While some delegates in Durban work to negotiate a future climate regime, others here are fighting for their lives. Their struggle was highlighted yesterday, when COP17 celebrated Youth and Future Generations Day, and today during a “Survival Rally” outside of the ICC hosted by the Ambassadors from AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States.Youth are here at the UN climate talks to fight for their future. We are the primary stakeholders of these talks, the ones who will suffer if negotiators are unable to come up with a comprehensive plan to fight climate change, and we are here to tell our negotiators that we can no longer afford inaction.
Mokgadi Seemola, 16-year old South African youth from Limpopo, brought a powerful message to UNFCCC head Christiana Figueres yesterday when she said “because of some of the wrong decisions some negotiators have made, my dream is shattered.”
Similarly, small island states like the Maldives and Tuvalo, which will be completely submerged by rising ocean tides by the end of the century, bring a sense of extreme urgency. At the rally this afternoon, Ambassadors from Grenada, Seychelles, and Nauru AOSIS spoke out about taking bold and immediate action to reduce emissions. Ambassador Marlene Moses of Nauru said, “I don’t have to tell you how high the stakes are for the people Ambassador Williams and I represent. Nor do I have to relate that there is a strong push from the usual suspects to further delay action, which, if successful, would all but spell the end for many countries in my region.”AOSIS is pressing for a Durban outcome that includes a mandate to negotiate a new, legally binding treaty regime, and introduced a draft text to that effect yesterday.
Sadly, these perspectives stand in stark contrast to the ongoing negotiations. The US in particular seems to lack a grasp of the urgency of the climate problem, and is suggesting a 2020 time frame for a new treaty. At a press conference this afternoon, head of the US delegation Jonathan Pershing ducked questions about increasing ambition on emissions targets, saying “from the US perspective, commitments in Cancun take us through 2020. We don’t think additional pledges are likely, although we’d welcome additional parties.” In an off-the-record briefing for environmental NGOs, US officials were more candid about the political constraints that they face at home, which could keep the US from implementing imprudent promises that it makes here.
“You are our conscience, and we will be your voice inside those halls,” said Ambassador Williams at the Survival Rally today. As negotiators pore over technical documents and frantically prepare for the arrival of high-level ministers next week, it will be easy for them to lose sight of the ambitious outcome that we need in favor of one that seems adequate. In turn, we must continue to bring into these halls the message that climate change isn’t a minor issue. For hundreds of millions of people, it will mean life or death.