This post is in response to an article on the Youth Climate Movement Blog “It’s Getting Hot in Here.” You can find the original post here.
I am here in Doha with Earth in Brackets a student group from College of the Atlantic who studies international environmental politics and diplomacy. I agree that the bureaucratic system and economic influences of COPs can be disheartening and seem ineffective but I did want to give some background about the process that seemed to be misrepresented in your post and also include some considerations.
The first is that you mention a deferment of Rio+20 issues to Doha. While both Rio+20 and Doha are part of the environmental regimes of the UN, they cover different subjects and have different mandates. Rio+20 is Convention on Sustainable Development (CSD) whereas the Doha talks are the 18th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These are related issues but are not the same and are addressed in different ways—because of this the unfinished agenda items of Rio+20 cannot be moved into the UNFCCC negotiations unless they are deemed unrelated to the mandate of CSD. Further, the CSD does not have any legally-binding standing, whereas the UNFCCC comes from a treaty that was ratified by all parties and therefore has legal standing.
You suggest that all the major decisions of the COP are decided in the intersessionals in Bonn and Bangkok. While the majority of the negotiating and getting down to work happens at these, decisions cannot be made. So, yes, this sounds like there is less of a chance to change policy but really all the final deal making occurs at the COPs when the parties must actually write decisions and negotiate. Really, Bonn and Bangkok provide essential ground work and preparedness for the delegates to make decisions and civil society has been present at these meetings, voicing their opinion.
Also COPs do not leave indigenous and youth groups out. Already the youth have given intervention speeches in every track and body that meets at the COP. There are many youth groups here participating in actions, working on policy, and learning about the UNFCCC process. Sure youth under the age of 18 aren’t allowed in, but this is true of all UN meetings. I am less familiar with indigenous groups because I am not part of one, but I have seen many indigenous groups and members. Of course we do not have final say on the decisions, but really this makes sense since the current political system of the world requires governments—and not individual citizens—to ratify treaties. I’m curious as to what alternate forum you would suggest for the entire world to discuss this problem? Don’t take this as a critique of your suggestion for more grassroots participation, I am in full support of that. However, I think it is still important to consider how effective alternatives would be. One model you could look at is the Civil Society Mechanism of the FAO’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS).
Finally, I would like to mention that there are some big stakes in Doha. As the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ends this December and the working group on Long-term Cooperative Action (working on an agreement that not only addresses emissions but also adaptation, finance, capacity building and technology transfer) closes, Parties are forming the a new track for an agreement in 2015 and Doha will decide what gets included in this new track. Stakes are high and we could see the end of any glimmer of equity and ambition coming from the Parties, but we also can help in the fight to make sure that the principles of the convention are remembered and direct the proceedings in a more equitable and ambitious direction. Because of this I don’t think we can write off the climate negotiations as farce and tragedy just yet.
Do I honestly believe that the outcomes of the UNFCCC will build a climate just world? No, they cannot fix the world by themselves and are an inherently broken system, but part of the fight is up to ourselves—the constituencies of the governments who represent us at these talks—to look at our own role within the inequity and injustices that developed nations are imposing upon developing nations. As students in developed nations we must demand that our countries aim for more ambitious and equitable outcomes and we must be willing to dramatically change our own lifestyles. The UNFCCC has had ambitious goals before—see the Bali Action Plan—now we must demand that our countries adhere to those agreements they have made before and we must work both in and outside the systems to ensure that this happens. If we leave the UNFCCC we are not fighting for ambition and equity and the voices calling for this in the conference center will become quieter and quieter, leading the world to a dangerous silence.