On Saturday, Ambika and I we were sitting around in the Paris airport, waiting for our layover flight to Marrakesh, when we met a group of folks from the South African government who were also on route to COP22. I was going on my 20th-odd hour of travel and was already sufficiently jet lagged and every 15 minutes until our gate opened I continued to meet a new COP22 bound delegate. As much as I was exhausted, it is never too early to make connections. One older man, who was typing away on his laptop at the gate, took a moment to introduce himself to Ambika and I, and shared that he was a delegate on behalf of Kenya. After the formalities of the introduction he immediately asked, “what are undergraduate students doing at COP?” Maybe it was the directness of the question, or the day of no sleep, but the best answer I could come up with was “personal research.” But something stuck with me long after the conversation ended about the way he asked the question was with a tone of skepticism, as if he was projecting that undergraduate students didn’t have a place at COP, or that perhaps our contribution wasn’t valuable? I don’t know what it was exactly but it made me question the level of value that my presences at the conference would bring… Not a positive thought to be having my my flight there.
Even on day one, any skepticism the man at the airport infected me with completely disappeared. The FIRST DAY OF MY FIRST COP started with a RINGO (research NGO’s) meeting, and even as a junior researcher, I was welcomed in the meeting. They explained the ins and outs of this COP and explained some of the terminology, and were more than happy to welcome us COP newbies to the second week of the conference. A little bit later, in the early afternoon my friend and expert-COPer, Dominique Souris was speaking at a youth/minister circle facilitation and I attended to support her. This was the first day of “ministers week” and I had NO idea what I was in for when I arrived at this event. The room was filled with students, young activists and press and there a minister was sitting in each student circle. The honourable Minister McKenna was sitting on cushions, elbow to elbow with the students.
Albeit, this type of thing does look good for the press, the minsters acted as though the voice of the youth genuinely mattered to them, and were interested in hearing our remarks and responding to our questions. Then after that event I was walking down the main stretch of the Blue Zone only to find a group of youth protesting developed nations reliance on fossil fuels. Their protest was peaceful, but impactful as well. I stood and watched as groups of business people stopped and observed their message and watched what was going on. On the first day, the answer to the airport man’s question was already becoming defined: it is the engagement of the young people of today that is critical to crafting the solutions of tomorrow. It will not be those wordsmithing the policy that will be executing the action plan, but it will be the youth that have been vocally expressing their interest from the beginning stages. That is us and that is why we are REALLY here.
Bailey is a 4A environment resource and sustainability student who is working on her senior honours thesis and start up company in the area of regional capacity building towards the implementation of home retrofits and energy alternatives.