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Friday, December 11, 2009

COP15 Friday- Youth voices, US leadership, exhaustion and excitement

Guest post by Garett Brennan, Executive Director- Focus the Nation

Hey folks, I wanted to share how things are going over here from our perspective at the COP15 climate negotiations in Copenhagen. On the day I arrived, I found it very reassuring that back at home, our country’s longest serving Senator, Robert Byrd from West Virginia, posted a piece denouncing mountain top removal and honestly acknowledging the need to phase out coal.

We’ve been here for a week now and it’s some sort of wild combination that energizes and exhausts you all at the same time. Just to set the stage a little first, the weather is gray, cold and rainy—a lot like our headquarters in sunny Portland. Throughout the city, the street corners are filled with photo exhibits and banners and almost everyone I meet thanks me for “fighting for the climate.” Inside the Bella Center, it’s crazy and almost impossible to follow everything that’s happening. Our awesome Focus Organizer from Missouri, Lindsey Berger, has been helping the core Rapid Response strategy team so we can let all of you know how you can help from home.

Yesterday we had more than 1000 young people in orange T-shirts that say “How old will you be in 2050?” and we’ve also handed out 1000 orange scarf’s to the “older” delegates that say “survival is not negotiable.” It has created an awesome visual solidarity between generations and cultures throughout the entire Bella Center. I also thought you’d like to know that there about 500 young people here from the US Youth movement. Our presence is large and involved. Last night, we organized a wonderful event with 50 American youth and 50 Chinese youth to talk about our shared future together.

On the larger US presence side of things, our administration is trying very hard to send a strong message to other countries here that they are serious about collaboration and striking a deal. When she was introduced by our “chief negotiator” Jonathan Pershing at the State Department daily briefing, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson received a standing ovation for her recent announcement that CO2 is an official threat to public health.

The message that the US is serious about striking a deal is also clear because of the “A Team” that Obama has sent here: EPA’s Lisa Jackson, Secretary Stephen Chu (energy), Secretary Ken Salazar (interior), Secretary Gary Locke (commerce), Secretary Tom Vilsack (ag), as well as Nancy Sutley and Carol Browner. The presence of these US leaders has been positive, however, countries are still frustrated and concerned that in spite of how engaged the US is, what we’re putting on the table still isn’t bold enough to get the world to 350ppm and avoid a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This leads us to the “negotiations” side of things. There is still deep tension among developing and developed countries. Here is a great post by one of our 2008 Focus Roots Fellows, Richard Graves, from Fired Up Media (his Roots project still in action!) that helps explain it. For those of you unfamiliar with the basic frame of what’s going on here, the negotiations are organized into two parallel tracks—two negotiations going on at the same time: The Kyoto Protocol (KP) and Long Term Collaborative Action (LCA).

The US is in the LCA track and NOT in the KP track since we never signed the Kyoto Protocol. There is an issue going on as to whether it is better to amend the Kyoto Protocol and extend the commitments of the industrial nations to reduce their emissions to a second time period beyond the current period that ends in 2012, or to negotiate a whole new treaty along the lines of what the LCA is working on. Many nations fear this will end the Kyoto Protocol and not produce anything else that becomes legally binding. Contrary to what many people think, the Kyoto Protocol (the legally binding agreement among nations who signed it) DOES NOT end in 2012. It is just the end of the first period of legally binding emissions reductions targets that were agreed upon by industrialized nations. The KP track is working on what the second period should look like. And where it gets tricky, is making sure that targets that countries are committing to in both tracks are consistent with each other.

Here’s an excellent update from yesterday’s negotiations about the Tuvalu situation. Tuvalu is small island country already experiencing climate change. Here is a recap from Anthony Baratta, a student from DePauw University:

“Today the CMP—the upper level Kyoto Protocol meeting—convened negotiations at the Bella Center following yesterday’s hectic end to negotiations. Today’s talks had a similar theme to Wednesday. The small island state of Tuvalu proposed discussing an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol that could require larger developing countries like China and India to reduce emissions. Many African countries and Brazil led the charge against the amendment, claiming the Kyoto Protocol must be preserved. Tuvalu countered they were not harming the Kyoto Protocol, simply ensuring the longevity of it. Despite a twenty-five minute break where the President of the CMP tried to resolve the disagreement, the group suspended consideration of the amendment. Over one hundred hungry delegates filed out for lunch around 12:45.

Later in the day, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), including Tuvalu, stated they would not accept an agreement that allowed the global average temperature to rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Delegates wore pins that said “1.5 to Stay Alive.”

Anthony first got involved in the Climate Movement after he participated in Focus the Nation’s first Civic Engagement campaign (the January 2008 Teach-in). He and two others students are blogging the negotiations at

For more information, check out today’s coverage by the Guardian.

For everyone at home—and particularly all of our awesome Focus Organizers and volunteers who have been mobilizing their communities with Clean Energy Forums in the build up to Copenhagen, I want clearly express the importance of your work this fall, and how even more important it will be when we all come home from this crazy conference. ALL EYES ARE ON THE UNITED STATES—which means all eyes are indirectly on you and I, everyday US citizens who need to hold our leaders accountable—and not for the sake of our own communities.

Your ability to activate others your age and build partnerships with those who are older than you is sending a VERY strong message to Obama’s administration and our Senate champions who are chomping at the bit to pass a climate bill. Lisa Jackson’s office has already reached out to me about how they can collaborate with us after Copenhagen. Today, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke has asked me to set up a meeting between 5 Chinese youth and 5 American youth to get their perspective on international, clean energy commerce.

Another thing I’d like to share with you is how your organizing at home is sending an even stronger message to our youth counterparts who are here from all over the world. Every day youth activists from other countries are coming up to me and asking if the young people at home have what it takes to keep the pressure on—they are fully aware of how important our US youth movement is in how their lives and home countries will look in 2050.

I will continue to send updates on how things are shaping up, changing and evolving. And I will ask one thing of you right now. In the next few days, please reach out to someone in your hometown and simply ask them if they know about these negotiations and why they are important. We need Americans to understand the work being done here and why it’s important. Because when we come home, the success of all these talks will be entirely dependent on America’s ability make up for lost time. And that will mean direct engagement this spring with the US Senate, EPA administration officials and state political party directors this March. No need to report back on those conversations, just simply reach out to people in your family and social circles. Get a sense of their awareness.

Before I split and run around the Bella Center, I wanted to share a few video links for fun:

1. US Youth demonstrating outside entrance. “Don’t leave young people out in the cold.”

2. A video of me pretending to be a climate skeptic in the Americans for Prosperity live web cast the other night (notice how I tried to comb my hair!). This is an interview with Lord Monckton (former advisory to Margaret Thatcher) about comparing his AIDS solution in the 1980s (quarantining everyone) to the threat of Climate Change.

3. International Youth Press Conference

A great way to keep up to speed with the International Youth Delegation here is to follow

See you all soon,

PS – I am not a fan of pickled herring. And I wish I had brought my skateboard.

[Photos courtesy of and Cascade Climate Network]

1 comment:

Jesse Jenkins said...

"PS – I am not a fan of pickled herring. And I wish I had brought my skateboard."

Best ending to a post ever?

Thanks for the update from 'on the ground' in Copenhagen Garett.