I remember sitting at the computer center during one of our last days in the Bella Center in Copenhagen. The tension in the room was high, and there was an odd stillness hanging around. Most of the NGOs and youth were not allowed in that day due to capacity issues. I was one of the few. I looked across the long table lined with dozens of computers. A woman with a pink badge, signifying her as a government party member, had her face pressed into a scarf in her hands. She was sobbing.
For two weeks in December, I worked with 500 youth from the United States, and 2,000 youth from around the world — in Copenhagen.
With powerful momentum we worked tirelessly and hopefully. Physically and emotionally our limits were tested. I was sleep deprived for nearly two weeks. Some nights I would return to our hostel at 1 or 2 a.m. and immediately get on my laptop to write emails, blog, upload photos and plan for the next day. There was endless work toward learning policy, planning actions and tracking negotiators. The conference was one of the most intense experiences of my life.
I worked among some of the most passionate and driven youth activists in the world. Each youth NGO wanted to be there and wanted to make a difference. Many had fundraised thousands of dollars, and most who were students had rushed their exam schedules or taken an incomplete semester. We had to deal with the urgency of global climate change and a great opportunity slipping through our fingers.
Each day was a new emotional roller coaster. I was constantly swept up in a wave of inspiration, ideas and collaboration. I felt like I received a crash course in international policy and climate change science. In an intensely taxing environment, I was blown away by the dedication and support of the amazing youth activists around me. When I felt tired or discouraged there was always someone to remind me that we're doing this; we're changing the world.
A global disappointment
This was my first time attending the UN framework convention on climate change, but the UN has negotiated on this issue for most of my life. The conference has happened each year since 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Seventeen years since the first conference, I expected something big to come from COP15. I thought this was it.
I had this dreamy idea that Copenhagen would be the end-all. I had the idea that governments would forge a climate treaty and make official our dedication to preserve our planet for future generations. I thought Copenhagen was a big deal. In reality, most government leaders knew months ago that a binding treaty would not be reached. The decision-makers kept telling us quite politely that a binding treaty just was not going to happen this year. Prior to the conference, President Obama even came out and said we didn't have the support or cooperation to produce a treaty. Upon hearing this information I knew we would have to work harder. I approached COP15 with as much of a balance of optimism and realism as I could manage. But as many people expected, COP15 came and went and the important decisions were put off until next year.
On the final day, after long hours of negotiating, we ended up with a weak, non-binding Copenhagen Accord. The accord merely suggests that we should reduce emissions. It does not make commitments to do so, or offer a plan for how we should hold countries accountable. The Australian Youth Climate Coalition created this video after Copenhagen to express how the youth of the world feel about the outcome of the conference. We're already planning for COP16. The youth will return with more power, motivation and in numbers greater than ever before.
This is the future of our planet. We're not done yet.