Reflecting on OYE

If you Google my name you’d probably find some facebook pages or some websites with this intro – Amalen Sathananthar, raised in Kuantan and someone who has spent a lot of his youth with nature through various outdoor activities like camping and trail running. Through this bond I have discovered a need to help preserve what remains of the natural environment and help reverse the effects of Climate change in whatever way that I can. An avid volunteer at environmental NGO’s, I spend most of my time dedicated to my urban agriculture venture – Tanah U: Green Union (TU:GU) in Malaysia.

That’s me on the left!

Well, that’s me. I like to think of myself as an environmentalist. I give talks and workshops on matters related to climate change and activism and try to help out where I can. This is a little recollection of my past year being a part of the OYE program, from making lifelong friends to giving a talk in a conference in China.

If you have been involved in the global youth scene in environmentalism, you definitely have heard of YOUNGO before. I joined YOUNGO’s mailing list  in 2015 and have been fairly active on it since then, getting involved with discussions and organising actions etc.

About a year ago, I came across an email thread on capacity building. The need for a centralised capacity building platform had been widely discussed because there seems to be many with gaps in information that are really crucial and these things like what is YOUNGO or UNFCCC are quite basic and some things like ‘How does China’s new energy mix affect the regional energy diversification’ are a bit more complicated. It’s not like we don’t have people who can help give clarifications but the platform to share this information hadn’t really been properly established. Different initiatives and projects have been set up by a varying number of groups but nothing seemed to stick or propagate globally.

Then suddenly (well not really),  Natalie from Care About Climate popped up and presented this program to us – The Online Youth Exchange.  This program was an international youth exchange specifically focused on information transfer, an initiative by Care About Climate and China Youth Climate Action Network. I saw this and thought, “Hey this looks cool, let’s give it a go, plus I can possibly practice my different activism workshop sessions on here maybe.” So sign on I did.
First things first, I was not the only one from YOUNGO. Quite a few people signed on about 90 applied and 60 or so were accepted into the program to participate (of course, there were a ton of sleeping members).
We were contacted by the coordinators and paired up with a partner of similar interests and I was partnered with Cherry, an environmental economics major  from Renmin University from China. We we’re told to get in touch with our partners and told that every month there would be 2 webinars made and presented by the paired groups of participants. We we’re also advised to give comparisons during our sessions eg – bike sharing systems in America in comparison to China. A youth capacity building session run by the youth for the youth.


All this sounded fun and good but I was worried about timings as I am someone who never has a fixed schedule. To my relief my partner, Cherry was in the same time zone and being a student she was pretty flexible with timings and thank god the webinars were recorded and I could watch them on the trains in the morning on the way to work.

Friendship forms Beijing conference because of Online Youth Exchange
Cherry & Amalen get to meet!

So the program continued on for a duration of 1 year. Cherry and I became really good friends. She’s like 5 years younger but really eager to know more and do more for the environment. I was not going to COP 22 in Marrakech but Cherry was; and even though she’d been for her local Chinese Youth Climate Action Network (CYCAN) trainings and she had a specific purpose going there, she was still quite nervous. We spent a good few days talking over Skype on what to expect and the different things at COP and how things work and what to look for. It was fun and useful to actually be putting to good use all the things I learnt in COP 21 . We became really close good friends and would contact each other regularly just to see how the other was doing.  

Cherry and other OYE Participants meet at COP 22 in Morocco

Fast forward to March 2017,  Cherry and I were going to give our first webinar on Climate Action: Governmental and Non-Governmental sides to the story. We had prepped for a couple of weeks, I was going to talk about Non Violent Direct Action (NVDA) and Cherry was going to talk about the whole Top-Down approach and how policies made by the government affect the climate action scene.
Our session was direct and straightforward and we had about 12 people in attendance. Cherry was quite nervous as she was not so used to giving presentations like this and I  felt uneasy and worried about the quality in my deliverance as this was my first webinar I was giving. Was I going to get the message out right?
Well, at the end of the session I played a role-playing game called the River Situation and this got everyone excited and really explained how  civil societies, general public and the government interact with one another in real life situations that involve the destruction or protection of the environment. Everyone was ecstatic , and even though things could’ve been better in terms of how the interactions between participants happened , it was amazingly fun and engaging.
You can check it out here.

And here’s the beauty of it: All these videos on such diverse topics can be found all online. That’s something I considered while giving my session, How do I make this interesting for those watching it later? Not everyone can be Sal Khan from Khan academy. But it still turned out well and like with all the videos, the most important thing is the information being talked about. I enjoyed watching them, expanding my knowledge base whilst I’m half asleep on the train on the way to appointments in the morning.

Check out the whole library of recordings here.

A month or so after webinar I got in touch with the coordinators again and they liked my session and asked me to come to China to do the game there. I was slightly perplexed and ecstatic. Turns out that OYE had been invited to come to the 9th International Youth Summit On Energy and Climate Change (IYSECC) and run a 3 hour workshop and Sarah and Echo (The Coordinators of OYE) wanted my game as a part of it. They had the funding for it and I was keen to attend this conference. It was a good chance for me to experience giving a session in an international setting. I was not going to pass it up! Plus this was a huge confidence boost for me personally, as I was asked to come and bring my energy and enthusiasm to a new bigger platform .

Meeting with Chen Nengcheng -master of Chinese Academy of Sciences, PhD in Kagoshima university Japan
Meeting with Li Dihua-vice dean and associate profesor of college of architecture and landscape architecture at Peking university

The sessions during the conference had some really big people involved and that was really impressive . The speakers were professionals from all sorts of varying environmentally related fields . I have recently taken an interest in urban planning and the session on this topic were my main focus. Albeit that it was mostly in mandarin, I could always find some other participant to help translate and the slides in English (some not all) were very helpful. The Question & Answer sessions were my favourite, as I could shoot all my questions
to these amazing speakers and their responses left me more inquisitive than before.  

The D-Day of our session,  and I was ecstatic. We had an audience of about 70-90 participants out of the total 292 people in attendance, as there were parallel workshops and talks going on at any given moment. We had Sarah , Pradeep, Jasmita  and Faysal all from OYE here to talk about their journeys and climate action as a whole and I took a 45 minute chunk to do our Role-Play game. Here’s how it goes:- a coal company is about to destroy a forest for mining purposes. One village upstream will be getting new jobs and still have their clean environment but then there is another village downstream whom will be directly affected by this development. There’s a civil society trying to help and of course, as we were in China, a government side too, to give their assessments and opinions on the matter. So I split everyone into these 5 groups , gave them the scenario and a time frame and they had to work together or against each other to find a solution.


It was fun and most of all engaging. At the end during the debrief everyone’s faces were filled within awe, sadness, happiness  because they finally got a taste (of some sorts)  of what happens in the real world when people campaign or fight for their rights. It’s not always fair. Now this might sound confusing to you as a reader but maybe check it out online- the River-Role playing situation or my webinar.

Presenting on International Cooperation & Youth Action

It’s now been slightly less than a month since then, I’m back home in Malaysia, the OYE program for the year has ended and the next batch is about to start soon. If this little article (more like a rant session ) has given you some insight to this program maybe you should check it out for yourself at http://onlineyouthexchange.org/  or To hear from more OYE participants about their experiences, watch this video! You can join the OYE program for the upcoming session too, the application opens on August 15th and runs till the end of the month.

Climate Sign from Great Wall of China with OYE and IYSECC participants

                                                            Join OYE!

Take it from me, it was one hell of an experience – meeting new people, gaining new experiences, knowledge and having a whole bunch of fun all the way!

~Amalen Sathananthar

OYE Participant 2016/17

IYSECC 9.0 Scholar

This Earth Day, the World Will be “Signing” On for Climate Action

This Earth Day, world leaders will gather in New York to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement that was negotiated last December in France. However, world leaders will not be the only ones signing on. People from around the world will raise the Climate Sign to unite for climate action, and show that they are holding their world leaders accountable.

ClimateSignonTowerDuring the two weeks leading up to Earth Day, April 22nd, a group of organizations including Care About Climate, Citizens Climate Lobby, Climate Central, and others, will be asking people around the world to metaphorically “sign” the Paris Agreement by raising Climate Sign.

“By uniting together as individuals, we are committing ourselves to finding climate solutions, but we are also showing our neighbors, friends, family, community, and world leaders that we want climate action now, and we need to work together to make the change we need to see,” states Natalie Lucas, the Executive Director of Care About Climate.

Individuals and organizations can go to SignTheAgreement.org to post a photo raising the climate sign, or post directly to their social media with the #climatesign. These photos will collectively show the diversity of support for climate action.

“With tens of thousands of submissions from individuals around the world, we can demonstrate that there is international momenParisAgreement_#1tum for climate action, and that climate change is a challenge that takes collaboration and expertise from all sectors of our global community,” reports Hadley Greswold, the founder of ClimateSign.org. She continues, “As the effects of climate change are felt around the world, we want leaders in New York to feel the necessity and pressure for action.”

To participate, individuals and groups can submit their Climate Sign photos at SignTheAgreement.org, or use the #climatesign to tag their photo.

 

Week 2: The World Is Ready For Action

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Photo taken by Greenpeace and was a collaboration of groups that put the action together.

The second week of the UN Climate Negotiations is underway. The hallways are bustling, small group meetings are happening throughout the space mumbling about the policy and climate justice, and ministers from all over the world are gathering together to look at the first draft of the Paris Agreement that is to be finalized at the end of the week. You may be wondering what happened the first week and where we are now, well I will tell you.

Last week negotiators were hard at work getting a 54 page text down to 38 pages. That does not sound like much, but they also worked through many of the brackets. Brackets are words that are literally in brackets in the policy, which means they are still being negotiated. The text went from 1700 brackets to 900 brackets this week, and started filtering through some of the options for the policy. Things still up for discussion include the temperature goal (staying below 1.5°C or 2°C global warming on average), the long-term goal (decarbonizing by 2060-2080), finance, frequency of review of country pledges (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) and process for that review, equity language, adaption and capacity building support, and loss and damage as a stand alone policy point. So there is still a lot to get through in the next week, and ministers will have to work through many of these issues to get a deal by Friday.

Civil society, or citizens and non-governmental groups, will be there along the way. Throughout the week, and today, they will be making a lot of noise through media, lobbying, direct action, and civil disobedience. People from all walks of life, all backgrounds, and many organizations are concerned about the outcome of these talks and will have their voice be heard.

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This year civil society even has their own space, which has never happened at a COP before, due to the demand for space within the conference. This civil society area is called the climate generations area, and it is open to the public. Several sessions and the plenaries are broadcasted on monitors throughout the space. It is not a replacement for being able to go into the actual negotiating space, but it does give a place where people can meet and talk about how they can collaborate and show support for climate action in the UN climate talks.

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Finally, there are many more conferences, actions, and events happening throughout Paris where big names like Bill McKibben, Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jane Goodall, Helen Clark and others are raising the importance of the issue of climate change. The topics vary significantly within these side events. For example, the World Health Organization held a summit this weekend on health and climate change, CGIAR held the Global Landscapes Forum to talk about the connection between landscapes and climate, mayors came together to make commitments for climate action locally, and there have been training sessions for young organizers so they can learn how they can get involved with the climate movement.

The energy and excitement is high around this conference, and no matter what the outcome is for the Paris agreement, the tide has shifted and the world wants to face this issue head on.

As for me, I have been writing articles, working on social media, and trying to build support for climate action around the world by collaborating with various groups. I specifically focus on protecting equity language in the agreement, which includes human rights, gender and women, indigenous rights, labor, future generations, and food security, in addition to generally putting pressure on countries to put us down the right path to less than a 1.5°C global warming on average world. This morning I did a press conference, representing the Sierra Student Coalition, with the Chinese Youth Climate Action Network to demand ambitious action within the Paris Agreement from the two largest greenhouse gas contributors (shown below). There is too much to do with so little time, but it is exciting that there is so much going on. The next week will be interesting, and it will determine many aspects of our future.

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Sierra Student Coalition demands 100% renewable energy. Photo credit: Ashley Wineland

 

 

What is COP 21, and why will it define #OurFuture?

12316315_10153770674129169_3947117815950444653_nToday is the first day of COP21, which is the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or the UNFCCC. This meeting is being held in Paris, France, and over the course of the next two weeks negotiators from over 190 countries will work together to come up with the first universal international climate agreement. Climate agreements have been made in the past, like the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, but there has never been an agreement where all the countries, developed and developing, have to commit to reducing emissions in one way or another. At the end of these next two weeks that will no longer be the case.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 1.00.19 PMThe whole point of these negotiations is to come up with an agreement that will keep the global average temperature below 2 degrees celsius, which is a global tipping point. As President Obama said in his opening speech today, “our progress will be measured by the suffering that is averted and the planet that is preserved.” No truer words have been said.

So how are we going to do that? Negotiators have been working on the Paris Agreement for four years since COP 17 in Durban, South Africa in 2011. After those long and strenuous years we are now racing towards the finish line, and it is time to work out the final details.

The agreement is expected to revisit whether or not we want to have a below 2 degrees celsius on average warming goal or to put the goal at 1.5 degrees celsius so that we have a buffer as a planet; support a long term goal for decarbonization by a certain year (to be determined); suggest methods countries can take for climate action such as mitigation and adaptation projects and policies; deliver means to support implementing those projects and policies such as technology transfer, finance, and capacity building for developing nations; and contain equity language that allows for space for climate justice for many communities that have been unfairly impacted by climate change, which they did not contribute to. Finally, this agreement has been developed in a bottom up approach where all countries have submitted pledges, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) that outline how they will reduce their carbon emissions, adapt to the impacts of climate change, and financially support other countries as they work to combat climate change. This has been good because countries can submit what they believe to be politically feasible. However, even with the pledges that we have right now, the planet is expected to warm well over 2 degrees, and so it will be imperative that countries submit more ambitious quickly, and they are not allowed to backslide below what they have already pledged. Therefore, a review process for these INDCs will be in the agreement as well, but the specifics of that process are still up for debate.12289592_10153770674169169_9155730547084079485_n

Clearly there is still a lot to talk about in a short amount of time. Regardless of the outcome of the agreement, this will only be the beginning. It will take local work and domestic action to make the INDCs become a reality, and it will be up to us, global citizens, to go above and beyond to demand action on climate everywhere for our future.