Friday, December 18

US and Kenyan Youth Unite

Yesterday, several Expedition Copenhagen delegates and other youth delegates from the United States had the opportunity to meet with Kenyan youth delegates. We discussed our stories about how we got to the conference and also shared narratives about how youth have been organizing in our countries. Kenyan youth shared that although government and civil societies in the country previously had rocky relationships and young people had been ignored altogether, real collaboration has recently become possible. A four-year drought currently plagues Kenya; we heard stories about the affects of this environmental change on the livelihoods of agriculturalists and pastoralists in the country. However, we heard their optimism amidst real and current climate challenges they face.

As our meeting wrapped up, we discussed possibilities for future cooperation, touching on everything from a Facebook group to an exchange program between our countries. We then moved forward with our day’s projects, starting with taking footage for our three-word film to be released in the next several days. After shivering out in the cold together—a true bonding experience—we moved our meeting from a cold basement space to a space at Klimaforum where we worked towards our main goals for the day: putting together a package to jointly deliver to President Obama. The package included letters from children of both countries: specifically from the Kenyan town of Obama’s father and from Chicago and the Midwest. Kenya was Obama’s past, Chicago and the U.S. is his present, and our future depends on his leadership.

An addition to the package was a joint letter sharing the voice of youth on the eminence for the US to commit to strong climate legislation. Personal stories were shared that related to climate change causing economic hardships experienced in the US and extreme environmental degradation in Africa. In the interest of future generations and the health and wellbeing of those living in the world today, our voices came together to ask for strong and equitable commitments.

As President Obama is now in Copenhagen, the package should be delivered to him soon. The connections our delegation has made with Kenyan youth have been a life-changing experience. We hope that our sincere words and passion to ensure a healthy, sustainable future will be remembered by our President as he enters into the negotiations.

Wednesday, December 16

Writers, Activists, Politicians Point to Youth and Hope

As restrictions start to increase at the Bella Center due to the inability for the center to hold a capacity greater than 15,000 (in addition to increased security purposes), our delegation has had to divide up our time in the center as we now only have 8 passes to enter. The change of schedule provided me the opportunity to spend time working with the youth delegation during the morning and hear from Naomi Klein as she made a special visit to share words of inspiration with youth.

After swapping badges with delegates who attended the Bella Center in the morning, I was able to attend a presentation with Ban Ki Moon and Wangari Maathai. Today, Wangari Maathai was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace for her work with the Green Belt Movement and dedication to lifelong humanitarian efforts by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon helps UN Messenger of Peace Wangari Maathai with an official pin to wear the title.

The audience was offered the chance to ask questions after the presentation, and of the five questions asked, three of them were in regards to youth and their influence on changing the world. When asked how youth could learn to become global leaders, Ban Ki Moon pointed out that the world needs not only politicians but humanitarians, people working on small-scale levels to make big differences. He also commented on the hope he gains from today’s youth in working hard to shape a better world.

If there are two words that have become prevalent throughout the briefings and sessions I’ve attended, they would be “youth” and “hope.” Leaders in the UN have continuously stressed their support for youth in being involved in the UN process in Copenhagen as well as leading movements within their own regions of the world. It’s inspiring to hear that those people who have aspired to create positive change for humanity put their hopes for the future in the capacity of today’s youth to work for a better world.

Monday, December 14

The Real Story of the Youth Climate Movement

If you have recently seen in the news large-scale, high visibility actions staged by youth in and around the Bella Center, I would like to provide another perspective on what's really happening when the media isn't watching. The "front page worthy" photos the media chooses to portray are not truly representational of all the work that's actually being done by youth around the world during the conference. I want to provide some insight into the intensity of the projects youth are working on as they propose global solutions to the climate crisis.

All youth are part of an official provisional constituency called the YOUNGOs, thus the group now has the opportunity to propose amendments to policy during certain official UN sessions. After the Conference of Youth during the first weekend we arrived in Copenhagen, a global movement has erupted among youth to push for policy that will not neglect those who suffer most from climate change. The YOUNGO group, now known as IYCM (International Youth Climate Movement-- and yes, everything at the UNFCCC is in acronyms), has mobilized to work in specific policy groups focused on areas of mitigation, adaptation, finance, and tech transfer in order to propose amendments to the bracketed papers released by different delegations. (The goal is to make the bracketed language unbracketed and put into permanent context. Before any legislation is passed through the UNFCCC, entire papers are bracketed and part of the negotiations entails deciding what language will stay and what will have to be amended for countries to agree on the legislation put forth.) Each of the delegates from our Expedition Copenhagen has been involved with some sort of policy focus and/or other more regionalized groups.

The opportunity for US youth has also been to be involved in the US youth delegation to support the US to make strong climate legislation to be passed through the Senate. Underneath the US delegation are many non-governmental organizations that are all collaborating through policy work as well as planning interventions (think of them as registered visual displays/actions -like what the news is covering) and scheduling meetings with top negotiators as they arrive in Copenhagen.

Our WSF delegation has been involved in many of these arenas, and we've been working almost round the clock while bringing a Midwest perspective to the table. The decisions made at COP15 will directly affect ALL countries, including the US, so it's important to show the world that youth are connecting and collaborating, not only through the US but as a global unit, to promote a strong, just, and equitable treaty that will reach a binding agreement. Just remember that for each photo that depicts an action, there are many photos that could have been taken depicting the many youth huddled in circles around the Bella Center for regional and international meetings occurring throughout the day, briefings with heads of state where youth pack the rooms to capacity, and youth sifting through stacks of policy papers to understand, interpret and write amendments to legislation. We're living on coffee and adrenaline inside this Bella Center bubble, but the real force driving us is not the energy we have through the visual actions but the underlying hope we collectively share for the future we wish to have and will create.

Our very own Sarah Mullkoff speaks before an audience at the Bella Center as part of a Midwest panel with Rep. Kate Knuth (D-MN).

Sunday, December 13

Get out the popcorn--it's video time!

Here's a look at what it's like to be at the Bella Center for the UN Climate Change Conference:

I previously had the chance to meet National Geographic photographer James Balog. Here's the interview I had with him:

Friday, December 11

The Best of Copenhagen & UNFCCC

With negotiations well underway here in Copenhagen, it's time to do a recap of some of the many events that have happened thus far. How better to do that than through a short photo-essay? Please enjoy the following, and for more photos check out our Will Steger Foundation flickr site.

Here's a look at our delegation- On the 5th and 6th we attended the Conference of Youth with youth representing over 100 countries. Thanks to WildThings for the coats --we've received a lot of good feedback for wearing them as it adds a more official and professional look to our delegation.

During the conference, I was able to attend a presentation by National Geographic photographer James Balog. He combines the best of science and art by recording photographs as time-lapse images from cameras positioned into glacial regions around the world. Through the photographs, a documentary of glacial melt can be observed, thus following the detriments of climate change in the most vulnerable areas. Check out his website to see his latest research project.

At the recent US EPA briefing, youth packed the room to take up 3/4 of the available space-- from the very front rows to way in the back. Over 500 US youth are here to show their support for climate change solutions and ask their representatives to do the same. During the briefing, 5 of the 9 questions asked were from youth. We are showing the US delegation that we care about our future and want the US to take a strong stand in these negotiations.

Just last night, the US youth gathered for dinner and discussion with Chinese youth to come up with a strong proposal for climate solutions between our two countries. Last night was a great start in building lasting, significant relationships that will continue after COP15 when we continue to work for change within our own countries.

This only skims the surface of all the things that have been occurring at COP15. Stay tuned for more; in the meantime check out this video to get a better idea of a day in the life of a youth delegate!

Sunday, December 6

Copenhagen Part 1: Art Actions

Greetings from Copenhagen!

After meeting up with Aurora and Reed on a connecting flight, the three of us arrived safe and sound early Friday morning, jet-lagged with the morning sunrise above the clouds still fresh in our minds. Since then, we've all had a little sleep to catch up in between the Conference of Youth meetings which have already begun. (Just a little-- we're beginning to realize what 18+ hour days feel like.)

Delegates from over 100 countries were present at the Conference of Youth meetings today. COY is an organized group of international youth, and it has provisional constituency status for the UNFCCC. This means that the group has a chance to speak during certain sessions of the conference and also has greater access to officials than would normally be without the status. In addition to planning meetings and attending sessions, there are many other events and actions the Conference of Youth, also known as YOUNGOS, will be involved in. One area involves art activism, which I learned about in a workshop I attended:

In the Art and Activism workshop, I found myself surrounded by people with a vast array of talents ranging from painting and computer graphics to puppeteering and dance. As we went around in a circle talking about our artistic passions, our "artist in residence," Kevin, directed us to a sign written on the wall that read, "The role of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible!"

Art is a universal language, and it has the ability to build bridges across cultures, uniting people of all cultural backgrounds to share stories and emotions that tap into the very elements that make everyone human. Throughout the short hour workshop, we began to tap into some of those qualities as artists offered to everyone their talents of dance, singing, and ideas. One delegate from Kenya showed us how youth perform dances to people chanting about climate change, and a delegate from the UK performed slam poetry about climate change.

Artists are in a unique position to use their abilities to create powerful messages that can transform societies and bring about positive change in local or global arenas. Over the next two weeks, artists from around the world will be uniting to share messages of the urgency to create climate solutions and the hope that today's youth have for shaping an equitable future.