Suitcase of Change: The Travel Blog of a COP18 Youth Delegate

This blog is a living, breathing documentation of an ecofeminist youth delegate's experiences leading up to and at the UNFCCC's Climate Negotiations in Doha, Qatar

Back to Life

Now that I’m back to my regular life, I find myself wanting more. I’m craving COP. Is that odd? Hopefully I’ll see you, lovely readers, in Poland.

For now, you can follow my life back in the State on my new-er blog.


From One Oil State to Another.

Here I sit, right where I began in Texas. My journey from one oil state to another has shaped the way I see the world.

Right now, I can say that I’m experiencing some slight reverse culture shock. Why are women showing so much skin when it’s this cold outside? I don’t hear car horns blaring at all hours of the day or the prayer songs from a dozen mosques playing 7 times a day (it’s eerily quiet at night when I try to sleep). There are Christmas decorations everywhere and pictures of the Emir are nowhere to be seen (I don’t think most people in Texas know that an Emir is, even.)

After not having driven my car for over a month, it’s odd to have to freedom to drive myself around once again. There are traffic lights, stop signs, and street names. Doha’s traffic circles, nameless streets, and camel-mounted police seem so long ago, and yet it was only a few days ago.

Jet lag has taken it’s toll again, but this time I am in my own bed surrounded by the comfort of my loved ones. Overall, COP made me think quite a bit about my privilege. I may not be able to enter negotiations with a pink badge, but by meeting with my negotiators I am able to influence not only the happenings within my own country- but within others as well. As a U.S. citizen, my voice directly impacts the climate because of my country’s wrong-doings. I think that I, as well as everyone else in my country, should take away from this COP that we are working on a strict timeline- Climate change will not spare island nations while we discuss the proper adverb in one of many treaties. We need to ACT and we need to ACT NOW.

What could the future look like if everyone got involved? We need to REALIZE that the time for action is not when we start to really feel the impacts of climate change (I would argue that we’ve already felt it enough).

That We Need Climate Action Now!

That We Need Climate Action Now!

Until next time: Aloha, Doha.

The Show Must Go On: KP Comes to a Close

The Closing of the first commitment of the Kyoto Protocol has been marked today, December 6, 2012 in Doha, Qatar. While not all parties are happy with the text, the main thought process seemed to be that any kinks could be ironed out within the second commitment period and outlined at intercessionals.

The Philippines said it best:

“The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by 7 billion people.
I appeal to all, please, no more delays, no more excuses. Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around. Please, let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to find the will to take responsibility for the future we want.
I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”

For now, Aloha from Doha.

COP19: Poland= Coaland?

It was announced on Wednesday, November 28, that the host country for COP19 is going to be Poland. Just as this year’s COP(18) is being held in an oil state, Qatar, we have to wonder how a country whose industry is dependent upon dirty fossil fuels (a.k.a. COAL) are being granted the opportunity to host the meeting of parties from around the world “working” together to mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic climate change. Most of the work I’ve done at home has been centered around moving the United States Beyond Coal, so the fact that climate negotiations will be held essentially on the battle ground makes me rather unsettled, just as the influence of oil has been seen in this session of negotiations (what are you doing on the escalator in front of me, man from BP?)

Thoughts, world?

Where Are All the Women?

Not only is it a rare occurrence to see women walking down the streets of Doha, but within the negotiations, as well. Out of all of the nations represented here at the COP, only approximately 36% of official delegates and negotiators are female-bodied (a slight increase from the average 17%). Numbers from this specific conference are pending, numbers cited are from COP17 and Bonn/Bangkok Intercessionals. 

November 27 was officially “Gender Day” at COP18. Many sessions throughout the day were centered around discussion about how women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, that there isn’t enough female representation within COP negotiations from each country delegation, and that the voices of women need to be more strongly heard on multiple levels of political participation.

To frame this day, let me give a quick background. I am an Environmental and Feminist Studies double major who focuses on environmental justice. Equity, however you want to define this word, is something that I see to be crucial to creating solutions to climate change. My role, as I see it, at this COP is to learn. For those of you who don’t know much about the UNFCCC, there are currently 7 subsidiary bodies this session. None of these bodies are headed by women.

At an event later in the day called “Gender and Climate Innovation: Breakthrough changes for gender equality” which featured two women whom have inspired me during my time here at COP, Mary Robinson (the first female President of Ireland) and Christiana Figueres (the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC) and the extraordinary Minister Alcinda Abreau of Mozambique.

Gender Innovation Panel.

Gender and Climate Innovation Panel.

At this panel, the ladies (who decided amongst themselves that they were all to be called “Mama”) were asked why they were passionate about COP and international climate change. Mama Christiana said that what keeps her motivated to fight climate change is her two daughters. She said,  “I know that whatever we do or whatever we don’t do will affect their quality of life, their children, their children, and 7 generations after that. What keeps me up at night is the eyes of 7 generations of the future looking back at me and asking what did you do? We are the first generation who knows what we are doing… this gives us a moral responsibility to do something… we cannot continue to do this to the future generation. They did not contribute to this. We need to do this particularly for children in developing countries and those that are most vulnerable to climate change.” This is one of the many reasons why I adore Christiana Figueres.

Later in the panel, a question was asked, “Do you think that COP18 will be known as ‘the gender COP’?” to which the answer was, “I certainly hope not, because then that would mean that there was only one!”

There are many reasons why, however, this COP is making waves and opening new opportunities for women to have more equal representation within this body of the United Nations. This session, the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) approved a draft proposal detailing the implementation of gender balance principles that were proposed at COP7 in Marrakech.  It seems like a long time coming and is definitely a victory for women and climate justice! The work is obviously not over here. Many women can be given a spot on delegations, but will they be the ones to speak? Will they be able to make decisions? Moving forward, this is a great foundation for increasing women’s participation in the negotiation process and I am proud to say that I was a part of making this difference by participating in the women’s caucus here at COP and making suggestions to the draft proposal. This isn’t all that was done, however, but more on that later.

Teaser: Gender Balance Action Post to Come!

Teaser: Gender Balance Action Post to Come!

For now, Aloha from Doha.

Byline? Skyline.

Every evening, I have a long hour and a half to two hour long bus ride back from the QNCC (conference center) and my hotel. In the event that I am not sitting next to anyone, or anyone who would like to talk, this is my go to song:

“I got, got to get

Get my head back on

I got, got to get myself together

When this hurt is gone

I got, got to get myself together
I got, got to get

Can’t tell what’s going wrong

I wish there’s something could be done
I’m not that clever.”

There’s something remarkably soothing about zoning out, thinking of nothing, and just taking into the twinkling city lights of Doha. No thoughts of negotiations. No conversation about world problems. Nothing but my fellow Swede and I gettin’ ourselves together.

Doha nights.

Doha nights.

For now, Aloha from Doha.

Drafted December 5th, 2012 

Let the COP Begin!!!

Monday, November 26 marked the opening of the Conference of Parties 18 (COP18). My day started off bright and early with a meeting with Youth NGOs (YOUNGO) to discuss and share our ideas and what work we would like to get done at this COP.

Me enjoying some traditional Qatari coffee in the QNCC

The official day of the COP started with the opening plenary. In her address during the opening plenary, Executive Secretary to the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, shared her hopes that “the Doha COP also presents a unique challenge – to look at both the present and the future under the Durban Platform. May I dare say that under your guidance, much of this can be accomplished before the high-level segment, allowing this COP to finish not on Saturday, not on Sunday – but actually make history by finishing on Friday!”

Christiana Figueres’ address at the opening plenary (as viewed from the overflow room)

To this I say “Bring it on!” Historically, negotiations continue through the breaks over the “weekend” and tend to not propel solutions any faster. How can we make succinct, impacting, binding and non-binding agreements that are fruitful for mitigating climate change, preventing global temperature rise of 2 degrees, and keeping our atmosphere under 350 ppm? We speak our minds. We don’t take no for an answer. We react to inaction. 

On the very first day of the conference, we already had begun pressuring negotiators. An action called #ClimateLegacy staked out the front entrance that all negotiators pass through going into the conference center with youth from around the world sharing the impact that climate change has had on their lives. They asked negotiators, “what do you want to be your climate legacy?”

Sierra Student Coalition Youth Delegate Jahdiel showing negotiators the impact climate change has had on his life

In addition to the #Climate Legacy action, our very own SSC Delegate, Adriana, gave an intervention (small speech) to the opening plenary of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), saying that, “countries continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidizing fossil fuels each year. SBSTA should ensure its reporting guidelines for biennial reports include guidance to report on the existence of and efforts to remove these. ”

SSC youth delegate, Adriana, addressing SBSTA.

Later in the afternoon, YOUNGO had a special informal meeting with UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres. Questions asked of her included:

  • How do we make the voices of youth who could not attend the COP heard by negotiators?
  • In what ways can we push a gender balance within the UNFCCC?
  • What advice would you give youth to make the most impact in their time at this year’s COP?
  • How realistic will it be for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to be passed and how can we make sure that it will be?

UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, talking with YOUNGO

After hearing Christiana speak a number of times today, I can happily tell you what I want to be when I grow up: Christiana Figueres.

Following and inspiring talk, myself and others from the SSC delegation headed to the Climate Action Network (CAN) meeting for non-governmental organizations. Now, this is a meeting that will teach you a lot. Within this meeting, there are briefings on all of the Subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC meetings and general talks about how the negotiations are going. CAN is a quirky group that awards “Fossil of the Day” to a country (or countries) who are underperforming during the negotiations and “Ray of the Day” to a country that is doing good work. The first day, CAN decided to give their “First ever ironic Ray” to the EU for:

“having already reached their pledged 2020 target almost 10 years ahead of time! They really are the fast­est under­achievers in the KP! But wait!? The EU has told us that they are not planning to increase their 2020 emissions pledge from the already achieved 20%. How outrageous! Is the EU really planning to go for the next 10 years without doing ANY further emis­sions reductions? EU you will need to quickly increase your target or the clouds will appear and it will start raining fossils on your negotiating table.”

Needless to say- I like CAN. I like CAN a lot.

That evening, we got to go over to the Sustainability EXPO for the opening party for the COP. It was a night of “mixed drinks” (which were really different types of juices mixed together since the public consumption of alcohol is illegal in Qatar- you have to be within a hotel bar), small appetizers, and native desserts (which of course included many nut and date filled goodies). After sampling these trifles, I was ready for something of substance. I saw of tray of falafel. It took another 30 minutes of searching to find it, but when I did, each and every bite of falafel tasted of sweet, sweet victory. The EXPO is filled with many companies, universities, and booths from countries. Each particular exhibit contains information (in most cases, green washing), reading materials, and SWAG. SO. MUCH. SWAG. Tricks of the trade include schmoozing, faking interest in attending a university, and relating the organizations work to your own- or, so I observed. I stuck to the whole genuine interest thing, which proved to be less fruitful.

Outside of the bougie party (strings and opera singer, included), there was a great display of traditional Qatari dancing. It consisted of many men, each carrying a sword, swaying forwarding and backward and swinging their swords to the beat of a drum. There were two drummers and one man singing (or chanting, I couldn’t say properly which one).

Traditional Qatari dancing outside of the Sustainability EXPO COP opening party

At the end of this long, long night, we went back to our hotel to welcome our 14th and final delegate to arrive, Mallory. A very good closing to a long and eventful day, indeed.

Coming soon- details about GENDER DAY

For now, Aloha from Doha.

Stopped by Cops… at COP?: COY8 Day 3

How many people get to say that they were stopping from running across the highway in Qatar by angry looking police (cops, as we say in the U.S.) in berets and aviator sunglasses because the Prince was about to drive past? I can happily say (now that the shock has gone) that I can add this to my list of odd encounters and a story-telling repertoire. The third day of the Conference of Youth (COY8) started off with a bang, needless to say. Earlier in the morning I had a conversation with a Doha resident who is working the conference for the next two weeks that altered the way I see the city. The bus that was the vehicle of our conversation (pun definitely intended) was taking us to the QNCC to get our brand new accreditation badges that would allows us to enter the official conference which starts on November 26th. We had anticipated a very long line, but ended up just walking in, getting our picture taken, and heading over to the Qatar Foundation Student Center for the final day of COY8.

Youth Delegates from across the globe presenting on working groups.

Personally, the final day of COY was my favorite. This is not because of the sessions, the work done, or any presentations (although all of the aforementioned parts of the day were also wonderful), I had wonderful, meaningful conversation with youth from around the world. Over the span of 14 hours, I was able to connect with people from Ghana, Sweden, Oman, the Philippines, the UK, and Algeria. I feel that the 25th, for me, was the day of asking probing questions and learning about others’ life experiences and cultures. I am so grateful that there was time in the COY schedule for an open session so that I was able to start these dialoges. (for this reason, my blog does not have as many pictures- sorry!) More on these conversations and relationships to come. Today’s COY was about starting our YOUNGOworking groups. I decided to join that Women and Gender group.

YOUNGO Women and Gender working group: first meeting/session.

We had representation youth from Bahrain, Nigeria, Sweden, Ghana, the UK, Lebanon, and Canada. Reasons why people joined this specific working group included: youth empowerment, public health, reproductive rights, gender inequity, human trafficking, gender mainstreaming, and overall how women and minority groups (including those who identify as genderqueer) are more likely to be more heavily, negatively impacted by the effects of Climate Change.  We are just in the planning stages at the moment and I am really excited to progress and build a strong and intentional integration of women and gender language used in all portions of policy.

How can we see more women negotiators?! 

The last evening of COY8 was closed out with an inspiring talk given by the lead negotiator for the Philippines. He roused the crowd’s support by saying that “climate change will be solved by actions at the grassroots level” and that “your generation will make that change. you have the choices to make- no, not the choices- there are no other options” other than seriously mitigating climate change through solid commitments and continued grassroots pressure.  He said, “It’s not about commas, bracket, texts that you will hear. Of course there are not technical legal implications, but I do not want you to focus on that while you’re in Doha,” he  continued “I want you to continue helping and inspiring us.. being agents of transformation and change because we cannot afford to do this with pessimism while addressing each other.”

Filipino youth delegate introducing their negotiator. 

Wonderful words to end the night and this post on.

For now, Aloha from Doha.

Doha: Stories Unheard and Voices Ignored

Today marks the third day of the Conference of Youth (COY8) leading up to the beginning of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) international climate change policy negotiations begin tomorrow.

This morning was a rough start. We had to take care of some issues with the hotel (under-booked, overbudget) which took a little bit longer than anticipated. Once we finally reached our bus stop (which is about a 15 minute walk) our bus had already left.

After waiting for the bus for about 45 minutes (and making new friends with a youth delegate from Algeria), we were on our way. We were having a very intense conversation about the production of natural gas in Texas in comparison to that of Algeria, solar solutions for irrigation, and the environmental movement at large, when I was distracted by a beautiful building. The young woman sitting in the seat across the aisle from me told me that it belonged to one of the higher ups in Doha (I thought that it was a museum). She told me about how the current King took the throne from his father while he was on a trip and ever since then the cost of living has increasingly risen. If cost of living was high, I wondered, how was the overall standard of living?

Doha is a city that takes up 80% of the Qatar’s total population. Of this 80%, only approximately 10% of the people living within the city are native Qataris. The majority of the population consists of an immigrant workforce mainly from Southeast Asia, India, and Sri Lanka. My new friend’s name will be V. in this blog for the sake of anonymity. She is a local Qatari of mixed Indian and Sri Lankan descent and who was born and raised here in Doha. Before V. was born in Doha, her father, who is originally from Delhi, India, had been living here for the past 35 years. She was on our bus to the convention center because she is event staff for the conference. With tears in her eyes and a slightly choked voice, V. told me about the struggles of the laborers and “minority” populations (I use quotation marks to signify that they are, indeed, the majority of the population and are still treated as second, even third, class citizens).

In Qatar, every Thursday and Friday are what is called “family days”. This is the equivalent to U.S. weekends. In Doha, things to do are few and far between. One of the most common activities in the city is to go shopping. V. told me that laborers are forbidden from going to malls on these days, sometimes the only time off of work they will have. There is nothing else for them to do in the city. They are unable to go for drinks because in Qatar the consumption of alcohol is illegal save for within the confines of hotel bars, which are far too expensive for the laborers to afford. I was not only shocked and appalled by this blatant racism, but V. also told me that the laborers only earn an average of 500 Riyals per month(approx. $133) working well over 60 hours per week. She told me that most of the laborers will just work non-stop for two years, go visit their families for a few weeks, and then come back to work non-stop for another two years- the cycle continues.

What can they do about it? They are explicitly not allowed to assemble about it. Doha has never seen a march through the city or any sort of protest- it is illegal. I felt so much guilt when we mentioned that the COP NGOS had gotten special permitting to march on a very specific strip of road, for a very specific amount of time- the first march EVER in Doha. V. told me that she was excited about the march and that we was going to try to come because she would love to see it. While I was happy that she was so interested, I also felt guilty that we were able to march and express ourselves while others, who have struggled for years continued to be swept under the rug and denied the freedom to express their needs while we could get permission in a little under a year.

I look at the beautiful skyline and all of the growth and development and I think “wow, Doha is doing really well,” while the reality, as V. told me, is that most of the higher paying jobs in oil, architecture, and industry are outsourced to Western and other Arabic peoples. Most of the minority-majority are the ones building the new buildings, constantly cleaning the sand off of the perpetually gleaming glass buildings, and driving the frustrating turquoise taxis (a.k.a. mobile death traps).

What can I do about it? I don’t know. Other than continuing to treat every person I meet as a person and not just a door holder and entering each conversation I have with others with as much intentionality as I can, how do I approach the continual development of  exceptionally multi-faceted systems of oppression in a rapidly expanding nation, one with no outlets for people without money to voice their needs or concerns? Back home in the States, I’ve seen issues like these overcome by some of the most powerful people’s movements. In Qatar, however, they do not have the option to organize the way we are able to. How can I, as a visitor, show/express solidarity? (Any thoughts? These are my 1:30am reflections and trying to digest an issue that has been haunting me for the last 14 hours)

For now, I’m looking forward to learning more and am eager to understand the real struggles and power dynamics behind a shiny curtain of perfection, growth, happiness, and relative equality. I parted from V. with the promise and hope of seeing each other again in the next two weeks that I am at the conference.

Until later, Aloha from Doha.

Songs listened to while blogging.

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee, COY: COY8 Day 2

Downtown Doha, Qatar.

Doha is such a beautiful city. The city skyline has popped up in the just the last five years and it is continually growing, evolving, and, might I say, becoming more shiny. Each morning, I will be taking the shuttle bus from the area where my hotel is and past this gorgeous view. Each evening as we head back, the boats on the docks are lit up with what we would call “Christmas light” and they illuminate the water, complementing the reflection of the skyline.

We arrived at the Qatar Foundation Student Center, again tagging along with the AYCM, and prepared to start our day at COY8.

Following our opening session, different regions broke out to discuss their strategies and various approaches to create an impact on the negotiations. We mainly discussed the ways that we would like to slightly shift our focus from putting pressure on politicians to corporations who, in our eyes, are one of the many reasons behind dirty politics due to dirty money. The map seen in the background will be decorated by all of us with places that are environmental issues. As a youth coming to the conference from Texas, I will be adding the Tar Sands Blockade to the map and hopefully garnering International awareness of the struggle we are fighting on the ground. Our friends from Canada are from Alberta- so they know first hand the impact of the Tar Sands on our land, our health, and our climate.

North American Youth break-out strategy session. Pictured are youth delegates from the U.S. and Canada and a map of Environmental Action.

After highlighting how the 3 different U.S. delegations and 3 different Canadian groups synthesized solutions and actions, we moved back into the main conference room for a panel session led by AYCM and QEERI. “The problem is not resources. The problem is about willingness,” said a youth delegate from Lebanon from AYCM during their panel session regarding the education system in Arabic countries in regards to climate change. An issue addressed by an 18 year old youth delegate from Oman was that in order for most of them to continue their education they must be outsourced to the United States. She will be attending University of Colorado to study chemical engineering and one of the other panelists is already attending law school in the States. Their main answers were that not only were they not getting enough informal education to those who couldn’t afford private institutions (I was informed by a young Syrian, currently residing in Doha, that unless your parents work for the government you have to pay for your education).  I could go on a rant about U.S. education system, but I will save that for personal conversations rather than getting on my soapbox on the internet.

AYCM Panel about education and climate change. Representatives from Lebanon, Oman, and Egypt.

After the panel, we had 4 different breakout sessions. The first one that I attended stood out the most. The youth from New Zealand have started a project called Connected Voices that aims to gather stories from youth around the world who were unable to attend the conference and have their voices be heard by negotiators and the world at large.

The flags on the right represent all of the countries that do not have youth representation.

Testimonial: connecting our voices.

Following breakouts (which ranged from finance to reproductive health), all youth were gather together once more to discuss our collective strategy and went through a visioning session. What are our strengths/tools/resources? What are our weaknesses/challenges? There was general consensus that we have the passion, the will, and the ability to listen to one another, but that perhaps our limited resources and lack of response from negotiators were barriers that we all faced. The next thing I heard repeated over and over in the room was that we needed to keep fighting. Yes, this is not easy. No, we will not get everything done that we want. No, our negotiators will probably not make the decisions that we need them to. No, we will not give up.

As we came to these powerful conclusions, we had a special visitor:

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres.

Executive Secretary Christiania Figueres thanked us for getting to the negotiations and told us how much she appreciated our perseverance and encouraged us to continue putting on the pressure, not to give up, and to keep fighting for our futures. Overall- it was a really nice way to synthesize the events from the day into one powerful moment.

Side note:

I do not drink coffee. Never have. COY has been so fun, fulfilling, and tiring that I drank a cup of mocha. Woah. For those who know me, this is a big deal.

Mocha, oh mocha, thou dost look lovely in the sunlight.

I crashed shortly after. Caffeine or Jet Lag? The world may never know.

For now, Aloha from Doha.