Where are all the youth?

03 Dec 2012

There is something missing from the Doha UNFCCC COP 18 climate change negotiations, and it’s not just consensus.

It’s hard to find the youth delegations here. This might be because the Qatar National Convention Centre is a massive building, and once inside it’s easy to get lost in its cavernous interior. (It so big that at times it seems that most of the 17,000 delegates to this meeting have gone astray.)

Or perhaps it’s because a chill has settled in the air conditioned confines of COP 18, one which has directly affected what youth are so good at -- speaking out and being the moral conscience of the negotiations.

There are demonstrations, but they are very small and very quiet. This morning I passed two demonstrations. They were small, with a few journalists gathered about, but not terribly energetic. Messages were delivered in an organized but quiet manner.

Protesters have a message for delegates entering the Qatar National Convention Centre

Protesters have a message for delegates entering the Qatar National Convention Centre.

One informant said that is because youth delegates have been told by the UNFCCC Secretariat to keep in line. No spontaneous, unauthorized demonstrations. No excessive noise. No flash mobs.

A number of youth delegates were kept away until last Friday when they got their badges. Some of these people, like Anjali Appadurai from Canada, were involved in demonstrations that were seen to breach UN protocol. They were given warnings and on second offenses, their badges were revoked. No badge, no entrance.

Ironically, Ms Appadurai was hailed for the speech she gave on behalf on youth of the world during the final plenary session in Durban. She’s apparently back in now.

A number of youth didn’t have their credentials back last Thursday when Future Young Generations Day took place. It was a chance for young people to ask questions of the older people who are running the COP. While they were able to ask questions, they had to be handed in two hours in advance. When the youth delegates came into the room, they were given written questions to ask. No substitutes were permitted.

“I’ve only been to two COPs,” said one youth delegate, “but the different between this year and last year is really obvious.”

Minors are not allowed in. This supposedly a standard UN rule, but one which caught everyone -- especially those who are under age 18 who showed up and were refused entrance. They’ve set up their own Twitter handle (#COP18andover) and are working from different venues around the city. This rule also caught by surprise those of us who have sponsored young people to attend different COPs.

It’s not only youth protest which is muted this year. All demonstrations are strictly controlled and there is little spontaneity, and hence buzz, that usually comes from a noisy NGO gathering.

Some protests are relegated to areas where there is very little traffic.

Some protests are relegated to areas where there is very little traffic.

The annual COP protest march which in other locations, such as Copenhagen, attracted thousands. Saturday’s march of a few hundred took place over 1.3 kilometers along the Corniche, the wide sea walk along the edge of the harbour. It started at 7 a.m. and ended three hours later.

It was the first environmental demonstration in the history of Qatar and organized by civil society in the Gulf States to tell Arab nations that they need to step up and get serious about making emissions cuts.

Journalists converge on protesters at the Qatar National Convention Centre

Journalists converge on protesters at the Qatar National Convention Centre.


MRG - 04 Dec 2012
Interesting critique.
I am a first year attendee and also part of the youth body (YOUNGO) here in Doha. Coming from an activist background, I was expecting to see much more of what you have outlined above. The one point that I might add is focussing on the youth organizations that have the largest delegations and are most vocal here at COP. Many of these groups are the student wing of much larger organizations that have put pressure on their representatives to not over step their bounds. Some state that this is the case because they are a part of academia and are representing their university in a more official manner while for others it is explicitly written in their organization mandate.

I am not sure if this a product of the UNFCCC or the Qatari government trying to limit the accessibility of the conference to "activist" groups or if it is just a circumstance that these groups have moved on to focus their efforts elsewhere.

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