Sierra Club Cancun Delegation
The Sierra Club has a delegation of nearly 40 staff, volunteers and Sierra Student Coalition members attending the UN climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, November 29-December 19, 2010.
Lead or Get Out of the Way! - Students making a difference at UN Climate Conference in Cancun
Posted by: Glen Besa on December 6, 2010 at 12:31PM PST
In the challenging negotiations at the UN Climate Conference in Cancun, perhaps the most hopeful sign is the young people from all over the world who come to these UN negotiations determined to make a difference. With just one week left in these talks, I wanted to share with readers the impressive role of these student climate activists and, also, to offer one humble suggestions to all the students at the conference.
Our Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) has an international delegation, twenty strong that included students from China, Mexico, South Korea and Puerto Rico studying in the U.S. in addition to American students from across the country. SustainUS and 350.org also have numerous student representatives, and there are student delegations from nations across the globe attending these talks on the future of the world we will turn over to them.
While most official negotiators stay at sterile, glitzy beachside hotels in luxurious isolation from the real world, hundreds of students occupy the inexpensive hostels throughout downtown Cancun meeting into the late hours, strategizing and planning how to influence these negotiations on climate policy. At the hostel where I have stayed, the New Zealand Youth Delegation covered the walls of our shared kitchen with papers outlining their plans and strategy as well as assignments for who would do the dishes, cooking or laundry day by day. They are a cohesive corps of young, experienced activists very serious about their mission, but fun loving as well. Best of all they were quite friendly and open with me and other more senior adult activists in Cancun for the same purpose. Chelsea Robinson, a 19 year old Co-Convener of the NZ delegation, is just one of this impressive group of committed youth making a difference with whom I shared a cup of coffee and an impressions on the talks several mornings in the first week of the conference.
All the students I’ve met are well organized. Rather than take direction from older professional environmental staff, they mentor and challenge each other to grasp the near impenetrable nuances of climate diplomacy. Our SSC students meet nightly from 10:30 PM to midnight discussing that day’s and the next day’s negotiations, planning actions to garner media, and educating themselves in the minutia of international “climate-speak”. And early each morning students from across the globe come together to collaborate at a YOUNGO meeting (Youth NGOs).
Summer Jiakun Zhao, is a student from China, studying in the United States is a member of our Sierra Student delegation. Even before the UN conference began, Summer and other U.S. and Chinese students have been engaging in intense negotiations on the same issues and differences confronting the official negotiators, working to reach an accord that they then shared with the U.S. and Chinese governments the first week of the Cancun conference. Their message: “If we can do it, so can you.”
These students and young adults, many from countries on the front line of climate catastrophe like Africa and small island nations, need little advice from their seniors who continue to make such a mess of these negotiations on which the future of civilization as we know it depends. But if I may humbly offer just one suggestion to all the students working for climate justice in Cancun, it is this: Recalling the response of the tiny country of Papua New Guinea to the efforts of the U.S. Delegation to sabotage to UN Climate talks in Bali in 2007, I would urge the students to exclaim in one united voice to the official negotiators the same words that Papua New Guinea said to the U.S. just three years ago: “Lead or get out of the way!”.
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