Category Archives: COP 16

“So How Was Mexico?”

By Erica Nickels

Since I arrived home in December, people have been asking me about my experience as a Canadian Youth Delegate to COP16, the sixteenth round of climate change negotiations at the United Nations.  The conversation usually starts off with them asking, “did you have fun in Mexico?”  After all, they reason, I had just spent two weeks in Cancun, the land of white sand beaches, exclusive resorts and all-night dance parties. How could I not have had fun?  The first couple of times this happened, I wasn’t quite sure what to say.  Did I have fun in Mexico…did I meet a lot of interesting people? Definitely.  Did I learn more in two weeks than I ever thought was humanly possible? Without a doubt.  Was I glad that I went? Absolutely.  But did I have fun in Mexico?  No, not really.

Participating in COP16 – the lead up, the conference and the aftermath – has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life.  Before the conference, I struggled  as part of project that, like the youth environmental movement itself, is vastly underfunded and overcommited.  During the conference, I witnessed the colossal slowness of the bureaucratic megatron that is the United Nations.  I sat through self-congratulatory speeches and formulaic pleasantries and painfully technical debates on punctuation, and got up close and personal with Canada’s diplomatic evasive maneuvers. I spoke with country representatives who could only afford to send 2 negotiators to a conference where 15 negotiating tracks occur simultaneously, and developing countries are behind before they’ve even started.  As the conference drew to a close, I felt the like the real reason we had all come together had somehow been lost, and that for another year, hundreds of thousands of people would continue to lose their lives and livelihoods to climate change, while we threw up our hands and said, “oh well, better luck next year”.

Over the past month, I have struggled to find a way to adequately explain my experience at the United Nations that is simultaneously honest and hopeful.  Because, even in my darkest, most difficult of moments, I never lost hope, not entirely.  I have to believe that we can, that we will do better – it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.  But I’m also a great believer in following my passions, and I have recently realized that I am not, in fact, passionate about the United Nations.  There is still important work to be done at the U.N. climate change negotiations, and young people have an important role to play in that process; However, the single most important thing we can do as young Canadians is to work to shift the ideological, economic, and political landscape here in Canada.  Until Canadians recognize the moral imperative to take action on global warming, realize that climate change adaptation and mitigation present unparalleled opportunities for domestic economic growth, and make climate change a central election issue, we  can sign as many international treaties as we want, but our politicians will never champion legislation that seriously addresses climate change.

So where do we go from here?  There are tonnes of organizations here in Canada that are doing excellent education and advocacy work when it comes to public outreach, issues-based campaigns and green jobs, but there’s one thing in particular that we can do that would drastically transform Canadian policies: vote!  We know that if more youth showed up at the polls, our country would look a whole lot different than it does right now.  In fact only 37% of youth voted in our last election, compared to 68% of Canadians over the age of 65.  Imagine what we could accomplish if we got more youth to show up the next time around!  Rumours are flying that we could have an election as soon as this spring; we have the opportunity to make climate change an election issue, and to encourage more young people to exercise their civic right and responsibility to vote.

There are a thousand ways that we can take action on climate change – I for one am going to be heading to the polls, and bringing everyone I know with me.

Fix the Rules, Not the Game

By: Erica Nickels

When I pictured the United Nations negotiations on climate change, I imagined a giant conference centre with negotiations at one end, panel discussions at the other, and NGO and special interest groups’ booths somewhere in between.  The reality is that the side events and booth are in one complex, and the actual negotiations happen at the Moon Palace, a golf and spa resort a 20 minute bus ride away.  The general consensus is that this arrangement is highly inconvenient and often segregates country delegates from NGO representatives.  One of the unexpected advantages, however, is that you never know who you’re going to be sitting beside on the bus ride between the two venues.

pastedGraphic.pdfSeveral days ago, I struck up a conversation with a a negotiator from Burundi. She expressed frustration with the amount of time she spends getting from one space to another.  Her country can only afford to send 2 negotiators, and unlike the developed world, who are housing their negotiators at the prohibitively expensive Moon Palace, she an her fellow negotiator are staying at a less expensive hotel in downtown Cancun.  That means that before she’s even arrived at Moon Palace, she’s already spent an hour on the bus.  Add to that the fact that she is one of two negotiators, and there are up to 15 negotiating tracks happening at one time.  In comparison, this year Canada sent 60+ negotiators and support staff who can spell each other off when they need to eat or sleep or talk to their families. Meanwhile, the Burundians are run off their feet and fighting a losing battle.

To add insult to injury, while delegates barter endlessly back and forth over adaptation aid and who will pay whom how much, the United Nations, along with various country and private interest delegations, host lavish parties with open bars and exotic foods to tempt invitees to endorse the latest publication or purchase the most recent “green” product.  The Burundian negotiator was discouraged by the opulence that is so prevalent at the negotiations, suggesting that they could fund thousands of projects in her country with the money that is spent in two weeks on entertaining and showmanship at the UNFCCC.

There are some concrete things that I can do here as a youth delegate to support countries like Burundi, who have limited capacity at the negotiations. For example, I will be taking notes for Karibati, a series of small islands in the South Pacific who are already feeling the affects of climate change, and could see large swaths of their home land underwater within the century.  It is ironic that the countries most affected by climate change are often those with the most limited resources for sending negotiators to the United Nations to speak on their behalf.  By taking notes at the side events and  meetings that Karibati negotiators are unable to attend, I can help them to get the information they need to make informed decisions at the negotiations.

I believe, however, that we need to go further than volunteering to take notes.  The very fact that some countries send dozens of negotiators and hundreds of support staff while others are unable to send more than a handful highlights one of the many ways that existing inequities continue to be reinforced at the United Nations.  This is a space where all countries are supposed to be on a level playing field and have an equal voice.

If the United Nations were to limit the number of negotiators and support staff that each country is able to send to the negotiations, regardless of their financial means, they would be taking a big step forward towards ensuing that everyone has an equal opportunity to be heard.  While the existing inequities go much deeper than how many delegates from each countries are present, setting a firm cap on delegates would at least help ensure that everyone gets the same amount of sleep, and has the same number of representatives present during various conversations.  The United Nations isn’t perfect, but it’s currently the best option we have for facilitating high-level conversations around climate change.  That being said, it’s time for us to start a serious conversation about how it could work better.


Conciencia Colectiva – Cultivating Community

My name is Erica Nickels, and I am a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation to the next round of United Nations climate change negotiations happening right now in Cancun, Mexico.  When I graduated from high school, I received a generous scholarship from the Kitchener-Waterloo branch of the CFUW that supported my studies in International Development and Environmental Studies at the University of Ottawa. The CFUW has provided me with a bursary to support my work at the United Nations, and in return, I will be providing you with regular updates and insights into my experience as a young women participating in the negotiations.

While many delegates to the U.N. climate change negotiations were still packing their bags and preparing for their departure, young people from around the world had already arrived in Cancun, participating in the 6th Conference of the Youth (COY6) at el Universidad del Caribe.  COY provided an amazing opportunity for youth from diverse across the globe to come together to discuss solutions to climate change, and develop strategies to work together, both at this year’s COP and beyond.

By Saturday afternoon, I was suffering from information overload.  When I saw that one of the workshops would be facilitated in the University’s ecological garden, I jumped at the opportunity to get outside, and hopefully get my hands dirty.  I imagined myself wandering through the garden and taking a moment to appreciate the incredible beauty of my natural surroundings.  What I discovered instead was an amazingly inspiring story of a community of people who are leading by example and tackling climate change head on.

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