Reflections from COP20, Day 9

Soscha de la Fuente, Dutch Youth Representative on Sustainable Development to the UN

One of the big surprises for youth at this COP has been the Ministerial Declaration on Education and Awareness-raising, put forward by Peru and Poland. COP19 President Mr. Korolec stated in his opening speech that education is the most important tool one can use to change the world, and experience and scientific research show he is right. However, since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, which resulted in Article 6 of Agenda 21 on “Education, Training and Public Awareness”, there has been little coverage of this issue internationally through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  This year, Poland and Peru have brought education back to the centre stage of negotiations. Alongside this renewed political momentum, many side events have emphasised that education can lead to the systemic change that we are all trying to achieve. The ability to fight climate change – the ultimate goal of these negotiations – requires education.

It therefore seems obvious that we need to reassess the ways in which the UNFCCC and governments can contribute to improving and financing education on climate change and sustainable development.  With this mind, many young people are seeking to influence the negotiations.  Their aim has been to change the very outcomes of the climate talks on education. Here at COP20, we have continued the work of the YOUNGO Working Group on Education, with the aim of sharing the knowledge of youth with our governments, to help them carry out national and international education programmes.

Last week we sat down with the Polish delegation to share our thoughts, and found that other countries had proposed amendments that echoed our own. It seemed as though many countries had the same intention as us: like youth, they wanted to make the Declaration more concrete, helpful and successful in the long run.

So what do we, as youth, see as useful statements to include? An explicit acknowledgment of the success of informal and non-formal education, is one clear example. Education is not restricted to the classroom. A large amount of climate change education can, and is, primarily performed by civil society, and our governments should support these initiatives. But more importantly, we need to recognise that sustainable development is only possible when we share universal values, and are respectful towards those values which are context- and culture-specific. This is the most important thing that our education could possibly reflect.

Serena Boccardo and Camilla Forti, Youth Press Agency

Yesterday was a special day outside COP20. On the 56th anniversary of Human Rights Day – as established by the UN – Indigenous Peoples, campesinos (farmers), women, students and trade unions movements, coming from every part of the world, took to the streets of Lima for a shared protest in defence of their rights to water, healthcare and climate justice – all of which are being discussed in the negotiations this week.

Addressing climate change in a fair, sustainable and equitable way is indeed deeply interrelated with the respect for human rights.

While ultimate decisions are being made inside the secret rooms of the Pentagonito – the Peruvian nickname for the COP20 venue – the streets of Lima have been coloured by the People’s Climate March, with the motto: “Change the system, not the climate”.

Inequalities in terms of access to food, natural resources, education, healthcare and energy supplies are indeed exacerbated by a lack of long-term perspective on addressing the climate change issue. In the eyes of the people marching, COP20 is a massive bureaucratic machine, which works by depending on private interests, and reflecting and following the dictates of a neoliberal economic model.

But why do people feel so distant from UN institutions? And why are these bodies considered so distant from being able to fulfil people’s needs? Why would an institution whose mission is to guarantee a peaceful world and universal human rights, seem not to be able to interact with those citizens it is supposed to protect? Clearly, there is a lack of representation and democracy. Just to mention one example, in the negotiations on REDD+ - whose ultimate aim should be to provide sustainable forestry management – indigenous communities feel they are not sufficiently represented. It is undeniable that pricing land, water and air by applying markets mechanisms currently under discussion in COP20, does not entail the enormous costs in terms of social, cultural and environmental externalities that ultimately fall on the shoulders of all of us.