Climate Justice & Sustainability

From listening, thinking and respect to a loss of trust and unity: YOUNGO, what’s going on?

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“Yes, I wish I never had to write such a post, but I am sure that anyone who has been involved in theYouth Constituency at the UNFCCC talksin the last months is aware thatYOUNGOdoes have issues that can no longer be ignored, and whose resolution is crucial if we want to express our full potential in the roadmap towards Paris.” This article is cross-posted with permission from theauthor’s blog.

I don’t have the presumption to be holding the answers that could make us move forward, but I am writing this because this situation has been making me particularly upset.

(Philippine Youth Climate Movement)
YOUNGO during their one of their daily meetings at COP16. (Philippine Youth Climate Movement)

I discovered YOUNGO over 3 years ago, during the preparations for COP16 in Cancun. My English was very poor, and I couldn’t really understand what I was looking at: people exchanging emails, organizing meetings, skype calls… I was not going to attend COP16, but I was struggling to know how those young people were working together. It took me a while to understand that YOUNGO was an horizontal movement, which still managed to be effective (that was new to me and left me astonished). I was somehow shy, or afraid of writing in theUNFCCC youthlist, as if I felt somebody had to “allow” me to do so. I think it was in April 2011 the time I first overcame my concerns and decided to join the Fundraising Working Group for the 7th Conference of Youth (COY7) in Durban.

I was welcomed by a number of amazing people who made me feel comfortable and helped me getting on board. Looking backwards, I can say my contribution to that conference was probably not that relevant, but I dedicated much time to it and I loved the way we all managed to work together. I could feel everybody trusting each other and even if discussions happened, they were never aimed at discrediting someone’s ideas or at defending personal/organizations’ positions, but instead at making things move forward.

During my first day at COY7 I was explained about non-verbal signs, and when it came to the voting ones, this is what I was told:

“thumbs up: it means you agree and you are voting in favour; thumbs “middle”: it means you do not necessarily agree, but still you let the process move forward; thumbs down: you are blocking. This is a very strong sign and something that you shouldn’t use more than a few times in your lifetime. Any idea, even the one you do not understand or disagree with the most, come from a person, a person who has the same final goals you have here, who has spent time working on it before presenting it here. So, before blocking a proposal, take your time to think about it and make sure to respect those who made it.”

(Ethnography Matters)
(Ethnography Matters)

That didn’t just seem as a fair explanation to me; it was simply one the best “lessons” I have ever learnt in my life.To listen, to think, to respect.

Since Durban I kept working in YOUNGO, not only at COP but even throughout the year: towards Doha I was involved in the Mitigation WG, while since March this year I dedicated a relevant part of my free time to theIntergenerational Equity(Inteq) working group. We wrote the first submission YOUNGO has ever made to the UNFCCC, we approached delegates, sent letters, made researches and finally, once in Warsaw, we managed to get future generations acknowledged in the preamble of theADPoutcome document and to get 70 countries signing theWarsaw Political Declaration on Intergenerational Equity. Amazing.

However, moving forward at COY9 and COP19 was harder than ever.

Since the last couple of months, there were some decisions taken that I didn’t agree with. I don’t want to go too deep into details once more, but many people know that I was not happy with COY9 being named Powershift Central and Eastern Europe; I was not happy with dedicating only the last day of PCEE to the preparation of our activities at COP19; I was not happy when my voice was ignored when I rose these concerns via email; I was not happy with the letter sent to Christiana Figueres, and especially I was not happy to find out that the final letter YOUNGO sent was different from the draft I officially supported on behalf of my organization.

However, conscious of the lesson learnt in Durban and in order to try keeping the temperature low (which is always good if you are working on climate change), I decided to step back: “just because you personally disagree, it doesn’t mean those proposals are completely wrong. Also, you are in minority: trust them, maybe you will find out that things can work the same, and maybe you will receive the same trust when it will be your time”,this is what I told myself.

Well, with great disappointment I have got to say: that didn’t happen at all.

In Warsaw I have seen YOUNGO losing its unity; I have seen organizations forgetting that the reason they are attending COP is not promoting their principles, or ideas, or campaigns, but instead working together towards the common goal that we all share; I have seen individuals blocking proposals day after day because they could not identify themselves perfectly in what they were listening to; eventually, and this is the worst part of this, I heard individuals accusing others of being exclusive on purpose, or to be working on behalf of “somebody else”.

What I can see here, is that we no longer trust each other as we used to, and we are no longer able to take a step back, which is the only way forward in a consensus-based voting system. If we are no longer able to step back, then consensus is no longer good for us. I want to challenge you with this question: what would happen if YOUNGO was joined by a youth movement committed to solve the climate crisis by phasing out conventional sources (e.g. carbon) and investing everything on shale gas and nuclear power?

Every single proposal we would make for an action, or a document to be supported by YOUNGO resulting against fossil fuels subsidies, or shale gas, or tar sands, or nuclear energy would be blocked. What would we do next?


Kicking the organization out? Who has the authority to do so? Nobody does.

Changing the voting-system towards a majority one? We couldn’t, because we wouldn’t reach consensus to approve this shift.

In conclusion, I believe the best way we have to move forward is to start over,rediscovering the real meaning of the wordtrustagain and, eventually, putting aside our organizations’principleswhen necessary. If we are not able to do so, I am afraid we will need a huge reform.

I don’t know how yet, but I am sure we can get over this stronger than ever.

Featured Image Credit: TerryJohnston via Compfight cc