Flying over Greenland through Helsinki, I arrived Saturday morning in Copenhagen. After sorting initial logistics, including borrowing a bicycle to transit the city as the locals do, I made it to the old central city campus of the Univ. of Copenhagen, where the 2-day “Conference of Youth” was being held.
This was my first visible indication of the real numbers of people that would be converging on Copenhagen, backing the what I’d heard or sensed through online activity. Already hundreds of young people, from all over the world, were all set up in the city, ready to go into action.
This Conference had the stated goal “To build trust and solidarity among youth who will be attending COP15, and to share ieas, thoughts, successes and skills with each other. To build a truly global movement to stop the climate crisis.”
Most of the participants here would probably term themselves “activists”, but there was little sense of the rabble rousing element that many might fear would be disruptive to the proceedings. Most I met seemed dedicated to the movement and conscious of the importance of the COP and the need not to be counter-productive. That said, ideas for actions and protests were an element of the discussion.
There were many different workshops held at the conference, some dedicated to organizing and media and art, others to addressing the sub-topics of Climate Change and the UNFCCC process. Adaptation, Forests & land use change, Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and carbon trading, along with regional identity breakouts.
The Conference was capped by an inspirational keynote address by Kumi Naidoo, a South African activist. Naidoo was involved in the effort against aparthied, and later spent 10 years as the General Secretary of the World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS). He had just taken the helm in November of Greenpeace, and clearly the Copenhagen Climate Summit is a high priority for him and the storied organization.
“How old will you be in 2050?”
Musing upon a recent campaign slogan, Kumi impressed upon the audience that there was a need to press the country delegations for hard near and mid-term targets on emission reductions. The slogan is meant to convey that those making decisions won’t be around in 2050 to be accountable for progress. It isn’t enough for politicians to make impressive pledges for changes far in the future. Kumi stated Greenpeace’s position that there needs to be a binding treaty with a 40% reduction in emissions by 2020.
Kumi also discussed the linkages between climate issues and global poverty. As the effects of climate change have profound impacts on developing countries, the swell of global climate refugees and displaced populations could have a profound effect. “We either get it right, or we all will suffer.”
The need to “aggressively promote” a green economy also creates a chance to generate jobs and give those around the world “clean opportunities”. Speaking of what it would mean to those in the audience seeking to make a difference on the climate issue and committing to a cause, he noted something told to him as a young activist, “It is not about giving your life, but giving the rest of your life”.
Kumi implored those there to think big, and not to wait for leaders to promote their goals, for those leaders may never come. “Bring a vision of what you think the world can be”. He brought out some quotes from Obama’s rising days during the Presidential campaign “The Climate is in Peril”, and “The fierce urgency of now”, and proposed an extension of Obama’s popular refrain to coin the new ethos “Yes we can, yes we must, yes we will!”.
Kumi closed the address noting that humanity had been born out of Africa, and led the gathered group in a song, “Pamile Africa”.
It felt like an auspicious beginning for a group with high hopes and energy. We flowed out into the streets and did a group practice session in the square for the following day’s “Flash Dance” . . . .