Climate Justice & Sustainability

Interview with the outgoing 2013 YOUNGO Focal Points Jamie Peters and Liang-Yi Chang

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During each COP members of YOUNGO (the youth NGO constituency at the UN climate negotiations) vote in new focal points, one from the global north and one from the global south, as official liaisons with the UNFCCC secretariat for the next 12 months. In this interview, 2013 focal points Jamie Peters and Liang-Yi Change tells us about their experiences, what’s next for the constituency and what advice they have for this year’s focal points.

2013 YOUNGO Focal Points Jamie Peters (left) and Liang-Yi Chang (right)
2013 YOUNGO Focal Points Jamie Peters (left) and Liang-Yi Chang (right)

You were elected as YOUNGO’s focal points at the end of COP18 in Doha, why did you decide to run for the position?

Jamie and Liang-Yi: We had a struggle to get any nominations for the Global North so in the I did it reluctantly. For Global South, many nominations were raised, I was determined to run for the election because I think it would be great to let more Asian Youths voices heard in YOUNGO.

What were your expectations for your time as focal points? Did your experience meet those expectations?

Jamie: We didn’t want to take on many expectations and instead hoped we could try and let things run smoothly and make sure all of the information was very easy for people to understand. Trying to keep up with lots of different things going on throughout the year was maybe our hope. We think we done OK.

Overall we expected it to be a lot of work and to try and create a few additional opportunities for the Constituency.

Did you have a specific idea of what you wanted to do while you were in the role? Did you achieve those things? What were your highs and lows?

Jamie and Liang-Yi: We were both conscious that our roles did not afford us any privileges to make any changes or decisions and rather it was our role to facilitate discussions, promote and provide opportunities for the Constituency and help YOUNGO be ready to take on its responsibilities at COP.

We did want to try and keep everyone’s minds focussed on the purpose of YOUNGO, underline what is achievable for us and what is very difficult to achieve as a Constituency.

We tried to keep YOUNGO working more throughout the year by asking for reports and setting up Skype calls from youth who attended the various UNFCCC meetings over the year (adaptation, technology, finance etc) but it seemed clear there is not enough of a demand from the Constituency to be working or stay connected throughout the year. We also arranged for the first time a set of calls with the UN staff who were following particular policy areas.

One concrete thing that we did want to achieve was to increase the applicants for the Focal Point elections and to promote it to groups who had been previously under-represented.

If you had your time as focal points again, would you do anything differently?

Jamie and Liang-Yi: No, I don’t think so. We tried not to be overbearing and work in the background as much as we could. Also, we tried to gather more youths attention especially those under-represented and most vulnerable regions among climate issues.

What, for you, is the role of YOUNGO at the UN climate talks? What do you think are the greatest challenges and opportunities that are facing YOUNGO?

YOUNGO is basically a platform for people who care about climate change to engage with the UN climate talks. We can then look at it from various perspective about what we could also do but it is simple as providing a platform for young people to engage with UNFCCC. And it does that really well.

Jamie: I’d say the challenge is getting everyone comfortable with exactly what the Constituency is. Like every other constituency we cannot agree on everything and nor should we have to. For instance, we have some people pro carbon markets and some anti carbon markets; we have some support top down climate deals and others who potentially promote bottom up approaches etc etc It is not up to YOUNGO or anyone in YOUNGO to try and reconcile those groups. If they disagree then so be it. The challenge is not to get them all to agree but to make sure people are comfortable with not agreeing. We often hear people say if young people cannot agree then we cannot expect the UN to agree. To be frank that is nonsense and very naive thinking.

Maybe the biggest challenge is addressing issues of diversity and oppressive tendencies. I don’t think people see that as a priority which is a massive concern.

Liang-Yi: The biggest challenges for YOUNGO is both understanding and contribution to its work. As one of the Constituency we were trying to balance all the opinions, expectations and regions among international youths, which is always hard to fit in from one group to the other. Transparency is one of the most important thing we tried to work as focal points role this year and fully understanding between different groups. However, about consensus on every single pieces of proposals and ideas, I think I would agree with Jamie.

Do you think the UN is providing adequate (in number and quality) opportunities for youth to take part in/influence the UNFCCC talks?

Jamie: No. We struggled with lack of accreditation this year as well as continued oppression of youth in the form of debadging of young people. We still have a situation where under 18s cannot attend the conferences whichs is bizarre. UNFCCC need to stop creating engagement opportunities for YOUNGO that are primarily created to benefit the UN.

In an ideal world, what would youth engagement with the UN look like?

Jamie: A youth group that can engage meaningfully with policy, has increased number of intervention spaces, greater access to negotiators, greater use of resources the UN already has (translation services, virtual media resources, training materials) and funding to increase representation for starters.

Did you work with any other focal points of other constituencies? Is there anything that YOUNGO could learn from other constituencies? Should there be more collaboration?

Jamie and Liang-Yi: We were in communication with the Focal Points for UN Forum on Forests and we are aware of how other groups organise themsleves, which is different to YOUNGO. We could of course learn some things but bearing in mind YOUNGO is simply a platform to engage with UNFCCC it does not seem possible, or necessary, for us to replicate other structures. More collaboration? I think that could be a useful thing to work on.

What about working with other platforms for engagement with the UN, such as the Major Group for Children and Youth, does YOUNGO work with them much? Should there be more collaboration and crossover with groups like these that are working on similar aims and in similar ways?

Jamie: YOUNGO has some members who are involved in both groups. I think for certain areas we can certainly do more if there is an appetite for it. YOUNGO was specifically set up to engage with UNFCCC so it really depends if members think that there is something particularly useful for the groups to do officially. Unofficially we should all be working with as many partners as we can if we are to build the movement we need to stop climate change..That work does not necessarily have to come from YOUNGO or the Major Group for Children and Youth, however.

Liang-Yi: As always it is important to have more conversation on this issue, but how to solve the climate change issue as soon as possible through either one or both is another thing to think of.

There has been a growing sense of frustration amongst some members of YOUNGO about divisions that have appeared, and about the slow pace of discussions about reforming and strengthening YOUNGO. What do you think is the best way forward for YOUNGO? Do you have any words of advice for YOUNGO?

Jamie: I think YOUNGO should be furious about the slow pace of talks. They should be angry at the talks and at home. But they should be organised as well. Any ‘divisions’ in YOUNGO don’t worry me. As I said, there is no reason people should be on the same page on all issues within a group like YOUNGO. Disagreements are never personal and stem from different world views, past experiences and theories on how to solve climate change. As for advice we could suggest: don’t think because people disagree with you it is because they are not as intelligent or do not have access to the same information as you. Also I would suggested that YOUNGO should work out what fights it wants to pick over the next 2 years in the lead up to 2015.

Liang-Yi: To solve the climate issue we need not only cooperations, communications but also devotion. It always takes time to work on issues and even to solve the problems. We all should have the capacity and get ready for the preparation on further plans, especially for the 2015 coming target , otherwise, we will be like those negotiators, or having the Copenhagen effect in the following years again.

Some people hold YOUNGO as an example of how youth engagement with the UN should work, would you agree? What aspects of YOUNGO do you think could/should be replicated elsewhere (for example in the post-MDGs negotiations) and which shouldn’t?

Jamie: Do they? I think YOUNGO has strength in the fact that it has a very skilled up group of people in terms of policy, creative people in terms of actions and a strong presence at talks. I think YOUNGO can be good at taking voices not at the talks and amplifying them at COP. That is something to be replicated but I don’t know much about how other groups engage at the UN.

Liang-Yi: YOUNGO is changing from year to year. I think YOUNGO got experienced people on policy following, message communicating and action planning. I do think it would be great to take those skills, materials and even ask people for sharing experiences in other groups to push negotiations forward.

What’s next for your involvement in YOUNGO?

Jamie: I am still trying to work that out…

Liang-Yi: I will try my best to push East Asian climate issue not only internationally through YOUNGO but also local actions.

Finally, do you have any advice for the newly elected focal points Sabrina and Danae?

Jamie and Liang-Yi: We know them both well and have met with them a few times already. They have a busy year with our engagement with the UN Envoy on Youth, the PreCOP, Ban ki-Moon summit and of course COP! So staying organised and checking your emails every 5 minutes is the best advice. They will do an excellent job.