Serendipity at the climate negotiations

Getting ready for the global climate summit in Cancun was a practice in not getting my hopes up. Everywhere I looked –the news, statements from the U.S., even in the environmental community – I was warned to keep my expectations of anything significant being accomplished this year low.

It was as if people had been traumatized by the outcome of last year’s climate talks in Copenhagen – a back-room deal that broke trust between the countries of the global South and North, blatant disregard for the right of civil society to participate in a process that would decide the fate of humanity, and in the end a total lack of commitment by the countries most responsible for climate change to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

OK, I admit, it was a little disheartening.

But I’m not ready to give up all hope. I believe that the people of the world are ready to push like hell to move forward on an agreement that’s based on science and equity. And to do it in a transparent, democratic way in multilateral spaces.

One experience in particular has left me feeling hopeful.

It was a last minute serendipitous meeting with the Conference of Youth. Late on Thanksgiving Day, I received an invitation to talk about Climate Justice Now – a network of movements and organizations dedicated to bringing social justice into the negotiations.

When I arrived the next night I made my way to the venue – a pool-side thatched roof hotel restaurant overlooking the lagoon – and was astonished to see well over 100 young climate activists. On a Friday night. In Cancun. And they were hanging out waiting anxiously to get down to business and talk climate change. That’s serious dedication.

The exchange was incredible. Myself and about a half dozen other guests from social movements, NGOs and campaigns shared our plans for Cancun in 15 minute speed-dating style pitches. In each round, I had an overflowing table of youth that wanted to talk about climate justice, and in particular, keeping the World Bank’s hands out of the climate finance cookie jar.

I went through my pitch about the World Bank’s track record of ecological and human rights violations. I talked about how the Bank has actually increased its fossil fuel lending by 116% this year to a record $6.6 billion. And I explained why the World Bank has to be kept out of climate finance because its “one-dollar-one-vote” system means that its programs and policies are skewed in favor of the world’s biggest historical greenhouse gas villains, leaving little say for those most impacted by climate change.

The result – the youth asked me to help arrange a briefing for their climate finance working group. We’re also strategizing about how youth can join the global campaign to keep the World Bank out of climate finance through actions, media and organizing inside and outside the negotiating halls.

To be honest, even if we don’t get a deal here in Cancun, I’ll leave Mexico hopeful in knowing that a new generation of economic and climate justice activists is coming into their own.