Our future is not for sale
Posted May 10, 2011, 5:12am
By Anna Oposa
Philippine Online Chronicles
15 December 2010
For world’s party animals, Cancún, Mexico is the destination for spring break. For the world’s climate change geeks, activists and environmentalists, Cancún was the place to be for the 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Some 194 countries continued where they left off at COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark to come up with an ambitious and legally binding agreement as a response to climate change. It is, after all, called global warming, and would therefore require global action.
To represent the voice of the Filipino youth, Esperanza Garcia, Kester Yu, Desiree Llanos Dee, Vivienne Zerrudo, and yours truly were there as part of the official Philippine delegation. Having the pink badge, as opposed to the yellow one for non-governmental organizations, was both a boon and bane: we couldn’t participate in all of the youth-initiated activities because we carried our country’s name, but we had access to all closed-door meetings and high-level briefings held at the Moon Palace, the swanky hotel that gave a commanding view of the Caribbean Sea.
On the first day of the UNFCCC, all of the opening remarks discussed the state of urgency emergency we are in because of the world’s rapidly rising temperature. The speakers stated facts and statistics that made us wish we had another Earth to relocate to. Too bad we don’t have a Planet B.
The alarming numbers didn’t seem to mean anything in the actual negotiations, where was so much talk about talk. The representatives spent hours discussing which paragraphs should go before others, which sentences needed to be moved or removed, which words should be replaced, and which commas needed to be deleted or added. I felt like I was in one of my literary theory classes, deconstructing texts until nothing was left of it. It was frustrating to listen to the world’s leaders and lawyers negotiate like we weren’t running out of time, like there was no future generation to inherit their decisions (or lack thereof). They didn’t act like they were grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and older siblings. They talked about loans, forgetting that my generation and generations yet unborn would be paying off those loans when they’re six feet under. My idealism began to wane.
After a particularly long meeting that went in circles, my young, optimistic, perhaps even naïve self bombarded Atty. Vicente Yu, one of the lead negotiators of the Philippine delegation, with questions. “What is this all for?” “How can you stand listening to them say the same thing over and over again?” “Why do we travel for thousands of miles knowing that the results are going to be inconclusive?” “Instead of flying everyone here only to disagree, why don’t we just work on this using Google Docs or, like, Skype?!” “How sure are we that something good will come out of this?”
“You have to understand that this is the process,” he answered patiently. “Words shape reality, and reality shapes thought. We’re all equal here, Anna. An African’s life is just as important as a Filipino’s, which is why you have to listen to everyone.” Atty. Tony Laviña, another rockstar of the Philippine delegation, added, “We do this because there is always hope, because there is light at the end of tunnel. You have to believe in human goodness.”
My search for human goodness always led me back to Cancun Messe, where most of the NGO-accredited youth delegates were. I met accomplished young people from all over the world engaged in incredible environmental work. While the negotiators were having a war with words at the Moon Palace, the youth got messy at the Messe. After Japan announced that it would not inscribe its target in a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the Japanese youth delegates donned their national costumes and gamely posed inside a cutout heart while holding a sign that said “I (heart) KP.” A handful of volunteers stayed by their side singing The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” to get the message across. The youth also came up with a “personal” ad published in ECO, the daily newsletter: “ANNEX 1 COUNTRY SEEKING TREATY FOR NO-STRINGS ATTACHED HOLIDAY ROMANCE IN MEXICO. Currently struggling with a 13-year relationship, just looking for a good time in the Cancun sun. Likes: excellent food, movies, comic books, robots and big industry. Dislikes: commitment, cooperation, compliance, science and targets. If interested please email: email@example.com .” The reply was even wittier: “Dear Annex 1 countries, [Y]ou should also know that for a few years now I have been looking for a long-term commitment. I am at a (tipping) point in my life where I have a strong desire for a reliable companion to fill a (gigatonne) gap in my heart. Likes: beaches, forests, humanitarian work, science, strong ambition. Dislikes: all-inclusive hotels (such a model of overconsumption – ugh!), long plane rides, oil lobbyists, hot air, carbon markets. PS Your email address firstname.lastname@example.org does not work – go figure!”
On Thursday, December 2, the youth celebrated Young and Future Generations Day. We all wore blue shirts that said, “You have been negotiating all my life. Don’t tell me you need more time.” Christina Ora, a young girl from the Solomon Islands, said these powerful lines in Copenhagen last year. We participated in the Our Future is Being Sold Market by creating artworks of natural resources with price tags to symbolize what the previous generation are “selling” by not addressing climate change. The Nepalese painted the Himalayas, with the price tag saying, “Priceless.” The Australian Youth Climate Coalition drew kangaroos, koalas, and the Great Barrier Reef. The UK Youth Climate Coalition copied the sign of E-Bay and made Tree-Bay, to show how much of their forests have been wiped out. We Filipinos painted a reef of bleached corals, with the slogan, “Life’s a bleach!”
On the last day, negotiations were still going nowhere. To put pressure on the negotiators, the youth delegates pushed through with an unsanctioned activity. They gathered in front of the building where the negotiations were being held and started counting to 21, 000 – the number of climate-related deaths since Copenhagen. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” declared the banner. The message was clear: how many more deaths will we wait for until the politicians reach a compromise?
As expected, the UNFCCC security stepped in and threatened to ban them from future COPs. Others left, most stayed and continued counting. When they reached about 3, 000, the security forcibly removed them from the premises by pushing them inside an empty bus. We were all in tears. It was the most sincere and heartbreaking protest in COP history.
The action must have stirred something in the air, because that evening, the Cancun Agreementswere passed. It was surreal to hear the heads of states say something along the lines of, “It’s not perfect, but it’s something we can live with.” Each statement was met with thunderous applause. It’s been three years since the UNFCCC adopted any climate action, so though far from perfect, the Cancun Agreements are, at the very least, a step forward in the right direction.
Now that I’m back in Manila, I have my own answers to the questions I posed earlier. Addressing climate change isn’t about saving the Earth, because she’ll heal and go on without us as she has been the past four billion years. This is about saving humanity, especially my generation and generations yet unborn. I am sure that something good will come out of this because of the promise and unwavering passion of the youth. Because we have been so disillusioned with the lack of progress of the previous generations, we understand that the time for talk is over. We will continue fighting for our rights as inheritors of the Earth and keep changing mindsets and practices, with or without the world leaders by our side.
The youth is wasted on the young, they say. Who are they? They, I think, are the People Who Have Never Been To A UN Climate Change Conference.
Editor's note: Anna Oposa was one of the five representatives of the Philippine youth in Cancun, Mexico for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Photo 1 and 3 from 350.org. Second photo from ECO Singapore. Some Rights Reserved