SustainUS COP20 Delegation Releases Vision and Mission Statements

Our Vision

We strive to demand climate justice for our generation and for those to come. We dream of a future where environmental, social, and economic sustainability go hand in hand, made true by emboldened citizens and leaders who grasp the urgency of the climate crisis, and who rise to meet the occasion. We believe in the creativity, fortitude, and power of people – especially youths – to recast the status quo and rewrite our future."

Our Mission

Through proactive research, outreach, and advocacy – balancing activism and policy engagement – we strive as a COP 20 youth delegation to:

MOTIVATE: Galvanize a sense of generational mission in youths by empowering young people worldwide to become actively engaged in addressing the climate crisis, so that we may serve as a catalyst for positive change.

Read more: SustainUS COP20 Delegation Releases Vision and Mission Statements

Why the People's Climate March will matter at the United Nations

As youth delegates from SustainUS, we work to represent the youth of the US climate justice movement within the United Nations' debates on climate change. In this capacity, we travel to the UN climate change negotiations every year. There, we aim to make change both in the outcome text of the negotiations and in the media narrative surrounding international climate policy. This December, we will attend COP20 in Lima, Peru, and we’re already full of ideas for what we’d like to see. Ask any one of us and we can tell you what we’re hoping for on a personal level. Our list of demands in these negotiations is as diverse as our personal backgrounds, the immediate needs of our communities, and our hopes for a more just, sustainable shared future.

But every year, progress is slow, and watching the ideas you care about called into question again and again is discouraging. And when the negotiations completely fall apart, like they did at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, it can be utterly heartbreaking. Whether you’re in the talks or watching media coverage back home, watching your home country’s negotiators often produces the same reaction: How could they do something like this?

The answer to that question is one of the reasons the People’s Climate March matters. There’s nothing wrong with the individual people representing the United States in the room at COP. They aren’t evil people, or climate deniers seeking to actively undermine the talks. They’re decent human beings just trying to do their jobs. They’re trapped in a world of severe political constraints, because everything they agree to in the context of the UN must be something that can survive back in the United States. That’s the sticking point. For the vast majority of US politicians, climate change is, at best, an issue to be avoided, and at worst, something to deny to win quick political points.  

But there’s a misunderstanding on their part. The people who represent you, at the UN and in Congress, think you don’t care about climate change. And until US politicians truly believe their constituents care about climate change, the US will remain unambitious in UN talks. Continuing the current state of affairs means more precious time is passing without international action on one of the most critical issues of our time. Every day that goes by with politicians believing that their constituents don’t care how they act on climate means another day negotiators are bound by a lack of political will when they travel to COP. Without a change, political gridlock will continue to prevent US leadership on climate change.    

This is why the People’s Climate March is so important. Action at the UN will not happen without outside pressure. Americans, and especially youth, who will feel the impacts of climate change more acutely than any other generation before us, must apply that pressure. We must demonstrate our commitment to this issue, and build a broader stronger movement than ever before to call for climate justice and a better world.

Come to New York and show the people who represent you how much you care about acting on climate change. Members of Congress, State Department officials, and President Obama: By the time we’re done marching, they will not doubt what we value, or question how strong our convictions are. Come if you are able, follow the March on social media, and tell your friends and family. The impacts could be global.  

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Emily Nosse-Leirer is leading the SustainUS delegation to COP20. You can follow the delegation at @SustainUSAgents and sustainus.org, and find her at @EmilyRNL.

Women in power

At the beginning of this conference I held the belief that , as a high school student, there wasn't anything I could contribute in terms of tangible experience. Now don't get me wrong here; I consider myself pretty well-informed about many of the issues that are being talked about at the side events. My school and personal interests resulted in some knowledge in topics like reproductive right, trafficking, education, female genital mutilation, the use of alternative fuels for women's benefit, discrimination, and the gross lack of representation of women in important decision making processes. I was happy to chip in helpful arguments and facts in certain discussions. But that was all a matter of research. I could never imagine myself speaking in this conference with the same intensity and passion that civil society members with experience in direct humanitarian projects and governmental officials did when they spoke of issues they witnesses first-hand. Quite frankly, it also felt like people wouldn't take such a young person as seriously either.

Today was the first time where I spoke about something more personal in a panel discussion. The side event was sponsored by several of the government officials of Kenya, and they explained the aspects of their new constitution that helped secure seats for women in the decision-making process. Quotas and guidelines were mentioned; one rule in particular said that no one than 2/3 of the seats in their legislature could be occupied by one gender, basically guaranteeing that at least 1/3 of the seats would go to women. Even more interesting was a point a South African legislator brought up about how some politicians will give seats to women and not allow them to actually do anything, only so they can tell the voters that women are bad leaders. I thought it was interesting how common quotas were among other nations, since I grew up in a country where quotas are illegal. I spoke out about how, despite having affirmative action programs that don't even go as far as allowing quotas, affirmative action still had the potential to cause backlash since the very people who are meant to be beneficiaries of affirmative action often have their achievements and merits undermined; one of the hardest working people I knew at my high school got accepted into University of Pennsylvania and some of my classmates claimed it was because of her race. Similarly, when an alumni from my school who was known for having an amazing work ethic got a prestigious internship at Goldman Sachs, a few boys I know complained about how much easier it is for women to get jobs in finance. I talked about how these experiences lead me to believe that people need to be more informed of why these "reverse-discrimination" programs are needed in the first place.

My high school is a "blue ribbon" institution with a successful civics program. Yet even in advanced level classes, I know students who truly believe racism and sexism are no longer prevalent in the workforce. To my surprise, when the panelists were answering all the questions brought up by the audience, one of the Kenyan government officials went out of her way to get my name so she could personally address me; she told me about how in college, the only positions women held in her clubs were treasurer or social affairs manager and agreed that progress needed to be made about the social attitudes people had towards affirmative action. Another panelist echoed the sentiment, emphasizing the need for quality in the programs they chose to implement. Although I still have much to experience and learn as a high school senior, it was empowering to know that I could still provide personal insight and experiences from a youth perspective that helped move the dialogue along.