It Takes Two Tango – Unless You’re in Bangkok

It was only Day 1 of SB48-2 in Bangkok and feathers were already ruffled – YOUNGO surprisingly taking the first spot.

What would have been a typical Joint Plenary on APA, SBSTA and SBI turned heated as the Co-Chairs made a last-minute decision to call-off interventions from CSOs, drawing flak from YOUNGO, the official youth constituency of UNFCCC.

Interestingly but unsurprisingly (if one were to follow CAN’s strategy in this SB48-2), CAN gracefully accepted the change. So why was YOUNGO so enraged?

CAN has eyes on the ‘Queen’, so to speak, and are moving their chess pieces cautiously, or rather, they don’t mind waiting a bit longer for the last dance. Their eyes are on following the negotiations closely, particularly on Finance, Enhancement of the NDCs and Transparency, and use ECO among other means in their arsenal to push forth their goals or expectations.

YOUNGO however, places an emphasis in the various engagements which usually revolve around the plenaries and use it as a platform to be heard. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the youths are the biggest stakeholders as we will end up facing the outcomes of all the lengthy and complex negotiations. Perhaps that is why YOUNGO jealously guards its position and demands to be included in the dialogue.

As the Co-chairs sat down with YOUNGO to soothe said feathers, I noticed a few common, but again, unsurprising themes:


Perhaps YOUNGO may appear to suffer from solipsism (I’m merely speculating, of course) in the eyes of the Co-chairs, unable to see the ‘bigger picture’ and kicking a fuss when there are ‘more important’ issues at stake. If one were to view YOUNGO’s response through this lens, its insistence and continual complaints about being excluded appears impractical and naive.

Indeed, one Co-chair’s apology sounded more like he was talking to a child that wanted to play when the adults are talking business, implying his graciousness in having that meeting in the first place. Perhaps it would have been better appreciated if he did not appear to imply that we were lucky to be heard at all. He did, however, promise to read the intervention document that was supposed to be delivered.

Another Co-Chair had the audacity to dish out ‘advice’ to a frustrated Focal Point of the Global South that she should not be too emotional and to ‘not do things emotionally’ as she/ we are young with a long way to go. Regardless of his intent, what could have been a well-meaning advice instead sounded patronising, sexist and unprofessional, which is hardly helpful in the given situation.

What the youth representative was doing however, was speaking on behalf of the youths at COP to be ensured the seat to be heard, and to secure a promise that this would not set a precedent that would sideline in future dialogues. Although COP is a party-driven process, this stakeholder engagement is crucial in the UNFCCC process.

Instead what we heard was that while they were sorry and promised it will not happen again, we must also ‘be flexible’ and ‘cooperate’. Ignoring the semantics that appear to blindside us and firmly but politely demanding to be included however, is seen to be emotional. YOUNGO was encouraged ‘to say anything they wanted’ (the irony is not missed, I assure you), even in informal negotiations which is encouraging and reveals effort to engage with the youth better. How this pans out though, we shall see in the remainder of the week.

Co-Chairs Between An Angry CSO and a Hard Place

Beneath the apologies, I observed the Co-chairs position which hardly enviable – they are racing against time with only days of negotiations to juggle the various positions of the parties to keep the machine running efficiently enough to iron out a roadmap leading up to Katowice. There is skepticism on the ground about the extent of headway that will be made in Bangkok, and the Co-chairs had to make a decision as to how best they may utilise what precious little time they have. It has been speculated that Heads of Delegation meetings may also be axed to save time.

One would hope that the excess time was well-spent by the Parties to hash out the much-needed detail on the existing agenda items in their respective, if nothing else. While the pressure on the Co-chairs were acknowledged, the representative maintained that it was equally important that the Co-Chairs should not be seen to compromise the integrity of the institution, since scandals like these, either that from the youth or otherwise, is not necessary or helpful in the current situation.

What Now?

At the end of the day, we must all remind ourselves why we are at COP, and what is at stake. That being said, youths must not be seen as a ‘use of time’ but as one representative eloquently said, a way to save Parties time through the additional dialogue. After all, YOUNGO holds under its umbrella youth delegations and CSOs from all over the world, building capacity and stakeholder engagement, which is not unlike UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement themselves.

Youths were not merely venting or talking into a void today, but were taking a stand against being silent and were anxious to be part of an important process. It is ironic how youths continue to be dismissed and our contributions diminished among all the ‘other bigger agendas’. This mindset is paternalistic and regressive. It certainly does not belong in 2018 or SB48-2. UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement was built upon the premise of multi-lateral stakeholder engagement, and there is no such thing as a solo tango.  

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