Earlier in the week Desmond Tutu said, "There's a great deal of hope. The number of people, especially young people, is fantastic."
Today young people are being turned away from the Bella Center in droves because far too many passes were given out by the United Nations. In fact, this week a mere 20 percent of delegates from NGO's will be allowed in the building. Many of the people turned away are in their twenties, people who will likely live past 2050 and experience the worst of climate change.
The striking percentage of people who have been turned away, though unfortunate, indicates the overwhelming number of people in attendance from around the world.
Consider India. During the COP 13 Bali negotiations, two years ago, the entire sub-continent of South Asia had only two young people representing them at the conference. Today, in Copenhagen, over fifty youth represent the region (Nepal, India, Maldives, etc.).
The story is the same for Australia. After sending only a handful of delegates to Bali, 25 Aussies represent the nation today. These youth also fundraised for an additional 13 young Pacific Islanders to attend, most of whom come from poor island states that will be severely affected by climate change. In the past two years, the Australia Youth Climate Coalition has grown from non-existent to the largest youth organization in the country with over 50,000 members.
Or consider 350.org, a group run largely by people in their mid-twenties. The organization has the goal of reducing carbon dioxide levels to 350 parts per million in the atmosphere, a level that many scientists believe is the "safe" level of carbon dioxide.
To draw attention to the 350 ppm cap, members of 350.org organized "actions" all over the world. The idea of an "action" is to draw attention to the number through whatever means possible. Some people held up signs that said "350." Some biked 350 miles over the course of a week, and others spelled out the number "350" with people and took aerial pictures. Over 4,000 such actions were organized, most of which took place in October. 350.org organizers have displayed photos of these actions at the climate negotiations, making sure that every negotiator saw the support for this target. Indeed, 350.org has brought 350 individuals from all over the world to attend these negotiations and pressure every single country.
Many policy makers and economists don't even consider 350; they believe it to be impossible. Most consider 450 parts per million to be ambitious goal, even though this target, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), gives us only a fifty percent chance of avoiding more warming than two degrees Celsius, the agreed upon upper limit of acceptable warming.
On Sunday night I sat in on a meeting of 350.org organizers at their hotel cafeteria on the north end of town. In that meeting I saw something that truly inspired me. The thirty youth who attended represented nearly the entire world -- every continent except Antarctica -- and more than a dozen countries. They represented the global citizenship that I believe is necessary to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.
Below is a series of interviews of 350.org organizers who represent the U.S., Burundi, Brazil, India, and South Africa. If we are to solve climate change, we need people like these working together.
Today, only 40 of 350.org's 350 delegates were allowed into the Bella Center, and tomorrow that number will likely shrink. Although almost 100 countries have embraced the 350 target, none of the larger or wealthier countries have, and the current agreement, according to the 350.org policy expert, will lead to atmospheric concentration of CO2 of 770ppm.
During the Sunday night meeting, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, happened to be in the hotel. He walked by the cafeteria, leaned his head in, and said to the group: "What you guys are doing is great. Build a movement. Change the consciousness of the world on this issue and something amazing will happen."