NZYD in Cancun: hope remains

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.

40 thoughts on “NZYD in Cancun: hope remains”

      1. 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.

    1. “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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

      2. 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.

        1. 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).

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

    1. “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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. 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).

      1. “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.

      1. 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.

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