Youth is wasted on the young (?)

by Nathan Thanki

Let me preface everything that follows by saying that I honest to god appreciate the official Youth constituency (YOUNGO) just for existing.  I am so glad that these people (you!) are here. If nothing else we are all on the same side (yes, there are sides) and I recognize the need for a loud, unified voice. I like the set up a lot; the horizontal, decentralized organization of spokes council. I’m not sure I can speak to how close the reality is to the idea of that structure, but I have been noticing things which do concern me regarding the generalities of YOUNGO.

My main issue is that YOUNGO seems inherently conservative. A consensus approach inevitably yields this result I suppose, but it is frustrating nonetheless. In my view, the youth constituency is here on the inside to be a breath of fresh air. An antidote to the torpor, inertia and squabbling that plagues these stifling corridors. Instead, we suffer from many of the same ailments as the governments we criticize. There is an ambition gap, most clearly illustrated by the question: why are you here? If we are here to be a foot in the door for the rest of the world, for the front lines and the vulnerable, then we should act one way. If we are here only to network and ensure a career in international relations, then we should act another way. You see the difference in those ambitions? Sometimes it seems that youth are happy to just be on the inside, flattered and flattened into docility and harmlessness by the attention of powerful men and women like Christina Figueras. The insistence on being harmless, the insistence on adopting always a cautious approach, does not help if we are here to raise a voice for the voiceless. Harmlessness only helps if we are here to help ourselves. Our constituency status is not worth our tacit consent in continued unfairness of the world. It should not be enough that we are here. It should not be enough even that we are here and that we care. We have an opportunity, and therefore a responsibility, to shake things up.

This is not intended to be a swipe at the YOUNGO or anyone in it, and I hope anyone reading does not take it as such. Like I said, I love you, but, like Zizek said to the Occupiers, you must not fall in love with yourself. Leave the self-congratulating, ego-boosting nonsense to the ones who do it best – world leaders. Don’t become enamored with the process, don’t become enamored with yourself, don’t become enamored with whatever lick or taste of power you may get: remember why you are here.

This weekend the African ministers come to town. And next week the ‘high level’ segment of COP17 starts. Most of us won’t be in the rooms where the talks happen – regardless of whether or not we have a pink ‘Party’ badge. The real decisions are being made in the green room style. The real impacts, though, will be felt on the outside; by some of us, but mostly by those whose voice we purport to carry into this space. What would they say to delegates and ministers? Well, what have they said–in Zucotti, in Tahrir, in Syria and in Appalachia? Enough is enough is enough. They have said “we are tired of being fed empty promises. “We know our responsibilities, do you know yours?” Yes. Our responsibility is to carry the momentum of this year into the ICC compound. For governments, the responsibility is to serve their people. For all of us on the inside, I see that issue of responsibility as the most crucial element of this whole regime. It is in fact built into the Convention, in the principles of historical responsibility and common but differentiated responsibilities. No matter what happens, we must remain clear on that.

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