Written by Caroline Henderson, International Youth Correspondent of the SSC COP16 Delegation.
This year, the UN climate talks in Cancun felt markedly different than last year’s much-anticipated conference in Copenhagen. Since the last negotiations, a major shift has taken place in the youth climate movement.
Throughout 2010 our movement has experienced major growing pains and witnessed major failures on the part of our politicians. Last year’s Conference of Parties in Copenhagen ignored the cries to the millions of world citizens demanding a FAB, fair ambitious and binding treaty. Instead we got a ‘FLAB’ deal: full of loopholes and bull$**t. American youth saw their leaders dilute and ultimately dismiss the climate legislation we’d been calling for. This fall, dozens of climate deniers and Big Oil politicians were elected into office.
These experiences have produced a lot of despair and disillusionment within our generation around the current system; political obstacles feel insurmountable, the corrupt fossil fuel interests are too powerful, and any significant agreement on an international level just seems impossible.
But the vexing reality is that these challenges cannot be insurmountable, too powerful, or impossible. We have no option but to face them. We know that our survival and the survival of entire vulnerable communities count on it. So what are we going to do about it?
Over the past two weeks, youth in Cancun have showed our tenacity, our innovativeness, and our uncompromising idealism.While youth recognize the agreement coming out of Cancun as an important step to stabilizing and building a foundation for future negotiations, we know there is much work to be done and much of the foundation hinges on what happens in the coming year.
The following are lessons and resolutions from Cancun- on the current state of our movement and directions moving forward, into the light. In 2011, we must:
1) Improve upon our models for tracking and measuring our efforts and use our findings to build and refine our strategy.
2) Further engage our communities and change public opinion by utilizing earned and social media.
3) Continue to build our technical skills, employ creative methods, and utilize technological innovations.
4) Ask ourselves everyday: how can we connect our efforts to the source of bold, credible, and real hope? How can we communicate this real hope to others?
Please read on for further explanation and reflections from Cancun.
#1- We are full of good ideas. We have to cultivate and foster the growth of these ideas; this takes perseverance, patience, and flexibility. And every action is deserving of real strategy, and is an opportunity to consider our ultimate goals.
During the past two weeks in Cancun, I had the privilege to witness and partake in the immensely creative and clever international youth efforts. For example, some youth developed brilliant and impressive policy papers and directly impacted negotiating texts, for example with Article 6, largely youth-written and a model for cooperation, passing in 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, other youth planned and deployed imaginative and hard-hitting media stunts, for example the Young and Future Generations market, where the earth was auctioned off at a two-for-one deal and glaciers (going fast!) were sold at discount.
Youth made a considerable impact on the negotiations in Cancun, though in hindsight, with a few exceptions, it is hard to directly identify youth-driven outcomes. Some find this point discouraging, others see it as inevitable. I see it as a point worth improving upon.
The following are ways we can measure and build our successes as a movement:
- TARGET, TIMING, TACTICS: If we want to make an impact, we have to draw a line of connection from our ultimate vision, to our concrete goal, to our target, to the tactic we use, right down to the message we use and the way we frame the argument.
- We also must choose a strategic timeframe that seizes upon available opportunities and builds momentum. Mapping out the strategy helps to identify disconnects anywhere, and to better understand the impact of our efforts toward our overall goals.
- TRACKING: Another important way to develop strong strategy is to learn from past actions. In order to study past efforts, we must first track them. We must believe we are taking action and making progress worth tracking. Some young people from around the world are currently scheming to create an online hub to capture photos, videos, testimonials, and strategy from major youth undertakings, such as media stunts and policy development, at international climate events. Such a place would give youth the opportunity to capture and share best practices, address weak areas, and ultimately improve our strategy.
- TAKE LEAFS OUT OF GOOD BOOKS: Lastly, we can learn from others within and around the movement. For example, Avaaz.org is widely known for using email petition data and experimentation to hone their message and strategy; Avaaz.org has also built a huge membership and helped achieve some major victories. We should observe and borrow ideas from organizations, movements, and leaders we admire.
In 2011, we must improve upon our models for tracking and measuring our efforts; and we must daily use our findings to build and refine our strategy.
#2- We must work to strengthen and communicate the connection between our local efforts and our shared vision of the just and sustainable clean energy future. We must tell our stories, collaborate between communities and coalitions, and keep sight of the long road ahead.
This year, U.S youth in Cancun mobilized a team of hundreds of people, assembling a Rapid Responder Network so that on a moments notice we could generate thousands of phone calls, get our message out to the media, and effectively frame the story around Cancun and build demand for real solutions.
While our time, energy, capacity, and internet connection were all put to the test, this initiative forced us to make connections back home on a daily basis. Not only were we reaching back out to our networks, but we were also constantly determining how our local efforts play into the international climate talks, and vice versa.
Here are a few examples of how we used Rapid Response to connect Cancun:
- When President Obama announced tougher restrictions for offshore drilling while leaving many shores unprotected, we called on our newly elected officials to protect all shores and get Big Oil out of politics by making good on their promise to cut wasteful spending, stamping out destructive fossil fuel subsidies from our fiscal budget.
- When a pack of Climate Denier politicians wrote an appalling letter to Secretary of State Clinton, asking her kill the funds our nation pledged for climate justice to vulnerable countries and claiming to speak on behalf of youth, we not only generated hundreds of calls to the White House, urging Obama to stay strong on his promise, but we also wrote to our community papers and called on our senators to stand up for future generations instead of these Fossil Phonies.
- On the 11th hour of the negotiations, we flooded the State Department, Twitter and Facebook news-feeds, and the plenary halls, demanding 1.5 degrees Celsius as the absolute cut-off line for global temperature increase in order to ensure the survival of all nations and people.*
In 2011, we must continue improving upon how we utilize earned and social media to engage our communities and change public opinion.
*Thanks to these efforts, the Cancun Agreement recognizes 1.5, though much work needs to be done to make 1.5 a requirement in future agreements.
#3- We must continue to build our capacity and use our savvy and ingenuity to troubleshoot everyday challenges. Lack of political legitimacy, scarce resources, scanty funding, the need for greater numbers, and limitations to communications are all opportunities to demonstrate our potential and vitality as a movement.
One inspiring example of how youth overcame a challenge using innovation and technological know-how in Cancun came during a daily YOUNGO meeting. These meetings are an important opportunity to gather youth from around the world to coordinate efforts. But a disconcerting pattern was emerging; the meetings were dominated by youth from developed countries, while youth from the developing, non-English-native countries were less represented. This challenge posed a difficult question; how can we simultaneously ensure meeting efficiency while improving inclusiveness? But rather than decree that meetings will always be held in English or become overwhelmed trying to include all of the many languages spoken in the circle, we recruited youth translators, headsets, and a google program to translate meeting notes in real time.
This is just one example of many instances where youth find resourceful ways to tackle seemingly impervious problems. The word ‘power’ derives from the root word, ‘poder’, which in Spanish means “to be able”. Our power comes from our ability to address problems and exercise agency.
On 2011, we must continue to build our technical skills, employ creative methods, and utilize technological innovations in order to pursue creative outlets for funding, expand youth legitimacy, reach underrepresented groups, measure and communicate our impact, and overcome any number of other challenges.
#4- Lastly, we must ask ourselves everyday: how can we connect our efforts to the source of bold, credible, and real hope? How can we communicate this real hope to others?
Real hope is not rooted in and fed by our idealism alone, but also by our strategy (see point #1). It is the culmination of what Marshall Ganz refers to as the two ways of knowing: the analytic (HOW) and the narrative (WHY). In order to convey hope we must simultaneously communicate both our source of motivation and our strategy.
The following are ways to link and convey our story and our strategy, by explaining the challenge, the choice, and the possible outcome, and by celebrating:
- CHALLENGE: in order to mobilize motivation and hope, we must couple uncertainty with promise and urgency with possibility. We must explain the “Crisitunity”, the specific, time-bound crisis and opportunity.
- CHOICE: whomever our audience, we must provide a theory of change that outlines:
1) the “tipping point” or “choice moment”
2) a plan for delivery on our goal
3) a deadline in which action is set to occur
4) the action we are asking our audience to partake in
- OUTCOME: We must both provide a vision that is specific and imaginable; what will happen as a result of our action? Also, we must interpret small victories as sources of hope to propel us toward the greater vision.
- CELEBRATION: In order to inspire action and sustain our sense of hope, we must continue to tell the story of our movement and celebrate our achievements. To keep ourselves sane and energized during the two weeks in Cancun, my team made K’Naan’s ‘Waving Flag (The 2010 World Cup Celebration Mix)’ our unofficial theme song. It was incredibly comforting and poignant to hear my fellow delegation-mates humming it under the breath after meetings or before bed.
One of the most compelling and hopeful messages coming out of Cancun is encapsulated in a two-minute video made by youth from around the world who were shut out of the first week of the negotiations. The video begins with the bitter reality that our leaders have been negotiating our whole lives. This somber backdrop is flooded with light as one young woman states, “But while they’ve been negotiating, we’ve been growing”. One by one, youth share what they’re doing to build the just and sustainable future, ending our use of fossil fuels, building urban farms, creating green jobs, the list goes on. In the end, we are asked by a squirming, beaming young child in his native tongue, “ye ustedes, que van a hacer?”- “and you, what are you going to do?”.
In 2011, we must own our vision and cultivate real hope that is persistent, credible, and contagious. We must continuously share this source of hope with others, utilizing art, culture, and spirituality.
We as a movement don’t have any illusions about the challenges we face- but we will also not forget what is at stake. And for these reasons, we’re not giving up and we’re not backing down. We have our work cut out for us this year. We’ll continue to grow and gain in strength and successfulness.
We’re going to make it happen.