this COP.”
Youth had an opportunity to express their concerns with Christina Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), last week. Yeung was allowed to enter for this special Youth meeting.
“Christina Figueres did not give a clear answer on why those under 18 were not allowed to participate here,” she said. “We are just trying to inject the voice of youth into this process.”
The COP meetings are still important, but Yeung said she’s learned the “hard lesson that world leaders will not lead on this issue. We must create the solutions ourselves.”
Jane Nurse, a German-Canadian student at the College of the Atlantic, also attended the meeting where Figueres suggested that youth “be more creative and use the power of social media.”
“I thought that was very condescending,” Nurse told IPS. “We need to be here to meet face-to-face with country delegates.”
Youth delegates also met with Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland and former U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
“She asked us why youth weren’t angry about lack of progress and urgency here,” Nurse said. “We are angry, but if we show it we’ll get kicked out.”
Despite being deeply disappointed by the lack of progress, youth want to attend COPs to try and have some influence because their future is being shaped here, she said.
Protests and personal interactions with country delegates are important to empower some delegates and shake up some others. Delegates are inside a COP cocoon, completely insulated from reality and removed from any sense of urgency. They get completely wrapped up in their political games, Nurse said.
“I’m going to keep working to try to access for this under age 18. Climate is an issue of intergenerational justice,” said Yeung, a Hong Kong high school student. “Youth see the urgency. Our leaders don’t.”