We need Canada to lead, follow or get out of the way.”
Amber Church, a 28-year-old Yukoner, makes the remark while sitting at a small table in a quiet corner in the Bella Centre conference hall in Copenhagen.
“We want a fair, just and legally binding agreement from COP 15. We are horrified by the fact that Canada has not been willing to budge their targets, and we find Canada’s CO2 reduction target appalling.”
Church is the national director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, the country’s largest environmental youth non-governmental organization.
Along with about 35 other Canadians and 300 youth from other places of the world, she’s attending the climate change conference in Denmark.
Their spirits are high, for this 15th Conference of the Parties belonging to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is thought to be special as world governments strive to establish a binding agreement that will curb CO2 emissions for the foreseeable future.
Church is completing her masters in Earth Science at Simon Fraser University. There, she studies glacier retreat, natural hazards and climate change in the Yukon.
Climate change is a passion, says Church, who’s no stranger to large international gatherings.
In 2005, she was a part of a group of youth who attended the 11th COP meeting in Montreal.
“In Montreal, we had the first ever youth delegation attending the COP meetings,” she says. “It was an international delegation of 25 youth from around the world and I was one of them.
“We also then held our first ever COY, or Conference of Youth, which takes place two to three days before COP starts, so it gives the youth the chance to discuss our position on what we want before the large meeting begins.”
In Montreal, the youth also began working on receiving constituency status to the UNFCCC, which the group was awarded this year.
“So now we have a formal status as an international youth climate movement, which means that now we can make interventions in the process without a country having to sponsor us, we can book our own rooms, we have our own offices, we have our own liaisons to the secretariat, we can arrange meetings with important people and we have access to delegations that we didn’t have before. In addition, the access we had before has become significantly easier. This was a big step for us, a victory.”
Montreal also allowed youth to come together as a whole.
“We’d never gotten together like that before, and so we hadn’t realized how much power we have when it comes to government negotiations regarding climate change and how much influence we could have on the process. We also realized how much more we needed to co-operate.”
After the meeting in Montreal, the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition was formed, joining similar coalitions in many other countries, including Australia, India, UK, Nepal and more.
The Canadian Youth Climate Coalition is made up of several other organizations, such as the youth section of Canadian Auto Workers, various indigenous environmental networks and more.
“We run projects that are specifically aimed at engaging young people on climate action and climate justice.”
The Canadian youth delegation at COP15 has a policy tracking team that sits in on delegation meetings and helps draft policy statements, which the youth take to world leaders.
The youth also have a large media presence.
They run a webpage (cydcopenhagen.org), where news clips, videos and podcasts are posted every day.
The podcasts are being broadcasted on 20 Canadian radio stations across the country and four Canadian youth blogs for the CBC. They also make use of Twitter feeds, YouTube and other social media outlets.
“Each day, our team gives about 15 to 20 interviews,” says Church.
Asked about the effect of the youths’ work she pauses for a moment, thinking.
“Our input has obvious effect in some circles, but less in other circles,” she says. “We don’t see Canada swaying, though other countries have done so. Of course, we’re not the only pressure point and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why countries decide to shoulder more responsibility, but we believe our input is very important. Our team partners at home in Canada play a very important role in this, too, by organizing candlelight vigils and other activities because, to be honest, the only thing that will shift the governments is a strong enough public opinion.
“Here in Copenhagen, it appears to us that the delegation is not being shifted on moral grounds and certainly not on policy grounds, so the opinion of Canadians matters greatly.
“At this meeting, we hope Canada will, as I said, lead, follow or just simply get out of the way.
“Their stand, as it has been leading up to COP15, makes our future so much darker. We want to encourage the Canadian delegation to think of the youth and our future.”
Sigrun Maria Kristinsdottir is an Icelandic/Canadian writer who, until recently, lived in the Yukon. Today she lives in Reykjavik. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.