The UN climate conference takes place in Durban, South Africa, from 28 November to 9 December. On behalf of young people, the Netherlands has sent two youth representatives to the meeting. One of them is 25-year-old Liset Meddens, a recent graduate of Wageningen University and now UN youth representative for sustainable development.
Liset and her colleague Gabe van Wijk are focusing on capacity building: the importance of education and the generation of new knowledge on climate change. ‘That begins at school. As Un youth representatives we give guest classes at secondary schools on climate change, the greenhouse effect and CO2 emissions. Some pupils really have no idea what it's all about. You ask them where energy comes from and they give you a glazed look.'
There is a lot at stake in Durban, because the Kyoto protocol expires next year. But Liset does not think any major deal will be reached in Durban. ‘Negotiating at this level is extremely complex; negotiators are bound by a strict mandate and progress takes place only in small steps. Above all, you have to build trust, especially between countries such as America and China. They say: if you don't do anything to reduce CO2 emission, nor will I. That is so childish. Now's the time to stick your neck out.'
That's why young people need to get down to some hard work, says Liset. ‘Young people are not tied to any mandate; we can fight for the future. Together with other youth representatives, we try to play a constructive role in the process by doing a lot of lobbying and turning the heat up a bit for the negotiators. For them, a conference like this is all in a day's work but for us, it's our future we are there for.'
All very exciting then, for the Wageningen graduate. ‘It is a good experience. Pity, though, that we let off so much CO2 to get there.'
Do you want to follow Liset and Gabe at the climate conference in Durban? Then you can.