Youth claim their stake at COP17 climate talks

Youth delegations at the UN climate negotiations being held in Durban have called for a greater sense of urgency from countries agreeing a global treaty to slow climate change.

Kyle Gracey, coordinator for Youngo, the youth constituency in the negotiations, said the youth were disappointed by lack of action in the negotiation process. “We’re way behind where we need to be. Climate change is moving faster than the negotiations are and young people’s future and the health of future generations is at stake,” he said.

We caught up with Kumi Naidoo, executive director of one of the world’s most visible and vocal environmental NGOs, Greenpeace. He outlines what the organisation wants to see happen here at the negotiations in Durban.

On Thursday youth delegations made their presence felt at the UN climate negotiations in Durban by holding a series of discussions and protest actions.

The so-called “Youngos” group of youth activist groups with formal observer status at the negotiations called for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, for the negotiations to finalise all aspects of the Green Climate Fund, and for countries to put money into the fund.

Developed countries have pledged to populate the Green Climate Fund with $100-billion per year, to be used to help poor countries deal with the effects of climate change. Such a fund would go a long way to building disaster resilience in vulnerable countries, particularly in Africa where the effects of climate change will be worst felt.

Earlier this week, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa pointed out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that many African countries will begin to experience water scarcity by 2025. Rain-fed agriculture yield, which is predominant on the continent, is expected to halve by the end of the decade, bringing more food scarcity and famine.

Blocked negotiations
Non-government had hoped that the fund would be made operational by the end of the Durban negotiations, but in the past few days, countries including the United States and Saudi Arabia have effectively blocked negotiations by asking to revisit the draft documents that would set up the fund. This has given rise to fears that implementation of the fund will be put off for another year.

As part of the conference’s Intergenerational Inquiry, young activists held discussions with negotiators and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change members, as well as upbeat protest actions outside the exhibition centre. Canadian youth drew attention to their dissatisfaction with their country’s poor performance at the negotiations by holding a bake sale in aid of “buying back” their country’s climate policy.

Meanwhile, young African climate activists, many of whom are experiencing the effects of climate change first hand, spoke about their experiences and their efforts to raise awareness about the phenomenon in their countries.

Kenyan climate activist Winnie Asiti said the people in her town were experiencing the effects of water scarcity first hand. “My town, Kitale, used to produce enough maize to feed the whole country at one time. I never imagined there would come a time when all this would be gone, a time when my town would not be able to feed itself, let alone the whole country,” she said.

Her compatriot Beatrice Omweri, who lives in a middle-class suburb of Nairobi, was not immune to the effects of climate change either. She explained how water shortages had led to water rationing in the city, and how high food prices meant her family ate only once or twice a day.

Omweri called on negotiators to put aside their differences. “Climate change really affects us in Africa, so when you go there and try to negotiate, remember that people here are suffering,” said Omweri, adding “I hope COP17 will give me and other girls a renewed hope that life will be better here in Africa.”

Landry Ninteretse, a climate activist from Burundi, said that despite the difficulties in reaching an agreement at the climate negotiations, African youth still had faith in the process and would persist. “We know climate change is the greatest challenge we are going to face. We don’t know whether the legally binding treaty we’ve been advocating for is coming, but we’ve started a movement and it won’t stop,” he said.

For the latest COP17 news and special features view our special report.

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Faranaaz Parker
Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live.

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