Monday, 4 January 2010

here's to the future

Here's something that lifted me recently.

It's easy (and perhaps right) to be depressed by the lack of action at the Copenhagen talks and to feel despondent even when Obama himself clearly decided this wasn't the moment for boldness but rather for timidity and 'political reality' and put his domestic agenda of healthcare above and beyond the broader worldwide needs.

And the public and media (non)reaction to the failure of our leaders to commit to anything visionary or radical speaks as loudly to me as the failure of the conference itself (where it felt to me there was a lot of talk and very little dialogue.)

So when my stepfather sent me this letter from an 18 year old delegate to Copenhagen, I felt my heart lift a little.

Maybe there is enough hope and courage.

It's just not there in the current generation of leaders.

Here's the letter.


Amid the depression and chaos I’ve seen so many beautiful, inspiring things over the last 3 weeks.

I’ve seen 100,000 people of every age and nationality take to the streets to call for a safe climate.

I’ve seen 3 young people prove, as they finish their 46 day hunger fast, that achieving the ‘impossible’ is just a matter of having the courage to try and the will to keep trying.

I’ve seen young people take to the stage in the main negotiations to tell the world what this means to us.

I’ve helped to fill the greyness and endless corridors of the UN with colour and life and music.

I’ve had less sleep than I’ve ever had before and worked harder than I’ve ever done before. But I know so many people who’ve given even more than I have and have been doing this all year. Going back again and again to the UN, travelling overland for weeks, or having no money for months because they give all their time to this.

I’ve sat with a hall full of people as Obama announced the Copenhagen Accord. I’ve felt the sadness and the anger of that moment. Twenty mins later I was stood protesting with hundreds of young people outside the Conference Centre as the delegates filed out. It was 1 in the morning, freezing cold and snowing but no one even considered not going.

I’ve laughed so much. Cried too, but laughed more. I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had. I’ve met so many amazing people from around the world who are working so hard and giving so much to this struggle.

I’ve sat and chatted with young people from Kenya, China, India, Lebanon, Canada, the USA, Ghana, Malaysia…I could go on. And I know that despite all our differences, what unites is far stronger than what divides us.

I know that there are hundreds of thousands of people who came to Copenhagen and that every one of us has a lifetime worth of passion and energy to give to this movement.


I will be honest. This took me a long time to write. I almost didn’t want to tell anyone how disastrous the outcomes of these talks have been.

There are 3 main components for a strong global deal; it must be fair, ambitious and legally binding. Copenhagen has delivered none of these things.

The Copenhagen Accord is a joke. But somehow I couldn’t laugh, only cry.

The biggest problem is that it has no targets at all. Nothing. Although the text talks about less than 2 degrees of global warming it contains none of the targets necessary to achieve that. Countries just enter their own voluntary emissions reductions into a table in the appendix. 120 world leaders gather, and all we get is a global google doc. It’s ridiculous.

$100 billion is committed in long-term finance, meaning yearly from 2020 onwards. This is half of the amount required. It’s a start, but it includes private finance as well as public, which is about the largest loophole imaginable. To top it off, developing nations are only entitled to any of the funds if they sign onto the Accord. That’s effectively bribery on a global scale.

Unsurprisingly the Accord has been condemned by many nations who know it is nowhere near what is needed to ensure their survival. It has only been signed by 25 countries, including India, China, the USA and South Africa. Unable to achieve consensus the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has “noted” the Copenhagen Accord and eventually agreed on Saturday to continue as before with negotiations working on the same tracks; Kyoto and Long-term Co-operative Action (which includes everything from deforestation to adaptation).

So basically we haven’t moved forward and we have probably gone backwards. Before Copenhagen we had the Bali Action Plan, which was a political agreement that set out a time frame to achieve a legally binding deal. Obviously Copenhagen was the deadline and it wasn’t met. Now we have no time frame or action plan. Just empty words about the importance of a legally binding deal at some point.

But the story of Copenhagen is not just a story of failure.

There are 112 countries that have now stood up in support of 350ppm and a safe and stable climate. They represent the poorest and most vulnerable nations. It is their lives on the line, yet they are under huge pressure from rich nations to stay quiet. Not to make a fuss. To just die quietly.

They have been able to make a stand at Copenhagen because we in the global movement have stood with them. I have had delegates from many developing nations stop me just to say thank you. Thank you simply for being here to support them.

Speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, the lead delegate from Cape Verde told us they need the global climate movement to be their voice. That without us they will die in silence.

Courage is what we need now. It is hard to watch Copenhagen fail after so having put so much into trying to make it succeed. Courage is what will allow us to go on from here.

Copenhagen was never going to be the end of the movement. The work doesn’t end once we have a legally binding global deal. The real work then is making sure we meet the targets set and that nations deliver what they promise. As young people this is our future. We will find the courage to carry on. Kumi Naidoo, director of Greenpeace, told all of us at the Conference of Youth, “it’s not giving your life that matters, it’s giving the rest of your life.” I know I will, and I know I will not be alone. Over the last 2 weeks I have met thousands of young people from around the world who are ready to do the same.

What I will carry with me most strongly from this is that we shouldn’t look elsewhere for hope. So many hopes rested on Copenhagen and these talks, but our hope should rest with each other and what we can achieve together. Our hope should rest with the beautiful global climate movement we are building.

Here’s to the future.


Thanks Issy. Thanks for going. Thanks to you and your young colleagues for giving so much of your life so far.

And thanks for taking the time to write so eloquently.

Here's to the future indeed.

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