NZYD in Cancun: hope remains

by Gareth on December 10, 2010

This is a guest post from Cancun by Paul Young (bottom right in the pic – click to put names to faces) of the New Zealand Youth Delegation.

It tells you a lot about the nature of the COP16 climate conference in Cancun that I’m only writing this now. Gareth approached us – the New Zealand Youth Delegation – back near the beginning of the conference, offering a guest blog spot. “Fantastico!” we said. I set to work planning what I’d say, jotting down a few notes to finish over the next day or so.

That didn’t quite end up happening… I was unprepared for the full on assault on the brain, senses, heart, and email inbox that this has been. I wasn’t even an “insider” during the first week (to limit numbers, the UNFCCC Secretariat only gave us eight spots per week to share amongst twelve people), but that didn’t make much difference. For a start, there’s a fair bit going on outside with alternative events such as Klimaforum, and demonstrations like the La Via Campesina one on Tuesday. There’s a huge constituency of youth NGOs (under the banner YOUNGO) we’ve been (net)working with on policy, media campaigns, and actions. There’s plenty of work to be done trying to figure out what the hell is actually happening in the negotiations, and really getting to grips with the policy issues. Then there’s the battle of trying to garner any mainstream media interest in what’s going on over here.


You end up being in “go” mode around the clock, with little time to stop and think. You end up having to squeeze intense group meetings in late at night or in the early hours of the morning. You end up spending hours sitting on busses between the two main conference venues. You end up wasting hours in a bureaucratic ordeal trying to get approval for a very tame action inside the conference centre, only to have it shot down at the final hurdle. You end up losing your laptop power cable because you were in such a hurry packing up to get to the next event, and having to start your half-written blog all over again…

And then when you finally do get a chance to sit down and do some writing, your brain is often too tired and overloaded with information you are struggling to make sense of that the words just won’t come.

Anyway, I don’t mean for this whole blog to be a “dog ate my homework” exercise. I’m trying to express how the twelve of us in NZYD are feeling as these talks reach the hectic final stages before coming to a close, with it looking like the outcomes may not even succeed in meeting the depressingly low expectations.

For me personally, the last fortnight is a blur. It’s going to take a heck of a lot of reflection to process all that has happened and all that I’ve learned. I came here with one question in the forefront of my mind: does this UNFCCC process have a chance of delivering us the deal that we so desperately need? Right now, I’m not sure if I’ve come any closer to an answer. Will a consensus be reached on all the fine details, such as forestry rules, before it really is too late? Are the insufficient pledges on the table worth the effort in the first place? How much should we hold out for something stronger? Is it more important to get something in place, no matter how weak? If the talks were to collapse, would an alternative path emerge?

Hope remains, though. I have recognised the genuine desire in the politicians and negotiators to deliver a deal. The wise words of Bill McKibben, in his speech at the three-day Conference of the Youth that preceded the COP, have stuck with me. Paraphrasing from my sporadic notes, it went something like this:

In some sense, what goes on here inside the COP16 is the side-show. We are the centre. What happens inside is only a reflection of the work we are all doing back home in building the movement for action.

The battle against climate change is different from most other problems the world has faced; there is no guarantee we’re ultimately going to win. But there’s one thing you can guarantee: there are people like you all around the world who will keep fighting until the very end.

We’ve met many amazing people over the last fortnight, and what Bill says is true.

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

John D December 10, 2010 at 3:27 pm

What is the purpose of having these kids at the conference, and who is paying for them?

Macro December 10, 2010 at 3:55 pm

They will be picking up the tab John for your inaction. How about you paying for them?

R2D2 December 10, 2010 at 4:56 pm

What I think John is saying is that they hardly seem representative of NZ youth. Reading there profiles they all seem to hold an environmental perspective first and foremost. There are plenty of NZ youth achieving in business and hard sciences (engineering, physics, chemistry) that would have more to contribute but possibly from a different slant. Sending this group and calling them the NZ Youth Delegation is a bit of a slap in the face to the average Kiwi youth who does not hold the same opinions. These people were not elected. It’s a bit like NZCSC turning up as New Zealand’s science delegation, the folks at Vic Uni and Niwa would probably cry foul.

Bryan Walker December 10, 2010 at 4:08 pm

“kids”? I hope your obnoxious statement gets hidden smartly. Paul Young, the author of this blog is a 25 year old. He describes himself as “a physics geek by day and musician by night”. His profile is here. I’d like to think the government is helping to pay, but the organisation is non-governmental and I don’t know how it is funded.

John D December 10, 2010 at 4:54 pm

You find the words “kids’ offensive Bryan?

You really are very sensitive aren’t you? I don’t think referring to a 25 year old as a kid is particularly inappropriate.

So, perhaps one of these “people of an indeterminate age, gender, sexuality and ethnicity” can tell us what they are doing in Cancun. when it is quite clear from the article that they haven’t got a clue themselves.

RW December 10, 2010 at 5:13 pm

A suitable response to you and the other dimwit – they will be trying to get a proper perspective on the challenges of the future – instead of the ostrich-like perspectives favoured by reactionary losers who want future generations to face them without any help.

R2D2 December 10, 2010 at 4:57 pm


They call themselves the youth delegation, and associate themselves with YOUNGO, what do they expect?

John D December 10, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Do you think it is appropriate to spend taxpayer dollars sending a group of 12 political activists to an international conference?

By the way, that is 12 return airfares, 12 hotel rooms and a lot of carbon emissions.

I hope we, the taxpayer, get a full report.

Bryan Walker December 10, 2010 at 7:24 pm

I don’t know about funding, but a little googling was sufficient to bring up this account of a fundraising event to help last year’s group get to Copenhagen. It looks as if your money is safe. Relieved?

CTG December 10, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Well, obviously they were funded by the International Conspiracy of Overpaid Climate Scientists (ICOCS). After all, you have to get them young to indoctrinate them into the Commie-Fascist Plot to Make Everyone Poor (CFPMEP).

(All the good acronyms were used up in the 60s, so they just have to make do with these now).

Sam Vilain December 11, 2010 at 12:19 am

Why don’t they just set up a newsgroup/mailing list and have the necessary negotiations on a (moderated) mailing list. Seems it would save all the travel, and running out of time, and keep negotiations open.

This is the 21st century, right?

Paul Young December 11, 2010 at 8:37 am

A quick response to some of the issues raised:

NZYD has not received any taxpayer money whatsoever – I agree this would be inappropriate. We’ve paid for the trip ourselves and through grassroots fundraising, with some of the group getting support from their universities. Personally I didn’t end up raising much at all since I was too busy focusing on work, and have spent over $4000 of my own money to be here. Hope that gives some indication of our commitment.

Fair call that the name New Zealand Youth Delegation isn’t the most appropriate – makes me a little uncomfortable too.

Frankly I do find it very condescending being referred to as a kid. R2D2 – you might be interested to learn that it’s in fact possible to “hold an environmental perspective first and foremost” AND be an “achiever”. I’m one of two physicists in the group – I’ve just about finished my MSc, and Mike just won a Rutherford Scholarship to Cambridge. The group also includes two engineers and a law grad with experience in the High Court, amongst other areas of expertise. The younger ones in the group are well on their way to big things too. I’ve been following climate change on various levels for 3 years now – I think we have a lot to offer.

Totally unfair to say we don’t know what we’re doing here. We’re here to learn first-hand about the process, track NZ’s role in the talks, capacity build and network with other groups from around the world, and communicate our perspective on things to our constituents back home. Maybe my article gave the wrong impression; this has been an extremely valuable experience.

Most of this you could have found out from our website – always worth doing a bit of research before mouthing off.

R2D2 December 12, 2010 at 9:35 pm

“There are plenty of NZ youth achieving in business and hard sciences (engineering, physics, chemistry) that would have more to contribute but possibly from a different slant. ”

Sorry Paul I should have phrased the above better. For this I apologise. When I read it back I shouldn’t have used the word more. The thought I was trying to convey is a diverse group representative of the cross section of NZ youth would have more to contribute than a polarised group.

Yes I read you are an engineer. My only point was that, I would guess, most NZ youth would not necessarily agree with the positions you are taking on the issues. I myself am in my mid 20s and in a professional job. Most of my friends are also professionals. Most of them do not think we need a super Kyoto type treaty, or a large climate fund.

While you should be commended for getting involved in this issue it is unfortunate, in my opinion, that the group is called the New Zealand Youth Delegation. You have agreed with me on this point. I agree with you on the point that it is possible to “hold an environmental perspective first and foremost” AND be an “achiever””. Good that we both agree on these issues.

Bryan Walker December 12, 2010 at 9:24 am

Paul’s reply sets the record straight for John D, if he’s interested in having it put straight. Paul, my apologies that your comment has been a day late in being posted. The spam facility has been kept very busy lately, and as a consequence seems to be erring on the side of caution – I found you, and one or two others, buried there. Gareth is away for a few days and I should have checked sooner. And thanks for the post – I very much enjoyed reading it.

Paul Young December 12, 2010 at 10:08 am

No worries Bryan. Thanks again to you and Gareth for the opportunity to post.

Not such a terrible outcome from Cancun after all! I’d go as far as saying the mood here is cautiously buoyant. Very exciting and fascinating to be at the conference centre last night – and I mean ALL night. Here’s my account of the evening if people are interested.

Mike Palin December 12, 2010 at 10:47 am

Yes, I’m sure R2D2 and John D will want to apologise for their uninformed and rude comments now that the facts are available. They might even find it cathartic.

CTG December 13, 2010 at 12:08 am

No, no, no, you have completely missed the point. The whole reason for being a denier is to avoid any sort of responsibility whatsoever. The denier is free to raise any allegation of wrongdoing, without any evidence at all, just in case it might be true. Equally, if it turns out that the scientists were right after all, the denier bears no responsibility for having campaigned against science – it is just the fault of the silly scientists for not having explained the problems clearly enough.

Expecting R2 or JD to apologise for raising completely unsubstantiated allegations on no evidence at all is totally unreasonable, and probably an infringement on their constitutional rights (even though we don’t actually have a constitution in NZ).

R2D2 December 13, 2010 at 12:24 pm

See my apolagy above.

John D December 13, 2010 at 7:29 pm

“Deniers never apologise”

Will the Green’s apologise when people freeze to death in the winter when the windmills are not turning?

Didn’t think so.

Mike Palin December 13, 2010 at 8:43 pm

The walls of Jericho have fallen! Both R2D2 and John D have said they are sorry.

R2D2 December 13, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Turn it up. I have apologised plenty of times on this blog. I am the first to admit when I make an error. Perhaps you should look at others on here for digging there toes in.

John D December 12, 2010 at 9:52 am

Hi Paul
Thanks for your response, and sorry if you feel offended by the “kid” tag. I guess you all look like kids to a grumpy old bugger like me.

In terms of the finance, it’s great that you have paid some of this out of your own pocket. As for not a “cent of government money”, you kind of blow it a bit by stating that the universities supported some of you.
Who, exactly, pays for universities, and why are they giving money to political activism? Whether we agree with each other or not is irrelevant, You are involved in political activism and it is a valid question to ask as to whether Universities should be paying for it.

Anyway, I hope you all learned something from Cancun and good luck with your future endeavours.

Macro December 12, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Off topic – but when have Universities not been centres of political debate?

John D December 12, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Universities have always been centres for political discussion. I just don’t recall a time when they paid student to travel to Mexico to hang out with a bunch of transnational bureaucrats intent on robbing us of every last penny we have.

Never mind, the gravy train will come to a shuddering halt very soon. Sorry guv, run out of money!

Some of you “scientists” on this forum might even have to get a real job. Perish the thought.

Richard T December 12, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Umm – science is a much harder job than you realize – any other job would be a piece of piss. The gravy train comment is just laughable. No one does science for the money. In fact one of the real problems NZ has is that for such a long-time there has been an under-investment in science and technology and universities churning out too many accountants and lawyers, plus an over-reliance on primary-production, which is where I suspect you probably believe the only real jobs are to be found. Truly backward thinking.

CTG December 13, 2010 at 12:13 am

Ah yes, the old “gravy train” routine. Those nasty old scientists are just out to rob us blind. Bring on the middle ages, when the world was 20 degrees hotter than now, and science was a dirty word. Policy should be determined by superstition and religion, not this new-fangled science stuff. Whoever heard of science making anyone richer. eh?

Back to the future, eh, John?

Mike Palin December 13, 2010 at 5:05 am

I guess it all depends on how one defines “real” job, John. Do you think research done by NZ university geologists and engineers to understand seismic hazards and develop adequate construction standards (described here) counts? Do you think the folks who live in Christchurch do?

RW December 13, 2010 at 9:59 am

Grossly offensive John D, even by your standards.

R2D2 December 13, 2010 at 9:15 am

I think by “scientists” John D did not mean scientists. Hence the quote marks. More like your sociology, ecology, environmental science majors etc. I am sure there is no desire to suggest that the classical scientist is not a respectable occupation.

As for saying we produce too many lawyers and accountants – that is just as ridiculous.

On “an over reliance on primarily production”. It may be true that our economy is dominated by primary industries, but the primary industries need not be blamed for this. The lack of success in other industries leads to primary industries dominating the economy (excluding a few success stories like Fisher & Paykel Healthcare). If the pie was double as big the primary share would be half the size.

And in some cases primary production is a good thing to be involved in. Aussie and NZ have rode the GFC very well because their economies are primary focused.

Mike Palin December 13, 2010 at 11:35 am

Right R2, “real scientists” are OK, but not those new-fangled environmental scientists. You know, the kind who monitor surface and groundwater supplies to ensure that tap water is safe to drink?

You out there John D? Do we get an answer direct from the “horses mouth”, sort to say?

CTG December 13, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Excuse me? Why exactly do you think ecology is not “real science”? Ecology is very much a classical science, and will be crucial in understanding how different ecosystems are going cope with the coming crisis that you and John D are forcing upon us.

Richard T December 13, 2010 at 9:31 pm

I have nothing against accountants and lawyers – and the university’s are just responding to demand and societal trends. But accountancy has to be the most boring profession out. And I agree about the reliance on primary production being due to failures in other endeavours, but these failures have in part been caused by the underinvestment in S&T – which have made science an unattractive career path. Oddly enough, I think agricultural disciplines are also having recruitment problems too.

John D December 13, 2010 at 12:21 pm

My definition of a “real” job is one that society can afford to pay for.
If the economy is bouyant then “sand therapy consultants” may be in hot demand, but when times get tough, then those providing food, energy and vital services are the most needed.

I am not making any value judgement on classical science, which I regard as highly important for society but one that can only be funded when there is an economic imperative. If we don’t have the money, we can’t pay. It’s that simple.

In the UK, students are rioting because their fees have been tripled. Booker notes this weekend that the fee increase is equal to the amount earmaked for the “green fund”, where the good people
of Britain get to pay for windmills, solar panels and limosines in Africa.

How will they keep the vaccines cool when the wind isn’t blowing? Who will provide basics such as food and water?
Will anyone actually see if the money is getting through to the poor?

What’s the problem? The students should be happy that they are saving the planet. The university lecturers will no doubt lose their jobs as student numbers dwindle. The universities have, like the rest of us, been shafted by politicos, who continue the green scam and line their pockets with their “alternative energy” portfolios.

R2D2 December 13, 2010 at 12:21 pm

I should step out of this debate that I didn’t start. Let’s all agree that scientists, lawyers and accountants are great professions that will be with us with or without AGW.

John D December 13, 2010 at 1:03 pm

My reply is awaiting moderation.

So sorry for offending you poor sensitive wee darlings. Do you need conselling?

I can find a “post-denier-conflict-engagement” therapy consultant for you, tax-payer funded, only $300 an hour.We can add the bill to the $250 million NZ is borrowing each week.

John D December 13, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Bit rich coming from your mouth RW, one whose sole contribution to this blog is to insult all and sundry who cross your path.

Bryan Walker December 13, 2010 at 2:23 pm

John, I’ve released your “reply” which had somehow got itself into the pending category. I had doubts as to whether it was sufficiently related to the topic of the post but let it pass. But that’s enough along those lines. We won’t have a discussion of the UK or NZ finances as interpreted by Booker and yourself. I suggest you tone down the sneering sarcasm as well.

RW December 13, 2010 at 2:35 pm

No, just the likes of you. I have respect for the integrity of science and scientists – your blatantly obvious political agenda leads you to smear them constantly. For my part, I see little need to repeat refutations of your “arguments”. Such concrete points as I have made in the past have never been answered by you or your fellow trolls. You would feel much more at home on Kiwiblog, where you would find many like-minded individuals. Goodbye.

Richard T December 13, 2010 at 9:11 pm


Admittedly John D’s points about the Britsh economy were a bit of ramble and the connections shaky – but in essence they do reflect the fears of many deniers which are of economic collapse triggered by a de-carboning of the economy. However they really do need to analyse the causes of recent financial disasters – none were caused by green policies – they seemed to be mainly by easy credit, greed, lack of regulatory overisght in the US, creative accountancy, and a spike in oil prices.

What is puzzling about their position is the total blind-spot they have about the long-term threat to the economies of climate change. So what universities need to be turning more out are economists who are sophisticated enough to properly treat environmental costs in their anlayses.

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