Home Articles Fear and hope at Copenhagen – a Gen Y perspective

Fear and hope at Copenhagen – a Gen Y perspective


On Monday we published Dave Sag’s first post from Copenhagen. Today we received this diary entry from 26-year-old Australian Wendy Miller, who is attending the Copenhagen COP15 climate change summit as a member of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.

The fifteenth session of the conference of parties has begun. Game on.

One hundred and ninety two countries with 11 days to seal the deal on a fair, ambitious and binding global solution to climate change.

A solution that must drive a deep direction change in the current course our society is travelling – from a passage of danger to one of safety and stability.

It’s all a bit melodramatic but this is where it’s at and as I reflect on the first day of the negotiations back in my hostel dorm (with at least another three hours work to get through) I have that fleeting recognition that I am living through a truly historic and largely irreversible time in the history of humankind.

I am here onsite witnessing and shaping the biggest negotiation with the highest stakes in the history of our civilisation.

The negotiations could go anywhere. It is still unknown whether we will see a strong and legally binding deal, a green-wash photo opportunity, a framework that will lead to binding commitments or nothing at all. The first option: achievement of the fair, ambitious and legally binding deal that the 2007 Bali Roadmap was meant to deliver by Copenhagen looks extremely unlikely. This is based on a whole lot of factors but I’ll just make the simple reflection that the draft deal text we have today is not eleven days away from where it would need to be at for a deal to be signed. But let’s not rule it out – the eleventh hour is not to be underestimated.

Some things that have developed in recent days and weeks suggest that big decisions and commitments could be made.

We have had real blockage in negotiations by the absence (or rather totally destructive behaviour) of the US. It’s entirely reasonable to place the burden of the last ten or so years of terrible international climate change inaction onto the shoulders of the US.

Another deeply dividing issue is between developed vs developing countries. The choice to classify nations into these two categories has created huge problems, as has the reluctance of different countries to make commitments. I feel like it’s been going on forever.

Some good developments on both these fronts:

We have seen targets and commitments placed on the table by China, India and the US. This is big news and a good forward step. It is not that the targets are going to add up to the type of deep emissions cuts the science tells us we need, but it is a major step forward. From the US perspective, we are seeing a nation that is now — for the first time in years — at the table, actively participating in international, multilateral and bilateral negotiations.

With Obama now due to arrive in Copenhagen at the high-ministerial negotiating sessions, we are wont to believe he is here to do a deal. Given US is perceived as the lynchpin in a successful deal being done, this is really good news! The US is, of course, hamstrung by the fact that its energy and emissions trading bills are yet to pass through government, so the commitments that it can make at the international level are accordingly hampered. You can’t promise something internationally that you won’t have support for domestically.

China has recently announced that it will reduce its carbon intensity by 40 – 45 percent, which is such a big step forward. This still equates to a significant increase in emissions. They will also be producing 30 percent of their energy through renewable by 2050.

India has also put carbon intensity reduction targets in place. Though neither China nor India want these targets formally and bindingly included in a treaty at this stage.

On the worrying side, we have seen a reprisal from the climate sceptics in Australia particularly, but other countries more generally. This is the result of a combination of tactical and spontaneous events.

Tactically, it is perfect timing for the sceptics to be as disruptive as possible at the climax of negotiations. Fear is such a powerful thing. A spate of recent research has highlighted the serious role of fear, inertia and related emotions in blocking action on climate change. Some people respond by saying, “I get it, I am going to do something about it,” but a lot react with shut-down, negative or fearful emotions. These people are definitely targets for the comforting story of the climate sceptics that we’re “all ok”.

There’s so much more to explain and to say but I have no idea if I’ve already lost all of you through the vast gap that exists between the world of negotiations and the real world.

On a lighter note, the international youth delegation did a flash dance in the conference centre, followed by a die-in (cheery), and tomorrow there will be a bed-in. We were also on the 7pm Project and Channel TEN are running our ads through the entire two weeks of the conference.

We had over 1,000 youths attend the pre-conference Conference of Youth, at which we spent a lot of time developing the capacity of the movement, sharing key skills and planning for the negotiations.

You’ll also see videos up on Fairfax digital throughout the course of the negotiations. We recognise that the serious-side of the story is already being done to death and doesn’t play to youth’s current perceived strengths. So a large part of what we do is to creatively try to get key messages and emotions through to the conference delegates and the mainstream. This helps shape the negotiation psychology and influence media/community debates.

You can follow Wendy Miller’s updates on Twitter @WendyMiller26