Youth activists plan co-operation not protest at Cancún climate summit

26/11/2010 Guardian  Police made some 400 arrests at a mass rally in Copenhagen, during the 2009 UN climate summit.Such protests and arrests are unlikely at the successor
conference, COP16 in Cancún. Photograph: Mads Nissen/AFP/Getty Images What a
difference a year makes for climate change activism.
Twelve months ago, thousands of young campaigners worldwide converged on
Copenhagen to pitch protests against the global political failure to tackle
global warming.
They disrupted summit meetings with non-violent civil disobedience to air
demands of climate justice. Scores were arrested. Naomi Klein, the writer and
activist, said at the time that it felt as though “progressive tectonic plates
are shifting.”
But a year later — with the start of the next big climate-treaty conference in
Cancun, Mexico, days away — activists appear to have dramatically changed their
emphasis from confrontation to cooperation.
“There are certain times when it’s useful to take a more critical tone and times
when it’s useful to take a more collaborative tone,” said Michael Davidson of
SustainUS, an all-volunteer climate action group.
The two meetings “are extremely different,” he noted. For one, the eyes of the
world were on Copenhagen as 120 heads of state attended, garnering gobs of
global media coverage for the summit — and youth-led protests.
But few government heads are expected in Mexico, meaning that a majority of
advocates’ influence will be behind the scenes, not in front of the camera.
A Model for Progress
In lower-key Cancun, one of the main goals of young people will be to set an
example of progress for quarreling climate negotiators, Davidson said.
“Youth have cooperated within negotiations in an extremely intricate way — in
some ways much more than other civil society participants,” he said. “We’re
trying to present a model for what delegates should be doing in order to push
forward solutions.”
“We’re not giving up on trying to get countries to actually cooperate,” Davidson
Beyond that, SustainUS announced this week that they will use Cancun to fight
for a legally binding deal to curb climate-altering emissions — their ultimate
goal — and will make the strong link between carbon-cutting clean energy
development and job creation.
They also want to stress that vulnerable populations would suffer
disproportionately if climate change is ignored — including themselves.
“We’re doing this because our future is at stake,” Marcie Smith, co-chair of
SustainUS, told reporters on a conference call detailing their strategies.
Activists, who align themselves with developing-country governments, suffered
defeat at the negotiations in Copenhagen last December, after the 194 parties to
the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change failed to deliver a post-2012 pact
to slow warming.
Agreement is still far off.
The Nov. 29 – Dec. 10 Cancun talks are expected to make progress on some issues,
such as green technology transfers and slowing deforestation, but will not a
produce a new treaty to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
U.S., Chinese Youth Join Forces
Disputes between the U.S. and China, the two biggest emitters of global warming
gases, have stymied progress on a global climate deal.
Recognizing that, youth from both nations launched an unofficial collaboration a
little over a month ago called the U.S.-China Youth Climate Exchange.
Members of the partnership will carry out workshops and shared actions in
“Sino-American relations have been characterized by mistrust,” said Jared Schy
of the Cascade Climate Network and the new U.S.-China exchange. “We hope to
strengthen trust between our countries by growing our own trust. We hope … to
show the world in a more visible way that China and the U.S. are working
together now.”
Influencing U.S. Policy from Cancun
Reed Aronow of SustainUS said activists will lead a “series of creative actions
and campaigns” in Cancun centered on getting both meaningful treaty text and
climate change legislation in the United States.
Their biggest Cancun campaign, run in conjunction with the Energy Action
Coalition, will be the grassroots Rapid Response Network. Organizers will enlist
a crew of U.S.-based “climate responders” who will be called on to take action
at home when big developments happen in Cancun.
“We’re hoping through the … network to build up media pressure back home,”
Davidson said.
The goal is to draw 25,000 participants, Aronow said.
Their other tactics may ring a more familiar note. Among planned protests, youth
activists, dressed as penguins, will hold signs that read, “Save the humans,” in
what they’re calling the “March of the Penguins.”
Davidson said he is “not aware of any actions to shut down the
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