by Mariana Calderón
Or: How Does This Whole Conference Thing Work, and What Are You Guys Doing There Anyways?
( An explanation as to how this place is set up, and how we’re learning what we’re learning)
Just imagine: 60+ youth participants in blue shirts, scurrying in a mob down a dirt path in a pitch-dark jungle, with only a few scattered flashlights and headlamps to guide them. People were shouting, arguing, and even discussing the possibility of a zombie attack from behind.Trying to get back to our hotels and hostels after yesterday’s Klima Forum Young and Future Generations Day activities was no easy task, and an interesting experiment in group mentality. Only a handful of people knew why everyone had abandoned the neat line waiting for the bus, and even fewer (I would estimate zero) knew where we were going, and yet, everyone followed everyone else in the delightfully refreshing stroll through Quintana Roo’s wilderness. Thankfully, however, after around 15 min of walking, and stopping various times to debate whether or not to turn around, we turned to see the headlights of a shuttle, complete with the confused driver who had told us to walk up one path a bit to the bus, only to see the crowd disappear into the night down another. The gentleman and sudden hero then kindly led us in his van down the correct path rather exasperatedly, and we followed like ducklings going home.
At times, even at the end of week one of the conference, I still feel somewhat like I’m lost in the jungle of party members and delegates, non-governmentals and inter-governmentals, press and media members, and YOUNGOs in their blue shirts. There is a huge variety of things to get involved in here, all of them tempting in their own ways.
Each day this week, we’ve all picked up the 40-page program that outlines the times and agenda items of the official Conference of the Parties (COP) sessions, informal group meetings, and side events for that day. The task then is to go through and decide what we want to do with our day. For example, a policy enthusiast may decided to head to, and stay at, the Moon Palace for the official COP meetings and group sessions that are open to observers. It takes true dedication to go to a resort center only to ignore the closed-off pool complex and sit on uncomfortable chairs for hours and listen to statements and agendas, but it is well worth the effort to be able to see the development of the negotiations as they happen. To be at a meeting and actually hear Japan make their controversial statement regarding the Kyoto Protocol is an experience in itself, and learning to understand and unravel the lingo and processes of these meetings is invaluable.
Similarly, one could also (attempt) to attend press briefings that take place at Moon Palace. For the first few days, security at the media-only briefings was relaxed enough that I was able to slip in and watch the EU secretariat, Mexican organizers, and US representatives, among others, make statements and answer questions. Because it was early in the conference, there was nothing particularly exciting to hear, but monitoring the briefings (from outside the press room if necessary) is a good way to get a handle on what countries’ negotiation positions are and watch how negotiations develop publicly. For example, on November 30th, when asked their position on using loans in Fast Start Financing programs, or, why loans?, the EU provided the quite informative answer that loans re-paid themselves in circular fashion through, and that “using a grant in such a situation would be a waste of money.” Thank you, EU.
For those less interested in the official movements and more interested in connecting with organizations and hearing updates on research and efforts in the fight against Climate Change, there is the Cancun Messe. In what seems to be a warehouse complex turned office building and job fair, participants can hear talks, join discussions, and visit booths hosted by NGO’s, Inter-governmentals, and delegations. These include representatives from the Center for Biological Diversity, Global Environment Facility, GreenPeace, party members from China, Guatemala, Malawi, Mexico, the US, various Youth NGOs (YOUNGOs), and so on. Those at the Cancun Messecan can both visit presentations on a wide variety of Climate Change related topics, and pick up free swag (totebags, stickers, and t-shirts) as well as reports and pamphlets from the booths. Who could want any more than that? But in all seriousness, the presentations have been informative, thoughtful, and, at times, quite impressive. Panelists at the talks can include ambassadors and UN representatives, world-renowned researchers, and NGO directors and leaders. While not all the speakers were made to be speakers, to put it lightly, they all do show a passion for their work, expertise, and an understanding of the seriousness of the situation as well as the hopefulness that everyone here needs to nurture. For participants like those in our own delegation, some of whom are just getting started in the climate world, these events offer opportunities to meet people, ask questions, and perhaps even give out a contact card or two.
Finally, there is the Klima Forum. Members of our delegation attended for the first time yesterday, excited for the events of Young and Future Generations day. While yesterday was not the exciting, productive, youth action-filled pool party that it was described to us as, there was value in this alternative venue nonetheless. For those who were not able to get accreditation, only have accreditation for one of the two weeks, or whose accreditation was delayed due to computer glitches, Klima Forum provided a workspace with internet, power, and plenty of other people to network with. YOUNGOs in particular seem to use the space often, and yesterday, the worktables were fileed with participants blogging, video editing, and writing press releases with a dedication that was admirable (though it delayed any sort of youth celebration by a few hours last night). The Youth Movement in itself is another place to plug in. These participants, ranging from high schoolers to college graduates, have a wide range of experience expertise in everything from political campaigning to policy particularly pertaining to the COP16 and previous conferences they have under their belt. The youth efforts from all over the world have come together at COP16 in a way that is inspiring.
So, you might ask, how do all these tie together? One thing I’ve learned in this first week is that while at this conference is that it is important to know and play to your strengths. While I enjoy the plenary sessions, at times, it gets technical enough that I need a break to stretch, go to Cancun Messe, find an event, and learn about the Blue Carbon Initiative. And while a day full of side events about gender politics and indiginous peoples may be interesting to many, I may find it more productive to take myself to Moon Palace and sit in on a meeting about Article Six. Sometimes, it’s important to not follow the group, and find something that perhaps only you are interested in. Other times, I’ve followed the mob into the jungle, just to try something new. If any of us get lost, we have our instructor and delegation leader, Doreen (a toast!) , to guide us back with flashing headlights if necessary. In the end, we’ll all find our way home richer for the experience of immersion such a complex field.
So really, (I hate to say it, folks) The Way That This Whole Conference Thing Works, I’ve noticed, is rather Human Ecological.