Photo by Megan Van Buskirk

Right now, we live in a world that is an average of 0.8 degrees (Celcius) warmer than it was one hundred years ago. This is a profoundly changed planet: one of superstorms, species loss, rising ocean levels, and innumerable other environmental catastrophes.

This past Monday, negotiators from all over the world arrived in Doha, Qatar for COP18, this year’s installment of the annual United Nations climate change negotiations. Governments worldwide, including Canada, are finally acknowledging the urgency of the climate crisis. They have come to Doha to tackle this unprecedented challenge.

The world’s young people know quite well how urgent the situation is. Depending on the outcome of these negotiations, we are inheriting a legacy of climate chaos. Youth delegates from 51 countries spanning the global north and south have come to COP18 to intervene.

Prior to COP, we met at the Conference of Youth, where the stories of the climate impacts we face every day tumbled forth. Stories of families rendered homeless by monsoons, of entire forests we played in as children destroyed by invasive species, of friends killed in climate change-aggravated natural disasters. Spurred on by the climate injustices of the warming world we face every day, we organized for action.

There is concern that COP18, being held in a state made extraordinarily wealthy by fossil fuel revenues, will lack the ambition to make the bold and binding emissions targets we desperately need. There are developing countries valiantly fighting for emissions reductions, particularly those who will feel the impacts of climate change most dramatically. Countries like the Maldives, which will be underwater in the next century.

The developed nations who are the worst offenders (including Canada, the seventh highest emitter of carbon dioxide per capita as of 2008) have historically obstructed the negotiations. When it comes to emissions reductions, Canada needs to lead, follow, or get out of the way.

At the Copenhagen Accord, UN member states agreed to a warming limit of 2°C. At present emissions rates, we will go well beyond that limit. Continued expansion and ongoing development of Canada’s tar sands will push us past it singlehandedly. With such strong impacts already being felt, world youth at COP18 do not want to have to tell the harrowing stories of a world that is hotter by at least two degrees.

Climate change is no longer an arbitrary concept for our scientists and politicians to debate, yet there is a high risk that governments will fail to agree upon the steep emissions cuts we desperately need. With our futures hanging in the balance, youth will not stand idly by. As COP18 opened, we told our stories. We held signs displaying the climate-induced damage in our communities to the negotiators as they entered. At the press conference that followed, we showed a map covered in red dots representing the impacts already being felt by young people worldwide.

We will tell our stories to negotiators again tomorrow, and the day after that, and each day until the negotiations end. We will wear our red dots as a symbol of the climate change-induced hardships we live each day, and will go home to face after COP18. If the negotiations proceed as we fear, countries like Canada will leave us with an appalling climate legacy of strife and natural disaster. We demand they keep it below two degrees.

Alana is a writer, research, and activist, though not necessarily in that order. She is a member of this year’s Canadian Youth Delegation (CYD) to COP18. The CYD advocates for young Canadians at United Nations climate negotiations and holds our government accountable for their actions at these talks. You can follow the CYD’s activities at COP at www.cyd-djc.org and @CYD_DJC. Keep up with Alana at www.alanawestwood.com.

Read Alana's second and third posts from Doha.

Alana Westwood is a Ph.D. candidate doing endangered species research in Nova Scotia. She was a member of the 2012 Canadian Youth Delegation to the UN climate change conference in Qatar, and you can follow her goings-on at www.alanawestwood.com.

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