Three weeks ago I got back from one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I joined up with forty young people from around the world to attend the United Nations climate change conference in Bonn, Germany. We were there from a huge variety of civil society organisations, but collectively we were YOUNGO- the youth NGOs.
On the very first day we were very kindly given the chance to speak during a debate on climate change and education. Having been involved with education campaigning here in the UK through NUS I managed to cobble together some kind of speech in the 15 minutes we had to prepare and went for it. I decided that unless my speech was direct I’d always regret it afterwards, so I really went for it. The vulnerable Alliance of Small Island States who are in danger of being flooded out of existence especially seemed to like what I was saying.
It was only then that it dawned on me that most of the negotiators needed- and wanted- the vibrancy and passion young people bring to conferences to ensure that the discussions stay as progressive and optimistic as possible. Without us to prod, poke and provoke the proceedings, one negotiator confided in me, they were in danger of forgetting why they were all there.
It wasn’t just speeches either. Almost every day we engaged in some kind of direct action, usually right in the middle of the conference foyer. From a tug-of-war between a cleaner planet and the oil lobby (see the photo above) to a silent protest right along the corridor to the main plenary room, we made sure that the threats posed by climate change stayed at the top of the agenda, rather than the money from the fossil fuel industry.
Going to the conference in Bonn felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But actually, the period of time we’re living in right now is crucial to combating catastrophic climate change and it’s up to us to make sure we agreements are as strong as possible.
We’re the generation who can make the difference. Make it.
Students in the UK can find out more about attending UN conferences by visiting http://ukycc.org/
Paul Tobin is a member of NUS Society and Citizenship zone committee and Ph.D student at the University of York.