From despair to hope

© COPs

© COPs

By Linh Do, Tunza Youth Advisory Council member for Asia and the Pacific

I attended the last two big United Nations Climate Change Conferences – in Copenhagen and Cancun – as an observer, lobbyist and activist in the International Youth Climate Movement. Doing so has changed my capacity for hope.

In 2009, I went to Copenhagen filled with anticipation. It was being billed as ‘Hopehagen’ and everyone, including me, was buying into optimism. I had no illusions about the difficulty of reaching a fair, ambitious and binding treaty there, but I was hopeful, like many others, that it was a real possibility. I believed heads of states would demonstrate that they possessed the political will needed to act on climate change.

I felt hopeful until the final night, only to wake to a world without a climate deal. The outcome – the Copenhagen Accord, which set a goal of limiting global warming to below 2ºC above preindustrial times – fell short of what is needed to avoid the worst consequences of global warming, and left individual nations to set their own targets. This was not a failure of the United Nations system, nor was the public misguided in its ideals. No, it seemed to show that many political leaders were still not ready to face the global problem of climate change.

So I was slightly hesitant going to Cancun. The obvious question – ‘Why even bother?’ – ran through my head, but then would come a stronger question: ‘Why shouldn’t I bother?’ Determined, I headed off, keeping quieter about what was possible and surrounded by negative media discourse that left me with a feeling of trepidation.

In the final hours, as the agreement became more concrete and most nations looked as if they’d reach consensus, I couldn’t believe I was witnessing agreement of a text that would slowly move the world in the right direction. I was unwilling to leave even at 3am: illogically, I was fearful of the consequences of an early departure. I did not want an ending like Copenhagen’s. But when I woke the following morning, I read that Cancun was a success.

The Cancun agreements built on precedents established in the Copenhagen Accord by calling, among other things, on developed countries to provide more financial support to developing ones for green technology. It remained a far cry from a fair, ambitious and binding treaty, but the secret of success was the collaborative and transparent way in which the agreement was achieved. Unlike the Copenhagen Accord, it was not negotiated by a few powerful countries behind closed doors.

Much must be done to build on this progress. All govern-ments need to implement domestic policies, too. Then they’ll be able to arrive at the next big conference in Durban at the end of this year with the political backing needed to take climate change action to the next level. One focal point of discussions will be the future of the Kyoto Protocol, with its current provisions expiring at the end of the year.

I’m excited about Durban, but I’m more excited about the Rio+20 Earth Summit in 2012, the 20-year follow up to the Rio Earth Summit 1992, which cemented sustainable development as a political issue and signed the first climate treaty. I’m working with the International Youth Climate Movement on a bridging campaign between the two conferences.

If we don’t expect the best possible outcomes from these conferences, they simply won’t occur. I am now unashamedly hopeful that the small steps taken in Cancun will lead to big outcomes for the future.

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This post is also available in: French, Spanish