At 6:30 PM this past evening, the US State Department held a closed policy briefing with all US Environmental NGOs- including the US Youth Delegation. Heading the proceedings was the Chief Administrator of the EPA (and youth climate movement supporter!) Lisa Jackson along with the US Deputy Special Envoy on Climate Change Jonathan Pershing. In light of the US’s transformed role as a constructive actor in the international negotiating process as well as the recent EPA announcement regarding the Obama Administration’s mandate to regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act, this briefing presented an extroardinary opportunity for civil society delegates to hear from the head honchos about the emerging political dynamics of COP15 and how the US plans to assert its position. About an hour prior to the briefing, I huddled up with other members of the US Youth Delegation Policy Working Group and helped hash out tough questions about US roles and policy positions in context to COP15. Our plan was simple: strategically prioritize a few questions for both Administrator Jackson and Negotiator Pershing and distribute them to all US Youth in attendance to ensure that the most critical issues were addressed. Depending on the number of youth in the room, we figured we’d at best get one or two questions answered.
How wrong we were. As participants filed into their seats and the proceedings began, I quickly realized that youth constituted an overwhelming majority (the-numbers-that-let-you-block-filibusters-in-the-Senate-kind-of-majority) of NGO members present! As EPA Chief Jackson took her seat at the panel, a standing ovation marked the beginning of an amazing evening. Although I cannot disseminate exact details of the briefing, the atmosphere was positive and buzzing with energy. After an interesting brief on the US policy position by Pershing and a brief speech by Jackson, the floor was opened for questions. In the row in front of me, a US Youth Delegate donning a PowerShift t-shirt was called on. As she began her question, she announced that she was in attendance along with over 500 American Youth. She turned around, and about 80% of the room waved to our negotiators. Now that is an illustration of power. From there, 6 of the 9 questions during the session were posed by youth leaders. Although there are undoubtedly critical issues to be addressed by the US negotiating team and much work to be done by our movement to ensure that our leaders are behind a fair, ambitious, and binding climate treaty, the momentum is moving in a positive direction. At the end of the session, the moderator of the briefing- an administrator under Secretary of Energy Steven Chu- gave a wholesome shout out to the youth delegates in attendance.
This is what we need- US Youth at COP15 will continue to show our leaders that we are paying attention- and that our future is in their hands.