Youth Briefing Session at SB50 with UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Ms. Patricia Espinosa

by Shan Agrawal

While there is no shortage of geo-political, social or economic problems that countries around the world must face at any given time, climate change is increasingly a driving influence in all areas. Before you read any further, pause for a moment and think about this: can you say climate change has not affected your life in some important or any way at all?

Once you recognize climate risk touches your life, and that those risks that are non-linear and unforgiving, are you still willing to be a part of a generalized pattern of ignorance and complicity? It is ironic that as climate risks continue to crystallize in more and more people’s everyday experience, with increasing frequency and severity, affecting EVERYONE around the world in some way or the other, it is still a relatively small population that understands the emergency and persistently demands serious climate action as a condition of public service or business leadership. When I say us, I mean the youth; the youth who understands that immediate gratification is not the way of life and “Us Later” is much important than “Me Now”.

Archimedes, the famous Greek mathematician, once said: Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world. In my mind, I know we have the fulcrum we need—the youth, who are ready to do the leg work and galvanize the masses to spread this contemporary revolution against climate risks and act as an intermediary of change. The only thing missing is a strong lever. A lever, which represents a body of work (perhaps multiples bodies of work) led simultaneously by multiple strong-willed leaders who are willing to work across political fragmentations, communal idiosyncrasies and national boundaries to do what is necessary.

At the recently concluded UN Bonn Climate Change Conference (SB50), one such potential body of work was in action. UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international environmental treaty adopted in 1992 to provide a framework for climate action, has been striving towards creating a constructive and fertile environment for breakthrough climate negotiations. At SB50, I had the opportunity to moderate a youth briefing session with the Executive Secretary of UNFCCC, Ms. Patricia Espinosa.

The youth briefing session provided an opportunity for privileged youth like me to really understand the present context and direction of climate negotiations, while also listening to Ms. Espinosa’s views on the different areas that are of concerns to us.

  • Ambition of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs): NDCs are national climate change plans that highlight climate actions, targets, policies and measures that governments aim to implement in response to each country’s unique climate risks, as contributions to the fulfillment of the Paris Agreement’s climate goals. The UNFCCC very well realizes that the present commitments made in the NDCs (as of 2018) would limit global warming to only about 3 degrees Celsius, a number which is “MUCH MUCH” higher than the goal laid out in Paris Agreement (PA) Article 2.1.a of “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”. As Ms. Espinosa mentioned, the process of building NDCs should be done in an inclusive manner and not behind closed doors. As youth voices have started to be heard around the world, it is imperative that more SPECIFICITY be brought into the dialogues between the youth and those responsible for formulating them, so as to increase the ambition and enhance the design of NDCs.
  • Funding Obligations: There are currently 47 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) which are low income countries confronting severe structural impediments to sustainable development, while being highly vulnerable to climate risks. On the question whether alternative financial contributions could be mobilized from developing and developed countries to pay for the funding obligations of LDCs for the UN system, Ms. Espinosa underscored the complexity of the issue in question. Although negotiations regarding funding obligations to recognize assessed contribution requirements are complex, they do take into account the social and economic realities of different parties. Perhaps, what is needed is more support from donor countries, countries which realize the “inclusivity” of the risks at hand and are able to realize the global value of external returns on investment through cross-boundary community building.
  • Conflict of Interest Policy: While it is generally assumed that non-party stakeholders can play a crucial role in positively building on climate negotiations, there are concerns from developing countries that some non-party stakeholders (like those representing fossil fuel lobbies) might have interests in continuing to expand and promote GHG emissions. Interests which are fundamentally un-aligned with the goals of the PA. Thus, a conflict of interest policy would be critical in undermining the efforts of those who aim to botch the PA goals. While Ms. Espinosa acknowledged the contentious history of the issue, it’s only understandable that in the context of 195+ countries, different opinions would exist. If the parties are not able to reach an agreement on this policy, UNFCCC would have to respect that. But since we require this massive transformation across all industries and economies to adapt and mitigate the climate risks, everyone’s participation in the commitment, irrespective of their identities, is also very important.

While there are many other questions asked by youth from all over the world (Nigeria, Germany, India, UK, Kenya, Sweden, Canada, Germany, Switzerland), responses from Ms. Espinosa seemed to be underling some fundamental guiding ideas.

  • Specificity: With growing mass mobilization on climate issues around the world, the locally, regionally and nationally tailored specificity of ideas and solutions is very important for implementation to be successful.
  • Youth Voices: Just getting a seat on the table is not enough and should not be sufficient. Voices from youth around the world need to be raised. But these voices shouldn’t be just alarms of the impending catastrophe if sufficient actions are not taken. Building on the knowledge acquired from the ground movement, young people need to get engaged and participate with decision-makers on proposals with specific ideas of engagement and community building.
  • Consistency: Climate negotiations are incredibly complex. The only way to positively shape these negotiations and build for a better world is through consistency: consistency of ideas, consistency of participation, consistency of not backing down, and consistency of perseverance.

For what’s it worth, remember, “Us Later” is more important than “Me Now”.