COP 18: Why young people need to get angry

YPARD note: Young Professionals in Agriculture, it is our business too! Let's commit and take action!

By Matt Adam Williams, November 26, 2012

"Today marks the start of the United Nations Climate Summit (COP 18) in Qatar. As negotiations commence, Matt Adam Williams, Co-Director of the UK Youth Climate Coalition, explains why young people’s prospects hang in the balance in both London and Doha.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way” - Excerpt from A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens.

In Doha, Qatar, the sun rises three hours earlier than in London, and the temperature can reach 26 degrees at this time of year, while in London it’s a chilly ten. However, this week the two cities are currently united by what will be historic moments in the fight against climate change: Doha is hosting the United Nations climate summit, while London this week celebrates four years as the city where the UK Climate Change Act became law.

What’s at stake?

Young people have one of the biggest stakes in climate change, as we will live for longer in the world that is shaped by today’s decisions. But the current gap between young people’s hopes for the future and the path we’re actually on could not be captured better than in Dickens’s lines above. That’s why I’ve spent over four years volunteering for the UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC).

Our generation is powerful, connected and united like no generation before. We stand together as an international youth climate movement. Only a matter of days ago, young people from across the world sent messages of solidarity to the newly formed Arab Youth Climate Movement. We envision a clean, safe future built on kindness, justice, and renewable energy. But is it being delivered?

A fork in the road

Four years ago UK politicians signed the Climate Change Act into law, confident that where they led others would follow (and they have, with Mexico signing its own climate targets into law earlier this year). But since 2008, we’ve seen the much-hyped Copenhagen climate talks written into history as a monumental failure and the economic crisis squeezing support and patience for all green issues.

The Climate Change Act forced the UK to start cutting its carbon emissions, but many of the existing cuts have come as a result of economic recession and not of genuine effort or climate concern - and many analysts suggest we might fall short of the budgets which span five year periods.

Right now, two key decisions are potential daggers being dangled over the Climate Change Act: whether to formally include aviation and shipping emissions in the Climate Act (they were originally left out); and what happens with the impending new Energy Bill, shaping the UK’s future energy policy.

In the past few days we’ve learned that it looks like the Energy Bill will not contain those much hoped for targets to reduce how ‘carbon intensive’ our energy is, and that Government may even signal a new dash-for-dirty-gas power. This could leave us missing our emissions reduction targets and consequently undermine the Climate Act.

Hanna Thomas, of the East London Green Jobs Alliance, told me, “If we as young people are going to be angry about anything it has to be the issues of climate change, jobs and environmental degradation. These issues are our future, and who has a greater stake in the future than young people?”

With youth unemployment reaching record highs, Government should be using such milestone policy decisions to stimulate a shift to renewable energy and low-carbon transport, creating thousands of green jobs in the process. Instead, on its fourth birthday, the Climate Change Act is being eroded by short-sighted policy making and political horse-trading.

We need a global deal

Meanwhile, in Doha, international negotiators will be meeting to try and make progress on a new global deal to tackle climate change. 

Lobbying and campaigning (often through the medium of dance) in the corridors of the conference centre, the UKYCC youth delegation will also be in Doha. This group of seven volunteers, aged 18-27, from places like Edinburgh, Bath, London and Hull are joining young people from around the world to call on negotiators to do far better.

Sarah Arnold from the UKYCC delegation just emailed me from Doha to say that “over the next few weeks we will call for raised political ambition – the current carbon cuts are less than half what is needed to commit us to a safe future according to the scientific consensus. What we are lacking is not the technology or ideas, but the political will.”

Basha Stasak is in Doha with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. She told me that "climate change is a global problem that affects us all, one which requires a global solution. I'm here in Doha watching the newly formed Arab Youth Climate Movement describe how they are going to pressure their countries to fight climate change - this is an arena in which youth can and should lead the way".

It’s in our hands

The UN climate talks and the Climate Change Act are not the be all and end all of tackling climate change. Young people are taking the environmental crisis into their own hands and building the solutions for themselves. Whether it’s the 350 Do the Math tour, Power Shift events across Europe, or youth climate coalitions springing up in countries from India to Kenya to Canada. I’m asking you to stand with us and be part of this movement.

You can now follow the progress of our youth delegation and young people from around the world at the climate negotiations, and call for more green jobs for young people here in the UK.

It’s time for those with power to use it to create the future we need or to stand aside and let young people lead the way.

Matt Williams is Co-Director of the UK Youth Climate Coalition.
COP18 runs from today (November 26th) to Friday, December 7th"

Read the original article in the ecologist.