by Mohammad Shakirin Bin Shahrul Jamal
Over the past one week at the Conference of Parties (COP) 21, I have learned a lot about myself. About the UN process, international diplomacy, climate policy, lobbying, non-violent direct action, and so much more. Although in the beginning it was a bit confusing for me to keep up with the myriad sessions that were going on in one place, in the coming days of the
conference I managed to structure my schedule and follow it accordingly. That was my first time taking part in a real UN conference, hence I took some time with the guidance from my mentor, Adrian – to fully understand on how to read the convention text – in a right and productive way.
We, the Malaysian Youth Delegation had an opportunity to organize bilateral meetings with three youths delegations of different countries namely the United Kingdom Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC), Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) and Taiwan Youth Climate Coalition (TWYCC). We discussed on team structuring, historical backgrounds, climate mobilizations and many more. Every morning, I joined YOUNGO meeting to engage with other delegates coming from different organizations. YOUNGO is one of the constituencies of UNFCCC. Constituencies have a formal voice in the UNFCCC process and can deliver interventions (speeches).
YOUNGO is not an organization, rather, a collection of groups or individuals who identify themselves as youth. It does not have any paid staff, and all the housekeeping chores (communication between the UNFCCC secretariat and the constituency, managing its online resources, correspondence, introducing new members, etc) are carried out by a team of volunteers, the two focal points and the Bottom Lining team (BLT). During COPs, YOUNGO provides a space, called Spokes Council where youth can learn about the process, network with other youth, and collaborate. Members of YOUNGO can decide to act or endorse an initiative as a constituency, in which case open and transparent conversations and consensus are the mechanisms to arrive at decisions. Youth from every corner of the world can be part of YOUNGO as individuals. Youth organizations can also be part of YOUNGO.
Back to UNFCCC text, out of all articles in the text, I am more interested in matters concerning human rights and common but differentiated responsibilites which are stated on Article 2. While reading the final text, I was with Kirby and she taught me about the difference between preamble and operative text. Here’s what I got:
• The preamble is less legally binding than the operative text. It functions more as strong suggestions on how to interpret or read the text, but without the same legal force. Therefore, I was devastated to find that human rights, gender equality, indigenous peoples rights, intergenerational equity, the right to just workforce transition and ecosystem integrity are omitted from the operative sections of the agreement. This means that although they are listed in the preamble, they do not carry the same legal weight as the articles in the operative text. No agreement we reach will be sufficient unless it is based on a foundation of human rights and social justice.
Credits should be given to Malaysian negotiators like Professor Gurdial and Dr. Gary as they had been working really hard throughout the sleepless nights of COP21. Although, I’m only 19 years old, I look forward to be involved actively with the climate movement, be it locally or internationally. We must see the Paris Agreement as a beginning, not a final outcome. This is simply the start of legal, long-term, and comprehensive solutions to the greatest challenge humanity will face this century. In addition to international cooperation, this crisis demands grassroots level solutions- local communities working with marginalized people, working with indigenous peoples, working with their children, working with an international climate movement. Only then can we begin to realize the kind of future so many of us here at COP21 are fighting for. A quote from Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, just before the final text was released: “We cannot let the quest for perfection become the enemy of public good”.
We must remember this as we leave Paris. So, while my heart hurts that human rights and gender equality did not appear in the final draft, I must turn that disappointment into a commitment to return next year, and keep fighting throughout the year. To ensure that we will one day have a global environmental treaty that recognizes the rights of all peoples. The gap between the negotiations, the climate movement and everyone else has to shrink if we are to take care of those people and places that are on the frontlines of climate change.
To conclude, I would like to thank my mentor, Adrian and to my teammates in MYD for guiding me from the beginning of the formation of MYD to finally, attending the COP21 in Paris. Thank you to the United Nations Association Malaysia for supporting me financially and morally. Hopefully, one day MYD can work closely with UNAM so that our aim to increase the understanding of UNFCCC negotiations among Malaysian youths, can be achieved. Thank you.