I am very grateful for the opportunity to attend COP17. It is for sure a steep learning curve being here – at times, feelings of being out of place and not sure how to approach people and at first, I was unsure of what my ‘agenda’ was. It is clear that many civil society groups have specific agendas and they know how they want to be represented in the negotiations, i.e. Mediators Without Borders want mediate in the text as an option to resolve disputes. There are so many agendas that I personally feel connected to, yet I am grateful that I am not tied to one agenda.
I feel somewhat liberated being with Initiatives of Change because we work on big picture issues – instilling trust among parties and engaging in dialogue – which is relevant across all organizations and agendas. Each of us as team members represent the organization and group, but we do so in diverse spheres. I have been attending a Health Working Group that meets every morning at 9 am and they are working hard to make health a prominent issue in the climate change agreement text. I am very interested in their cause, as I pursue my Master’s in Public Health and follow my passion for environmental health.
The World Health Organization and the International Federation of Medical Student Associations have joined forces to have health included as an aspect of the climate change agreements. Often times, health is discussed as a part of the adaptation portion of climate change, but less so when it comes to mitigation of climate change issues. To me (and those organizing this action), health is one of the very real and tangible side-effects of climate change affecting a wide range of people and thus, it must be addressed in every process when dealing with climate change. The environment and human health are interrelated and cannot be separated when imagining the consequences to one.
For one of our health meeting encounters, we met with the public communications representative for G77/China, Luz Melon. I told her about the overall mission of IofC, creating bridges across diverse cultures and divergent perspectives and she was very receptive. Melon then proceeded to discuss how important trust in these negotiations is. She mentioned how we all come from our own cultures with assumptions and that sometimes this creates mis-communications between negotiating parties because they might think the other person is lying based on the words they choose to use. We spoke about how critical trust is and this is even true between representatives and their home countries. Melon said that often times when the developing countries bring up climate change issues (i.e. Green Climate Fund), it is misconstrued and developed nations assume the developing countries just want money so the concerns may be disregarded. She said it works opposite as well; that in their home countries, the people may not trust the developed countries’ actions and assume they want something in return. This discussion made it clear to me how crucial building trust amongst parties truly is, especially in such a global community as the UN.
On the ground here, our team is meeting with other NGO representatives, attending meetings and side events, greeting people at our booth, as well as informally meeting with negotiating parties and delegates.
Three of us had an opportunity to re-imagine what could be possible in the negotiations as we sat with a Bahrain delegate on our bus home in Durban. After attending a meeting highlighting the urgency and need for countries to come to agreement for the sake of the environment and our livelihoods, we boarded our bus home and met our new friends from the Bahrain delegation. Feeling a sense of urgency to take action, while also somewhat hopeless in what to do to impact the negotiations, we began talking with the delegate and she said she had met our other team members the day before. This delegate reiterated some of our sentiments that she felt a comprehensive deal may not be possible and that their interests are not being considered. And then something clicked – we all began to use humor in discussing how we would create a cooperative agreement (creating a sleepover of all delegates so everyone would begin to work together and most likely be motivated to reach a deal much faster was one idea). We were in stitches laughing in the bus and everyone joined in our laughter coming up with more extreme ideas. This delegate then appealed to us as youth, and encouraged us to take change forward as we might be in her position in the future and we reminded her that she also has the power to create transformation now. It was an incredible moment and dialogue between the generations.
These types of encounters, while seemingly simple, are the building blocks to creating relatedness and in turn, trust. As a team, we continue to have these simple interactions ranging from the Indian and US delegates to those running their own NGOs and initiatives in their home countries, such as African Youth Initiative on Climate Change. My hope is that our presence here will reinvent what is seen as possible and foster understanding in the most unlikely of places.