Tag: climate change

Reflections of COP17 – Looking back and moving forward

Looking back at my experience at COP and looking back at the outcome of Durban COP17 are two different things for me.

Immediately after the final plenary (open negotiations) of COP where everything was concluded at 5:30am two days after the scheduled end, I went home and stayed up thinking about what had just happened after a really dramatic end to negotiations. I saw a Venezuelan negotiator jump on a table and demand the floor fighting with the chair; I saw an impromptu break in formal negotiations for the top negotiators of the world’s leaders break into a huddle to discuss their response to climate change as the rest of the room stood around them; I saw apparently a ‘historic deal’ being ‘agreed upon’.

If I had written my thoughts immediately after the talks in the late morning then I they would have been very different to what I think now. I was really angry and felt powerless at the end of the negotiations. It certainly felt that the gavel that the chair was hammering down was just part of an auction for nations’ survival. We could see nations say that the deals being made will lead to 4 C warming and we talk about giving more funds instead of reducing emissions significantly. That really made me feel a sense of outrage. But as time passed and I have had a chance to relax a little and reflect a bit more thoroughly, I am a bit more positive that things are moving forward in terms of a new KP and some sort of structure for the next COP already agreed upon.

More interestingly I think the way that I have started to reflect on COP has not been purely what was agreed by nations around the world but by what else has been achieved here in Durban.

Once again, the international youth movement and civil society grew and made their voice heard. There was a line in the sand moment on the second last day where an unprecedented protest inside the UN took place that changed the mood of negotiations and sparked a sense of urgency into proceedings at last. This was complimented by some dramatic scenes in negotiations as youth turned their back on Canada, overtook the US negotiator and grabbed the voice of the people of USA back from an outdated and insensitive negotiator and the youth took over plenary and demanded that action be taken in a fantastic speech from YOUNGO.

However, the feelings of injustice have not entirely disappeared and the way that some nations’ views are seen as being on the fringe of the negotiations is outrageous. Especially when those nations are simply asking for others to stop destroying their future as it stands. I don’t like how we compromise with the worst negotiators and polluters but not those who are shouting for justice. I don’t like any of it but I still see UNFCCC as being the only thing that brings all these countries together to recognize and try and (incrementally) find climate solutions. I also so that these solutions and this progress is slow and difficult. But I also work at a grassroots level in Scotland trying to create more sustainable behaviour change. And that is also slow and difficult. And I feel the same frustrations in this work, just as I do at the UN. We all need to concentrate on finding these solutions.

I can certainly feel the pressure of this task that we have and it is not easy. After barely sleeping for 2 days at the end of negotiations I went directly onto a safari in Durban (thought I would make the most of the carbon footprint I have from this trip). I was tired and frustrated and confused at what had just happened a few hours before at the climax of the talks. I was feeling dis-empowered and the sense of injustice I had was pretty big. I was explaining how I felt to a delegate from the Maldives and she replied that we cannot give up or feel demotivated as she is relying on us and many others around the world are relying on us. After talking with her and getting inspiration from her, seeing how much good we did at COP and how much we still have to get on with I started to change my views on what went on over the last 2 weeks. We are making progress. The international youth movement is making much, much more progress than the UNFCCC is and that is exciting. Importantly, we clearly don’t have the luxury to get disillusioned with things.

Over the past weeks and months with UKYCC I have had an amazing experience. I feel that I have spent my time doing the most important thing that I possibly could. The progress is not as fast as I would like but we have so much momentum just now and this experience has galvanised my belief that I should spend the rest of my time and work dedicated towards climate change.


Originally published here.

What the UN-F*C* !?!?

Have you heard of the UN climate change talks that happen every so often? You might remember the one in 2009 that attracted lots of (negative) attention culminating in a lack of consensus on a global climate change deal. You might also remember seeing pictures of bureaucrats in suits sleeping at these conferences, prompting the usual ‘UN climate change talks area waste of time every year’ attitude. Well, they are back in a couple of weeks in Durban, South Africa and I am lucky enough to be going along.

These talks are officially called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a name that sucks the life and enthusiasm out of what is an immensely important event! So that is why I think it is so essential that youth make their voice heard, liven things up and remind everyone that governments are making decisions that affect us. No decisions about us, without us…

So how does it work? 

The conference is called the Conference of the Parties (COP) and as this is their 17th meeting, they’ve named it COP17! Check out the website here – http://www.cop17-cmp7durban.com/ – for some more information.

I am travelling with an amazing climate change youth group delegation – the United Kingdom Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC) – who are a part of the NGOs (YOUNGO for short) and Civil Society. In addition, we are part of the talks and the only group that is not a government delegation. OK: simple, right? So every country of the world sends a delegation to reach climate agreements and we are there to ensure pressure is on them to go the right thing. Oh, and the UNFCCC uses consensus decision making, so that means every country has to agree for decisions to go forward!

We are also there to represent youth at the UN and to try and translate the barrage of UN acronyms into something more human; all while keeping people in the UK updated on what happens at the talks.

Can we actually achieve anything?

So why do we bother going at all? Well, we are passionate about climate change and we don’t think that it should just be the elite of the world making decisions about our future. We also really want to get more people engaged in this process!

If we look back at previous UNFCCC talks it is quite useful to see what UKYCC and ‘youth’ have achieved. Last year in Cancun, the talks had seen some slow progress but eventually the ‘Cancun Accord’ was signed by all nations except Bolivia. I think the more interesting reports of this went along the lines of “UNFCCC talks stall but eventually COP17 produces Cancun Accord: Annex I nations agree unanimously however, one non-Annex I nation refused to sign the agreement…

That’s a fairly accurate analysis, and one that is just OK. But doesn’t it just make the UN seem really boring? In a sense, it makes them seem as if they don’t really grasp the absolute urgency of the problem. To counter this perception, we tried to make it a bit more human with this video – COP16 in 2 Minutes . I think it worked as only this week it was on Al Jazeera TV and the head of the UNFCCC also said she loved it!

Again, looking back to last year the energy secretary Chris Hume decided he was not going to hang about in Mexico much longer, instead going back to the UK to vote on a motion to raise tuition fees (!!!). Because climate change isn’t that big a deal really, is it? We disagreed. By starting a campaign to encourage youth in the UK to put pressure on him to stay another day, we were able to keep Hume in Mexico to participate in the talks. Here is the little video we put togetherStay Another Day. In the process more people got engaged and what was happening in the talks was communicated in a fun manner.

I suppose the point here is that it is up to those of us involved in the environmental movement to make things as accessible and interesting for people as possible whilst not neglecting the important messages we are trying to get across. We, as global youth, have our role to play at these talks. We need to be constructive and not just stand at the sidelines muttering “this is rubbish” because nobody will listen to us. We can empower ourselves in climate change policy and I see this as a good method for us to do so.

And so what will happen at COP17 in Durban?

Well, we are used to the outcry after every conference that not enough progress has been made and there is often worry that this will happen again. Not because no progress is being made, but because people rarely approach the talks with any sense of perspective. Many areas of policy are discussed but one significant area will be what happens to the Kyoto Protocol, which has a legal period that ends in 2012. Kyoto was agreed upon in 1997 and not ratified until 2003 – so there is some panic over what will happen in the next year to ensure nations have some sort of accountability. We simply don’t have time to wait 8 years for another one. Our delegation will be looking into more specific areas such as human rights, climate finance, adaptation, mitigation, water, gender, forests, education…

Of course climate change can be solved without the UNFCCC negotiations, without policy and without a top down perspective. However, from my own experiences of working in communities and at a UN level, I really feel that this does represent our best chance to make the changes we need to limit the devastating effects that climate change is bringing.



The conference lasts for two weeks and ends 12th, December. Check out the UKYCC site – http://un.ukycc.org/ – for updates on how the talks progress or add me on twitter or Facebook for ongoing negotiation updates – @jamie85p.

Carbon Conversations

Having recently attended a lecture by Jonathan Porritt at Loughborough University’s Green Impact Project launch, Iasked him this question: ‘what are the most important skills needed by young people and graduates to make innovative contributions to sustainability?’

Despite his known attention to scientific accuracy and political detail (combined with the occasional rant on Jeremy Clarkson), he gave a much more personable response. His opinion was that it is the ‘softer skills’ that are so often overlooked. The ability to network, build relationships, communicate and engage with issues on a personal level are indispensible for young people to really influence both the practical and philosophical challenges of sustainability.

On this response, I reflected back on my own experience. On how I had managed to build relationships and what projects had facilitated such skills. First and foremost, Carbon Conversations sprang to mind.

When I first completed Carbon Conversations training in 2010 in Edinburgh, I was somewhat surprised by the attention to the ‘individual’. It was unlike any other course I had ever been on. The course is unique in its focus on the psychology of the participant. Designed by psychoanalysts from Cambridge University, the 6 session course is aimed at participants who understand there is an issue, that climate change poses huge challenges and they want to know how to take action.

Even if your carbon footprint is below the national average of 12 tonnes and you’re already riding along the road to reduction, carbon conversations could still teach you something valuable. With a booklet containing detailed figures of where our carbon comes from and practical, progressive steps to reduce, this course is ideal for beginners too. Carbon Conversations is truly a unique opportunity, bring the only course designed to address climate change in a shared, facilitated group environment.

I am thrilled to see Transition University of St Andrews have taken on the challenge of running Carbon Conversations courses in St Andrews. In taking part, you are given all the support and tools necessary for you cut your carbon footprint across all areas of life, without that ‘going against the grain’ feeling. From energy, to food, to transportation, the aim is that by the end of the course, armed with your Carbon Conversations guide book, you will have halved your carbon footprint and be on bespoke plan to continue driving down your personal emissions year on year.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to encouraging positive behaviour to address the challenges of climate change. I believe Carbon Conversations gets it right by not adopting a doom and gloom approach (as is so common in climate change discussions) but by highlighting the positives of a low carbon lifestyle through games, fun exercises and interesting discussions. The course also provides an excellent setting to explore discomforts and scepticisms about climate change in an educated, confidential and supportive environment. With this approach, there’s something to suit everybody.

I wish the Transition Team the best of luck with the Carbon Conversations course and encourage you to take a look at the website www.carbonconversations.org and have a think. Maybe you might learn something, and maybe someone might learn something from you.

To sign up for the Carbon Conversations courses in St Andrews, click here.

Taking on the Tar Sands

My inspiration

While at a protest outside RBS in April 2010, a member of the Rain Forest Action Network and Native Canadian, Ariel Deranger, spokeabout how the Tar Sands were affecting the lives of many First Nation communities, and it was this personal story that really moved me. This was why, when given the chance, I applied to go to Alberta, Canada with People and Planet – to hear personal stories so I could help put a humanitarian angle on the Tar Sands campaign, rather than it being about square kilometres and tonnes of carbon.

All I knew about the Tar Sands originally, was that the oil extraction was the size of England and Wales and that you could see the toxic tailings ponds from the moon. I also kept repeating the phrase ‘it’s the most destructive industry on the planet’ which was getting monotonous, and I needed to find out more about how this was actually affecting people on a daily basis instead of reverting to a wide and predictable angle. I felt the need to understand the complexity of what’s at stake and to have had communication with those I was representing

The trip

With just one weekend of getting to know each other we set off to stay with the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, who lived in close proximity to the Tar Sands in Northern Alberta; eight students, two People and Planet staff, two independent documentary makers (all relative strangers at this point) and Colin Baines, a staff member from the Co-operative Bank.

On arriving in Edmonton there were a few things we found difficult to digest other than the airplane food:

  1. There were a hockey team called The Oilers.
  2. The cars were huge and no one was walking, even short distances that could be walked easily.
  3. Our driver, a First Nation Canadian, worked as security for an oil company as, he explained, all the jobs in the area were linked to the oil industry.

Throughout the trip there was a great contrast between the low moments and the high. We would spend some days driving through the extraction sites, having to be constantly aware of security and making sure the tapes were safe – a few interviews were shot and we would hurry away, usually sleeping in the trucks once the adrenaline wore off and the exhaustion kicked in. The Tar Sands were even more disgusting than I imagined – I stepped outside to take a photograph and was caught off guard by the smell and the fumes and the sound of sonic booms piercing the air. These noises that sounded like gun cracks were meant to deter birds from landing on the tailings ponds and dying instantly.

We also spent some days getting to know the Beaver Lake Cree Community and getting involved in their annual Powwow, a cultural festival of dance and celebration. We were introduced as their environmental managers and included in their grand entry ceremony which was a huge privilege. It was here that we made connections with community members and began to learn more about how the oil industry was affecting their community. We heard many personal accounts of how the animals, traditionally hunted, were contaminated and becoming extinct and how the water sources are being polluted by toxic chemicals.

On the final day in Canada we staged a protest outside the Alberta Environment Agency in Edmonton. We had been told by Suncor representatives that there were regulations given to them by the Alberta Environment, so they were being corporately responsible. We were angered by this response, and felt that the Environment Agency must be blind to allow so much contamination of their country. Our banner read “Alberta, Don’t turn a Blind Eye to the Tar Sands” and had banners and information about four different issues; contaminated fish, poisoned water, caribou extinction and runaway climate change.

Thoughts after the trip

The trip, although upsetting, was a incredibly beneficial to the Tar Sands campaign in many ways.

We learned that some of the Native people feel like they have become ‘economic hostages’ to the Oil Industry, so having us there would have been encouraging for the Community in their Legal Case against the oil companies and governments undermining of their Indigenous Treaty Rights. As this stance is often the most difficult one to take.

Furthermore, we have come up with a Tar Sands Free campaign in which we will be lobbying universities to remove all their financial investments from the Tar Sands. OneWorld society, the St Andrews People and Planet branch, will be lobbying the University to swap from the Royal Bank of Scotland (who have given $7.5 billion to oil companies working in the area to date) to a more ethical bank. The eight of us that went on the trip will also be doing a number of speaker events at Universities around the country – and will also be speaking at Shared Planet, when we are going to be hosting some of the Beaver Lake Cree Youth in the UK to allow them the opportunity to get their voices heard and so we can combine campaign strategies.

If you would like to hear more about my experiences in Alberta, or ask any questions about the campaign then feel free to email oneworldsoc@st-andrews.ac.uk. We have regular meetings, film screenings and campaign planning too which we would love you to join.  We are currently having weekly Tar Sands Campaign meetings on Mondays at 5pm in the Mansfield Scheillion room so please come along to that if you can.

Watch out for Taking on Tarmageddon, which is the documentary made while we were in Alberta, coming out early 2012!


Useful links

My mission statement: http://www.smk.org.uk/environment-2011/

Tar Sands Free website: http://peopleandplanet.org/tarsands

Campaign Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/People-Planets-Beaver-Lake-Tar-Sands-Youth-Solidarity-Exchange/209567545750060?ref=ts

OneWorld Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/groups/35775563516/

Shared Planet: http://peopleandplanet.org/shared-planet-2011

Taking on Tarmageddon short films:http://vimeo.com/tarmageddon