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Youth? Excuse Me?

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BY Kendra Tillberry
University of Minnesota -Twin Cities

Friday was Youth Day at the COP 16 in Cancun. The youth movement in climate change really began last year in Copenhagen. The participants in this movement were influential in representing the fact that many of the negotiators at the conference will not be around in 2050 when the Earth will drastically be affected from climate change in all places on Earth. The youth will be alive in 2050, and it proved to be a powerful message. The message here today is starkly different but still emphasizes the urgency of a legally binding treaty. The T-shirts worn by many youth NGO members or observers say, "You have been negotiating my whole life.  You can't tell me that you need more time." 

However, critically examining the use of the term "youth" is important. NGO members advocate the use of this term as a way to empower young people and engage in these international negotiations. Another implication of this term might actually perform the opposite effect. "Youth" potentially could give the assumption of lacking a formal education or degree. Also, this term might actually hinder people from working collectively because the exact ages are now used as a requirement. This begs the question: Shouldn't youth be involved and incorporated in all NGO work, instead of simply creating youth-specific organizations? While I believe the discussion of terminology is necessary, let us not belittle the amazing accomplishments of youth in climate change organization. Here is an article from yesterday regarding youth's work at the conference: Bringing the voices of youth to COP 16 in Mexico.

I had the pleasure of interviewing a Belgian youth delegate named Brendan Coolsaet who is particularly interested in climate change and performing his research for his master's degree in the justice issues in environmental policy and the disparities between the North and the South countries. He enjoys being apart of the youth delegation because there are many people within the youth community that serve as resources for him to access.  Belgium has been helpful in pushing negotiations regarding the 30 percent mitigation target forward in the EU. The EU failed to pass more stringent regulations and kept the target at 20 percent. His message for youth around the world is to "get involved. Get active and participate in initiatives like 350.org, Sustain Us or other university initiatives to work to understand this complicated UN process and climate change, but also organize for a solution."

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