Since 5pm, a group of approximately 20 youth from across the globe started a sit-in inside of the Bella Center outside of the Plenary and continue to stay put. They are reading the names of 12 million people who want a fair and just climate treaty as well as transparency in the process. Among them, my friend Lisa Curtis.
Sen. John Kerry passed by and greeted the youth sitting-in as well as other delegates.
Please help spread the word. Let the whole world know we want real long-term solutions!
Live stream: http://www.powershift09.org/live
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UN security told youth that if they do not leave now, then they will be arrested and civil society will not be allowed to come into the building Thursday or Friday. Group has agreed to walk out to allow the few civil society has been guaranteed for Thursday and Friday.
Statement will be delivered outside.
With access restricted to NGOs, no transparency in the UN negotiations, absurd emission target proposals that would rise emissions to 770ppm by the year 2100, and two decades of people organizing for environmental justice, the people took it to the streets…and to Bella Center!
Chanting “Reclaim Power,” hundreds of people from all over the world participated in this action to send the message to the UN and the World that real solutions are not discussed in the climate negotiations and the people are completely left out of the process.
Even though some NGOs were given the secondary badge to access the Bella Center today, Friends of the Earth were denied access to the center without any given reason. They sat in for two hours by registration and credentials desk until Yvo de Boer came by and said he wouldn’t listen to them until they act civilized and stop insulting him.
Quiet honestly, the ones that need to be civilized are the ones negotiating our future! There is nothing civilized about letting small island states submerge in water or allowing the continuation of emissions that not only harm the environment but also public health.
The people are fed up with the injustice and want long-term solutions not false solutions that continue to increase the gap between the rich and poor.
Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the UN negotiations because access was further restricted despite the fact that I have the proper accreditation and second badge. However, I did ride the train with Kat and Brenna and got off one stop down from Bella Center. We got a great view of the Reclaim the Power action and I got footage of it. We rode the train about four times…trying to figure out what to do next since we couldn’t enter Bella Center and the Reclaim the Power action was blocked by approximately 20 police vans/busses from all sides. During those four rides, we took pictures and video of the action.
Check it out: Reclaim Power! The People’s Assembly
(I will try posting a high quality version of this soon. Pardon the awful pixels for the meantime).
With tension building up in all directions at COP15, access to the center is being reduced to NGOs Tuesday and Wednesday, 1000 civil society members on Thursday and only 90 on Friday. Additionally, the G77 walked out of negotiations at noon yesterday causing a suspension. With that being said, I was eager to ask Yvo de Boer and Connie Hedegaard what they thought about G77 suspending the negotiations. What are the next steps? I also wanted to take the opportunity to ask a question in regards to why there is no international talk and action taken in regards to Climate Change and public health?
Due last week’s experience waiting in line to enter the room for a high-level meeting with Yvo de Boer, I was determined to arrive early outside the room to secure a good seat for filming and was lucky that I was the first in line since a big crowd down the hall was going CRAZY over Al Gore walking by. Thankfully, I did not have to deal with the claustrophobic feeling of being shoved into the room by people behind me since security organized entrance better than previous events. I had the perfect seat at the front and was ready with my video camera to record the meeting especially since Linh Do, a fellow UNEP TUNZA youth advisory council representative for Australia was chosen to moderate the meeting.
The plan was for a 30 minute meeting. 15 minutes passed by and many youth in the room started to get concerned. 5 minutes later a UN staff member told us that Yvo De Boer and Connie Hedegaard were running late and still in a meeting. Finally, the UN staff member received a call notifying her to cancel the event. I understand that an unexpected walk out by G77 countries occurred at the negotiations, but if they both had to meet, strategize, and resolve the dilema in negotiations, they should have sent someone to notify UN staff to cancel the meeting before so many youth went out of their way to wait in line and attend this high level meeting.
I was not too upset about this yesterday. However, today I got an email from the UNFCCC secretariat stating that the high level meeting with Ban Ki-Moon was rescheduled to Thursday evening! First of all, who will even get to this meeting with further access restricted for NGOs that day. It is almost guaranteed that no one in our delegation will have access on Thursday, much less on Friday. Additionally, the majority of Youth will not be in attendance. How does UNFCCC plan to distribute the secondary badges aka “yellow badges” amongst NGOs? Why are they doing this in the first place? Perhaps, due to security reasons and heads of state arriving. However, having 90 civil society members on Friday is just unacceptable! That is not being transparent at all. It is being exclusive. This is not a conference for the people. It is more a conference about economic benefit than it is about paying an ecological debt, human rights. In short: Money>People. Throughout COP15, the admiration of youth organizing kept being highlighted with comments from high level figures such as “inspirational youth” or “It’s great to see a large number of youth involved.” However, they yet have to understand our message that we want a strong deal with 350ppm, human rights included in the text. We do not need to be complimented on how great youth organizers we are. We know we are great. But, guess what? We know that they have a lot of WORK to do before we can admire them.
Over the course of the past four days at the climate negotiations, I have not had enough “Marisol time” to reflect on what has been going on in Copenhagen. At the very least, I would like to see in the final negotiations a legally binding agreement to reduce CO2 levels to 350ppm. The survival of many people is in negotiators hands. To be honest, that really scares me. I feel that the people most affected by climate change are often ignored when the countries that made the mess will be less impacted by climate catastrophe than small island states.
Yesterday, I participated in a youth “rainstorm” action at the Bella Center, reflective of the fact that together we can make a loud peaceful statement that we will not die silently and demand a legally binding agreement to reduce CO2 to 350ppm. At this action, a young girl from the Maldives spoke about how her island state is being affected by sea level rise as a result of climate change. She stated that even though 2 degrees increase in temperature may not seem too much of a change, it really does mean drastic change that may submerge the island. Listening to her testimony was very emotional for me. I had knowledge of the Maldives and other small island states that are facing the burden of climate change the hardest. However, hearing a live testimony from a climate justice youth activist is much more personal, more real, it is a first hand account.
Bringing it back home, I feel that communities impacted by the coal industry are also often ignored. Yes, federal government has made a big step by suing Midwest Generation, an Edison International company that owns six coal power plants in Illinois, including the Crawford plant in Little Village and Fisk Plant in Pilsen. However, we still need to wait and see what will be the outcome of this lawsuit.
With the new finding that green house gasses are a threat to public health. What will be done to address public health? People living near coal power plants are most impacted by air pollutants that lead to respiratory illness and premature deaths. People living in Appalachia are severely affected by black lung disease due to coal extraction, mining, and coal waste dumped into local rivers/valleys. Who are these people? Low income, African-American, and Latino. I’m from Little Village, a predominantly Mexican-American community. I live four blocks away from the Crawford coal power plant and I refuse to be labeled just as a “statistic”. I am a human and I deserve to breathe clean air! If politicians like coal so much, why don’t they put one in their backyard?
Some people may ask, “Well if it is so dangerous, why do you continue to live there?” When that is the only place your family can afford, you do not have the luxury of a choice.
From Tuvalu, Maldives, Chicago, and COP15 where are our human rights?
Crawford Coal Power Plant. Photograph by Paul L. Meredith
As the youth environmental movement gains momentum prior to COP15, The White House announced just the Wednesday before Thanksgiving that they would host a Youth and Clean Energy Forum with youth environmental leaders on Dec 2, 2009. The act in and of itself is a great victory for the youth environmental movement. Achieving such type of open dialogue was a heavier task during the Bush administration especially considering the fact that Bush did not acknowledge climate change until the last 2 years of his term. The fact that the Obama administration put this forum together is a great step forward.
As a prominent youth environmental justice leader with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization in Chicago, I was one of 100 youth leaders invited to participate in the forum. At first, I thought the forum was just going to be a speil session with little time to ask questions. Well, the forum exceeded my expectations even though the president did not attend the forum. Those present at the forum included Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy; Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor; Lisa Jackson, Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency; Nancy Sutley ,Chair of Council on Environmental Quality; Jon Carson, Chief of Staff for Council on Environmental Quality; Carol Browner, Director of White House Office of Energy and Climate Change. The forum was broken down into two parts: 1) panel with Q&A session. 2) Working groups with senior level staff.
During the panel with Q&A, Steven Chu spoke about his views on where the U.S. stands with Climate Change. He stated that he does not see the U.S. “turning it’s back on coal” when there is such a high energy demand and many people would lose their jobs. This comment turned off most of the youth who work actively to reach a common goal: transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. Steven Chu took a few questions after his speech and then left. Lisa Jackson and Hilda Solis then came into the room, introduced themselves and took questions.
With Steven Chu’s coal comment in mind and my intentions to ask Lisa Jackson a question in regards to environmental disparities and exposure to hazards, I raised my hand up high in the air. Luckily, I was sitting in the second row of the room and got called on for the second question. To begin, I thanked Lisa Jackson for leading EPA into filing a lawsuit against Midwest Generation, the owner of six coal power plants in Illinois with two of those located in Chicago’s predominantly Mexican-American neighborhoods. I proceeded with the question “Steven Chu mentioned earlier that he does not see the U.S. turning it’s back on coal. Is the use of coal more important than protecting the health of communities living in close proximity to coal mining sites and coal power plants? ” To that Lisa Jackson responded, “Oh no, no. That is my job, to make sure that emissions do not harm environment and the people.” She continued stating that the transitions from fossil fuels to renewable sources is not an easy one but that we must work towards that direction. As the panel continued, Lisa Jackson stated that she would like to see a legally binding agreement in Copenhagen.
During the working group session, my group worked with staff from the Department of Energy. It was a productive working group session with a conversation about maintaining open communication as well as discussing the science behind 350ppm as being the amount of CO2 the earth can handle and maintain itself stable as opposed to 450ppm or 550ppm. Surely, getting to 350ppm is no easy task. What is needed is a strong commitment to stop permitting mountain top removal and the construction of new coal power plants among other emitters of CO2. The conversation went further in depth when expressing our concern for the continuation of nuclear and coal technologies as supported by Department of Energy. The youth present at the forum unanimously agreed that we can no longer continue with nuclear and coal technologies. We demanded to create a feasible timeline/vision to transition to renewable sources of energy ideally by 2050. We also went into depth with the coal discussion in regards to environmental justice. One of the youth leaders in my group was from Appalachia and he described the health issues related to coal mining and dumping of coal waste in local rivers, which are in close proximity to low-income white communities. I then took the opportunity to highlight the coal cycle and how it affects Americans each day whether it is from the extraction process or burning process. Right now, the government is very focused on “clean coal” since it does not emit green house gasses into the atmosphere. However, with clean coal we still have to mine the coal and thus continue oppressing these communities affected by black lung disease among other respiratory illnesses.
Our working group concluded with the suggestion to create a youth clean energy advisory council to have open communication with the White House and be present at the policy table. As youth, we helped elect President Obama and we will support him in taking stronger actions to address Climate Change internationally and domestically. Why continue depending on coal through “clean coal”? That is a short-term fix. We have no time for short-term fixes. We need to invest our time in developing long-term fixes. We acknowledge the White House cannot act on it’s own and are willing to help pressure the House and Senate to create a stronger Climate bill as well. We are ready to establish a time line and follow it! The question remains: “President Obama, are you willing to take bigger step forward and help start that transition?”
Several White House cabinet members and staff will attend COP15.
Overall, a very productive meeting in terms of expressing our concerns openly and dialoguing with staff. Let’s hope the White House keeps in communication with us and gets a White house youth clean energy advisory board started.
I’ll keep you posted.