At the end of a major United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa a year ago, one particular Canadian youth delegate made the greatest impression. Addressing distinguished delegates and government representatives from around the world, Anjali Appadurai called for the need for deep emissions cut in the immediate future. "There is real ambition in this room but it's been dismissed as radical, deemed not politically possible," the British Columbian warned.
On the occasion of the International Women's Day - the determined activist, who is a currently attending the College of the Atlantic in Maine reflects on the status of activism and shares some of the wisdom learned fighting for a just cause.
You gave such an empowering speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. What was that experience like?
The experience of giving the speech was extremely intense. During the time I was on-stage, I barely felt the passing of time. It went by very quickly. I was a little nervous about the microphone check at the end, since I didn't know how many youth were in the room, but other than that, I felt no anxiousness or stage fright; I was fully indignant about the state of affairs and I knew that many people were counting on me to deliver the statement properly.
Why are you so passionate about the environment and in particular climate change?
To me, climate change, and indeed most "environmental" issues, is inherently a human issue. Climate change affects millions of people's lives and livelihoods; it is a global problem that requires cooperative action. I choose to engage in the UN forum because the nature of climate change is international. Youth have an important role to play in this forum, as we are tomorrow' recipients of today's problems.
In your speech you told the delegates how they have "failed to meet pledges, you've missed targets, and you've broken promise" - Explain
The speech was accusing politicians of negotiating in circles and failing to come to meaningful agreements for the last twenty years. Since the establishment of the UN Convention on Climate Change in 1992, negotiations around the issue of climate change have lacked ambition and commitment on the behalf of politicians. Targets for greenhouse gas emissions were not met, nor were financial pledges for adaptation projects for vulnerable countries.
Developing countries tend to be more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and therefore need to undertake projects to adapt to these effects. These projects need to be funded by the more capable developed countries. There is also a lack of transfer of clean technologies from developed to developing countries. These technologies would be crucial to the mitigation of harmful emissions. The speech was highlighting the failure of negotiators in each of these areas.
Why is it still important to hear from the youth in such important international gatherings?
The youth are one of the major groups representing "civil society" at the UN. The voice of civil society as a whole is extremely important and must be heard at international gatherings, as a way of reminding politicians that they are negotiating on behalf of civil society and must act in the best interests of the people. Without the presence of civil society in the political process, there would be very little accountability or transparency from the negotiating rooms to the rest of the world.
Youth have an especially important role to play as the ones who will feel the effects of the decisions made by the negotiators. It is up to us to put pressure on the decision-makers, making it clear that a lack of political ambition today will have disastrous effects tomorrow.
What do you think of the state of today's youth and their participation when it comes to activism and the political process?
In the world of global politics, it is true that the youth are not a highly influential group. We do not hold much political sway over the outcome of negotiations. This is due to many factors, one being that civil society as a whole does not have much influence in the international political arena. More powerful influences such as corporate lobbyists and private finance are present to put pressure on politicians.
However, I strongly feel that the tide is turning in terms of youth participation in global decision-making.
The events of 2011 showed the world that civil society can and will have a say in the political process. Youth participation has been increasing, and the pressure we are able to put on our governments is getting stronger. My hope is that this trend will continue to strengthen.
Tell me about the group - Earth in Brackets?
Earth in Brackets is a project started at my university, College of the Atlantic. It is an online space consisting of a website and blog, and it is a physical body represented by COA students participating in environmental politics, primarily at the international level. There has been Earth in Brackets delegations from COA to UN conferences since 2004. Our positions are influenced by the educational program at COA - human ecology - which is an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the relationships humans have with each other and their environments.
Earth in Brackets is committed to climate justice and to having an increased, strong, radical youth voice in the UN. We also work extensively with international youth movements.
What advice would you have for young people in Canada who may want to emulate such an activist journey for worthy causes?
Knowledge is the greatest activist tool, in my opinion. Staying informed through a variety of balanced sources is key to being able to use your gifts, resources and abilities to aid your cause. There are many ways to get involved through local organizations, or even through larger organizations such as the Red Cross and Oxfam.
What are your future plans?
I see myself potentially heading in several different directions. I have considered UN work, grassroots work, advocacy, and development consulting. I will continue to explore the world of international development and global environmental/humanitarian politics while following the opportunities that come my way.