February 14, 2010
Amrita School of Engineering, Amritapuri
Linkesh Diwan, student of B.Tech. (Mechanical) at the Amrita School of Engineering at Amritapuri was part of a youth delegation that represented India at Copenhagen last year. Below are excerpts from Lincoln’s report on his participation in a landmark event.
Before the official United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 15th Conference of Parties (UNFCCC COP-15) in Copenhagen commenced, youth from all over the planet came together and held a Conference of Youth (CoY). Few of us had met before, and almost all of our communication till date had been over the internet!
At the CoY, we conducted our own workshops on topics as diverse as the Science of Climate Change, to Technology Transfer, to Street Acting, to Climate Justice, to the issues facing our forests. Naturally, one couldn’t attend all of them.
As youth, we had our own protocol for facilitating meetings, which enabled us to efficiently and democratically arrive at consensus on a variety of issues.
At the workshop on Forests, one youth from Columbia spoke of how vast tracts of jungle in his country were being converted into banana and palm oil plantations, and are considered by the UNFCCC as “clean development.” But plantations are not forests! Where is the biodiversity in a plantation? Where do the animals live in a plantation?
Over 500,000 people had signed a petition saying “It’s time for Climate Justice.” This petition was delivered by Reverend Desmond Tutu to Mr. Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UNFCCC. What is Climate Justice? Well, I attended the CoY workshop on it just to find out.
Imagine that you, your neighbours, your village, and the neighbouring villages, all had to vacate the fertile lands you have inhabited for generations so that the Sardar Sarovar Dam could be built to irrigate dry areas of desert and provide water for chemical factories.
Imagine Coca-Cola purchasing land, poisoning all of the surrounding paddy fields with waste chemicals, pumping out all the local groundwater, and producing many truckloads of private profit per day.
Imagine that a company purchased the local forest, and proceeded to cut down every tree.
Imagine that, without your understanding or consent, the government decides that the entire coastline of Andhra Pradesh (including your home) is foreign territory, belonging to and administered by SEZ companies.
Better yet, don’t imagine: just read the news. This is happening now.
Is this just? No! And yet most, if not all, of the development that we see going on today is ruining the environment, killing ecosystems and displacing people native to the area. In the name of economic development, we allow people’s and Mother Earth’s rights to be compromised. This is all in blatant violation of Climate Justice.
Climate Justice is everything that we hold dear: the right to life, and our corresponding duty to ensure the same right to others including trees, plants, animals, aquatic life and the invisible creatures that are indispensable to our survival. The fact is that the lives of people and other life forms cannot be made a chip on the table of negotiations.
Inside the Bella Center
The Bella Center (Beautiful Center in English) was a huge conference center about 10 minutes out of Copenhagen by metro. It was so big, in fact, that from the back entrance (used for everyone except VVIPs like Prime Ministers and Presidents) to the other end was a full 15 minute walk! There were perhaps 20 different conference halls of various sizes, to accommodate meetings, consultations, talks, side events, and what not that was all happening concurrently.
The daily schedule (printed and distributed fresh each morning) came in two parts, and was invariably over 20 pages; it was humanly impossible to be part of everything.
The actual negotiations took place in the two large plenary halls and were called plenary sessions. Alongside were all the side-events, talks by various NGOs, UN bodies, press conferences, educational exhibits, and what-else-have-you. Some side events were very interesting, and could not be missed, others were dry and boring.
Addressing the SBSTA
The International Youth Climate Movement (IYCM) had, for the first time, a constituency status at the COP-15. This meant that we were given an office among the offices of other countries, and were officially allowed one intervention in the meetings of each body of negotiators.
An “intervention” was essentially a little speech. Representing IYCM, I delivered the intervention to the SBSTA (Subsidary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice). This is what I said:
Thank you Madam Chair,
Respected negotiators, my name is Linkesh Diwan.
On behalf of the International Youth Climate Movement, I speak for 2.2 billion people, the children on this Earth.
We demand that forests be preserved in their natural purity, rightfully protected by International Law, and kept out of the carbon market. Take the brackets off our future.
Forests are more than carbon sinks. Forests provide homes, food, soil, clean water, for diverse life forms. Forests are different from plantations. Forested lands, all lands, must be held in trust by and for the local or indigenous peoples that depend upon them.
REDD, as it stands, presents a huge danger to human rights, natural forests and the climate.
This, we cannot accept.
As youth, we fear your plans for us. Seeking Climate Justice, some of us have been fasting and praying for 37 days on water only. We are desperate.
To avoid a disastrous outcome from COP15, we demand that any agreement must include:
• a clear definition, and distinction between plantations and natural forests;
• explicit language protecting intact natural forests, and ensuring conservation of biological diversity;
• accounting for emissions from peat soils and other ecosystems;
• safeguards for the rights of local and indigenous peoples;
• and we need to address the causes for continued forest destruction.
Dear Leaders, before you make your decisions, please ask yourselves: what would Mahatma Gandhi do? Please do that.
One should know that going over the draft agreements in the UNFCCC, any clause or phrase (or even a word) which had not been fully agreed upon had [square] brackets on it. Such text was optional, and not binding if the agreement were to be adopted.
Unfortunately, all the text which could bring a good deal, ensure the protection of people’s rights, and ensure the survival of our planet was bracketed, optional, and had no force whatsoever. Hence, the statement to take the brackets off our future.
How Long Can One Live Without Food?
Well, more than 44 days at least, as proven by Sara Svensson of Sweden and Anna Keenan of Australia. As Climate Justice Fasters, they were among six other long-term fasters around the globe, and among thousands others who fasted in solidarity, as a prayer and penance for Climate Justice.
Anna and Sara, both fasted on purely water for 44 continuous days, starting in the month run-up to the conference, and breaking only after the conference was over. Their fasts were a call to conscience, as were Mahatma Gandhi’s fasts.
Together, the Climate Justice Fasters, inspired by Gandhiji, brought great seriousness to all aspects of the negotiations that they managed to touch. Yvo de Boer aptly observed that their fast was “symptomatic of a huge public frustration.”
Forty-four days is a long time on just water. However, remember that number, because unless we start to care for our Mother Earth, in the days to come, we will have no food.
Negotiating Under Influence
Last I checked, if I get caught driving a car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, I’m liable to lose my license, get fined, or even jailed. Why? The logic behind this is that my decisions (or lack thereof) may endanger the lives of hundreds of other drivers whose paths I cross in my inebriated state.
Why, then, are negotiators allowed to take decisions that affect the lives of billions of people, that may endanger the existence of millions of habitats, and that can wreak havoc on (or bring tranquility to) our environment, supplied with endless quantities and varieties of alcohol?
At the Bella Center, drinks were supplied at lunch, and again at dinner. Any variety, any flavour, any combination, and any amount was available for anyone. I did not partake. It’s no wonder that these negotiators failed to reach an agreement … it’s possible that they were never sober enough to decide that an agreement was to be made!
Whatever happens, NUI (Negotiating Under Influence) should be outlawed.
It’s Your World
December 10, 2009 was designated the Young and Future Generations Day by IYCM. On that day, we all wore T-shirts asking our leaders “How old will you be in 2050?” By the way, I’ll be 62 for most of that year.
Most of our lives will be between now and 2050. The world we have to inhabit is no longer pure, pristine, with inexhaustible bounty. What the generations before us took for granted, we no longer have.
Our oceans are choked with plastic, in some places outweighing plankton by 6:1. Our hills, valleys, rivers, and streams are filled with trash of all sorts. Our forests have shrunk, and are still shrinking to the point where they cannot keep up with all the pollution that we are making.
Millions of acres of land are useless, due to toxicity from nuclear accidents, war, chemical fertilizers. The wealth that nature once supplied: clean drinking water in the streams, clean air, abundant food, has been consumed by our predecessors; we now inherit a defaulted inter-generational debt.
It is our duty to make sure that the debt stops here, now. Having been educated, we are now invested with the duty to help the poor and suffering, to let them know that the system that educated us is the same system that impoverished them, and to work with them to find an alternative for sustainable survival on Earth.
We have a right to live, and the same right extends to the rest of creation. To ensure that we may exercise that right, we must ensure the same for all the plants, animals and ecosystems on our planet. Then only do we truly deserve it. We are the generation that makes right the wrong unknowingly committed in the past.
After all was said and done in Copenhagen, we youth got together and decided that it is [Y]OUR world. And if any change is to come, we must bring that change. We must be that change.
And we must work tirelessly to clean the oceans, rivers, lakes and skies. To de-toxify the land.
We must reach out and empower the poor to know and defend their rights; they hold the knowledge of living in harmony on and with the Earth, and are the last bearers of India’s great civilization. The time for change has arrived. You, me, all of us; we are that change!