Story by Heather Hatzenbuhler
Photo by Adriana Gonzalez
When I came to COP I had no idea what capacity building even was, or at least I didn't know that it had a specific definition. The more I learned, however, the more I realized that capacity building is what I have been doing at the University of Georgoa (UGA) for the past two years. Having mobilizing forces "on the ground" is not only necessary to win campaigns and assert political pressure, but is essential to all of the adaptation and mitigation policies being debated by parties at COP17. Prior to coming to Durban I was feeling very conflicted about how working with the UNFCCC was at all relevant to the organizing I was doing on campus. Ultimately, the reason I had the ability to attend COP was because of capacity building that was done throughout the semester. I could leave and progress would still be made on our campaign at home. IN fact, not only was there progress, but the UGA Beyond Coal campaign packed a theater with students, faculty and community members to watch a documentary about coal.
For the past week and a half I have been working with the capacity building working group in the youth constituency at COP17. Our objective is to influence the textual agreement drafted in negotiations. We have several specific asks and amendments to existing policies, which include non-formal education as a means for building capacity, inclusion of stakeholders, and explicit recognition of youth as crucial players in capacity building. Our view is that the more times youth are mentioned in the text, the more we must be consulted in the negotiating process -- eventually we'll gain a seat at the table. To do this we have to both write the policies and amendments we want to see and then advocate for them. Given that policy analysis and lobbying are my two favorite pastimes, I had a hard time choosing between these two sub-working groups, so I didn't. On the second day of COP I attended a drafting session where we analyzed the existing agreements being negotiated and word-smith-ed them how we saw fit. Then I went directly to the strategy meeting to talk about our messaging and lobbying negotiators to adopt our text.
My indecision led to overcommitment. I felt early burn-out of the initial fire I had for this working group. Regardless, our efforts were hugely successful, and by Wednesday we had secured a meeting with the chair of the official negotiations on the capacity building section of the agreement. Maas was his name and being able to spend an hour with him talking policy and the politics of negotiating was an incredible privilege. Maas really took the opportunity to teach us about the process and did so in a way that was empowering and not patronizing. However, at this point I realized I had spent every “free” hour of my day working on this issue, and was missing out on other potentially wonderful things at COP17. From that point on I lowered my involvement in this group and allowed other things to take priority (like sleep, schoolwork and building relationships). This has been a huge step for me personally, because it is the first time in a very long time where I have the luxury of just being a participant or observer rather than running the show. It is amazing to me that I can still meaningfully contribute to a goal/group and participate in exciting opportunities like negotiator bird-dogging, sit-downs with ministers, and Secretariat briefings without leading and coordinating all the details.
At UGA and here at COP, the network of leaders and supporters is truly exceptional. This strength has been built by the Sierra Student Colition, whose structure and strategy is aligned with the crucial component of capacity building being addressed in Durban's negotiations.