Josh Levine, a student at Wesleyan University, attended the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen with the Sierra Student Coalition. He was one of 18 students in the youth group, but he met many students and NGO employees from the United States and around the world. As a student, Josh was initially very hopeful about the talks in Copenhagen, but quickly realized that the likelihood of passing a bill was slim.
Before the conference began, the youth attending came together for a variety of events, including some that were student-run. The media was heavily involved in these events and the youth at the conference took every opportunity to get their message across about saving the environment, which highlighted the importance of the consideration of social justice in making decisions about the environment.
Josh said, when discussing his experience, that he felt it was the youth's job to focus on social justice and human rights. In one student-run event, many students, from all over the world, came together in one room. As cameras began to arrive, they started a "thunderstorm" with their hands and feet (each student rubs their hands together, then each student snaps, then each student stomps, then parts of the group do different sounds at the same time).
When the room was filled with the media, one student cut the entire crowd off at once for a great effect. Three students from small island nations came up and spoke about how global warming and lack of environmental protection and regulation is affecting their countries. At the end of the heartbreaking speeches, they said all together "We will not die quietly." Josh said this idea/slogan became an important part of the youth's presence at the conference. The conference may fail to pass a bill and the youth may have had little effect at the Copenhagen Summit in 2009, but the youth will keep fighting for reform until justice is served.
Take a look at the demonstration:
When the conference began, the student-run demonstrations died down, but the day for visiting students like Josh was jam packed. A daily schedule during the first week included a morning planaries and talks, trying to fine tune perspectives and stances for the rest of the conference. As the second week began, more cabinets, ministers and heads of state showed up. Josh was very impressed with lead negotiator Josh Pershing, who gave an update of the talks every day throughout the conference. As the conference continued and more head honchos arrived, less people were allowed to enter the main room during debates. However, Josh credited much of the actual deal-making to backdoor discussions between only a few parties.
Josh also talked about the importance of the United States in making a global climate change bill an effective reality and, while respecting the politics of such a bill, mentioned the general disappointment of the youth at the conference, both from the U.S. and from abroad. He said he felt like the youth from many countries were looking at the American invitees and wondering "what's wrong with your country?" considering the immense levels of carbon emitted by the United States alone, and the impact such emissions have on smaller countries around the world, like small Pacific Island states.
The United States came to the conference with a very set agenda, which Josh said left little room for discussion or cooperation. China, currently emitting even larger amounts of greenhouse gases than the United States, was almost as unhelpful. China came to the conference willing to agree to an accord, but refused to accept measures of implementation, demanding self-monitoring if a bill passed. President Obama came the last few days, which was better than his original promise (to come the first couple days), considering most deal-making occurs the last week. Josh was a disappointed in his speech, calling it the same old jargon from his speeches at home, with no remarkable call to action.
After watching Obama speak, Josh headed down to the city of Copenhagen where he found a "people's summit" — a gathering of what seemed like the whole city of Copenhagen, watching the talks, discussing the matter at hand, waving signs and banners, and listening to different people speak in a variety of languages with available translators, making the scene a truly hopeful and international experience. Josh called this one of the most hopeful moments of his experience in Copenhagen, because even when businesses and governments have a million interests and matters of politics, everyday people are hoping and pushing for reform, and while an international commitment to protecting the environment has been put off for way too long, there is hope that in the future, there will be a global effort to protect our world.