How Poland and the World Let Down This Young Activist - OZY | A Modern Media Company


Reframing environmental ambition, and going national and local, is how we move forward after COP24.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been a U.S. youth delegate with SustainUS at the U.N. climate negotiations, aka COP24, in Katowice, Poland. The goal of the negotiations was to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement by creating a rule book that countries around the world would follow to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. On Saturday night, the Paris Rule Book was agreed upon, but many could argue that its contents still don’t meet the mark to curb fossil fuel use or reduce deforestation — actions essential for preventing future climate disaster. 

As a climate activist, I was disappointed with the COP24 bureaucracy and inaction, given that civil society groups — people whose lives are at stake in this fight — were simply ignored. Being in the heart of coal country and seeing policymakers side with the interests of the fossil fuel industry rather than address the needs of communities facing climate-related dangers made me realize that there needs to be solutions-oriented organizing outside of these big international negotiation rooms.

According to Brandon Wu, director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid USA, time is running out for us to depend solely on policy negotiators for deeper change, and the Paris rule book is no exception. Negotiators this year delayed the process of establishing the rule book by debating issues like carbon pollution trading, resulting in a paused conversation that won’t be followed up on until late next year.

I strongly believe a more effective and equitable global climate regime follows from better policies at the national level, not the other way around.

Brandon Wu, director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid USA 

Waiting this long is reckless and ineffective. The most recent U.N. report on climate change indicates economies worldwide must be fundamentally transformed within the next 12 years for us to have any possibility of keeping global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius, aka climate catastrophe.

Michael Charles, a graduate researcher and Indigenous youth leader from Ohio State University, compared the inaction from world leaders to address the urgency of the climate crisis to a flat tire (he prefers the “I” in indigenous be capitalized to describe himself). Instead of getting angry with negotiators who can’t come to an agreement, we need to “replace these leaders with community advocates from these countries who are the ones who have the actual answers and solutions necessary to address this crisis.” 


Wu agrees and believes it is now up to the global masses to make the shift, not negotiators. “Given the reality we face now, the role of civil society is to absolutely demolish the boundaries of what is currently considered ‘politically feasible’ in terms of climate action.” International negotiations needn’t be abandoned altogether. But, he says, “I strongly believe a more effective and equitable global climate regime follows from better policies at the national level, not the other way around.”

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Delegates are seen attending the ceremonial conference opening of the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018.

Source Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

Last week, SustainUS, along with frontline and indigenous leaders and community members from It Takes Roots, disrupted the Trump administration’s pro–fossil fuel panel promoting dirty energy sources that would be detrimental to our planet. We laughed, shamed and walked out on the panelists to send a message that we want to keep fossil fuels in the ground where they belong. This provided me — finally — with a glimpse of what hope at COP feels like.

We continued building this momentum and once again joined with civil society groups to sit on the steps of COP to demand leaders choose “people, not polluters.” Hundreds from around the world stepped up even in the chaotic and wild environment here to remind the globe we are building power outside of the negotiation rooms. We’re forming international relationships and have the tools, knowledge and community at our disposal to use COP as a space for global solidarity and solutions-building no longer dependent on what happens behind closed doors.

If I’ve learned anything from the past two weeks, it’s that change does not happen in COP. Change happens when community builders who attend these conferences are able to create solid relationships and craft stories that are accessible and powerful for our families and friends back home. My group plans to come back to COP to continue building relationships and to challenge ourselves to focus on collaborating with our new friends from the global south rather than trying to convince apathetic politicians to create the change we need.

This change can be found by reconnecting with nature, working with organizations that protect the environment and engaging with your local political process to bring progressive change to your community.

Kristy Drutman is a youth climate activist with SustainUS and the host of a podcast and media series called Brown Girl Green. You can follow her work at @browngirl_green.

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