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One Year Left And The Power Isn't At The UN

Walking through the halls at the UN Climate Negotiations in Poznan  last December, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were at the heart of  the struggle to defeat dangerous climate change. Top-level ministers  from every government in the world met to forge a global agreement,  the contents of which will decide how the latter half of this century  plays out. But from my experience as a UK youth delegate, the real  decisions are not made at the UN.

Woven through the endless meetings, lobbying sessions, cocktail  parties and plenaries was a palpable sense that we will pass the  critical 2 degrees tipping point causing ‘runaway’ climate change with  the very real possibility of 6 degree temperature rises within this  century. Forget far off impacts for our grandchildren, this is about  you and me over the next 50 years. At the talks, negotiators repeated  ad nauseam the party line about how CO2 concentrations of 450 parts  per million will stave off the worst impacts of climate change, whilst  being briefed behind closed doors about exactly how out of date this  same target is. When we cornered negotiators with questions like  these, they often admitted the contradiction. It’s exasperating to  watch because we know that the time left to act is running out.

Is there an end to this? Not within the conference halls. Negotiators  have little freedom to negotiate freely. One NGO put it to me that up  to 90% of their platform is pre-determined before they even step on  the plane. With special interests, short-termist electoral cycles and  near instantaneous judgement by stock market edict, it is easy to see  why governments act in this way. Operating within such rigid  parameters, our negotiators are essentially players in a game. The  small slice of autonomy granted to them offers precious little  potential for a breakthrough and is certainly not enough to secure a  deal which takes the latest scientific discoveries seriously.

So, what do we need now? Firstly, to recognise that we are a long way  from where we need to be and second, to understand that our power lies  in the ability to make a just agreement possible. Negotiators are not  champions of humanity or social justice. They’re playing a game,  according to the rules they’re given. Their capacity to act is limited  by what is politically acceptable.

Nonetheless, politicians as individuals want to act on this – nobody  who has seen the true scale of this problem couldn’t. But at the  moment, taking meaningful action necessitates defying the negotiating  position set by domestic governments, which means losing your job. By  Copenhagen next year, where the final treaty will be agreed, the  playing field must look substantially different. In essence, the  ground rules must be that taking strong action on climate change is  the only way a treaty can be signed because the public will accept  nothing less.

To drive this point home, just a few weeks ago Climate Change and  Energy Secretary Ed Miliband called for a “popular mobilisation” to  make it possible for the process to move forward, whilst Al Gore has  said publicly that he “can’t understand why there aren’t rings of  young people blocking bulldozers and preventing them from constructing  coal-fired power plants.” We should think seriously about this call to  action – it comes from a place of real desperation and an awareness of  the limitations of a politics not yet built to deal with a problem  like climate change.

Having watched the negotiations for two weeks, I can tell you that if  the situation continues as it is currently, we will fail to halt  runaway climate change. The enormity of this statement should not be underestimated. In the time remaining before Copenhagen next December  we must substantially alter the context of the debate to make it  impossible not to act. Many more campaigns like those that forced  through the Climate Act in the UK will be needed and on a far bigger  scale. Now really is the time to consider what role you as a Sussex  student have to play in this, our last best chance to stop dangerous  climate change. History shows time and again the importance of a  strong student voice at the heart of progressive social movements and  yet, with notable exceptions, we’ve not been anywhere near loud enough.

We’ve got to stop pretending that this is about polar bears or banners that rhyme because at its heart, climate change is about social  justice, it’s about people. It’s about whether or not we chose to act  now to safeguard a livable society whilst we still can or whether we  take a back seat as our future gets pissed up against a wall in favour  of short-termist and ill conceived economic pressures. The next year  is the most important in human history. It’s up to us, not the  politicians in Poznan, to determine how it plays out.

To take action log-on to www.itsgettinghotinhere.org or e-mail daniel@ukyd.org

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