Young People Across South Asia Come Together To Prepare For The COP16 Climate Negotiations In Cancun, Mexico

Vositha Wijenayake rushed through the crowds and across the platform to make the 10:30am Saturday train to Galle, Sri Lanka. She was headed south from Colombo to meet with a group of young men who run a tree planting and climate change education program in the high schools of the southern region.

She went to involve them in the Sri Lankan Youth Climate Action Network (SLYCAN), a network that brings together young people from across Sri Lanka to promote government and individual action on climate change. She also went to recruit them to attend the upcoming South Asia Youth Summit on Climate Change (SAYSoCC) which Sri Lanka will be hosting next month.

Wijenayake is committed to her role as a SLYCAN coordinator, despite also juggling law school and her job at a human rights organization, because she believes that young people are a critical piece in solving the global issues we are facing due to climate change.

"It is essential to involve and educate our peers on climate change because young people are the ones with the creativity and innovation to solve the issues related to climate change," says Wijenayake. "We cannot wait for our leaders to solve these issues, we must start today working on solutions in our communities and strengthening our collective voice on the global level."

Next month SYLCAN will welcome over seventy people to Colombo Sri Lanka for the second annual South Asia Youth Summit on Climate Change. The summit participants will be thirty five young people from Sri Lanka and thirty five young people from the rest of the South Asian region: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Pakistan. Several international observers also plan to attend. The summit provides a space for organizers across the region to come together, share their experiences and create coordinated plans to move towards their common goals. These goals include reducing fossil fuel emissions, increasing popular education around climate change in their regions and developing a coordinated strategy for international policy talks on climate change.

At last year's summit the group put together the first ever South Asia Youth Declaration on Climate Change which included a commitment to regional youth collaboration and demands such as an internationally binding treaty that includes a return to 350 ppm carbon in the atmosphere, a UN process that is inclusive of youth from all over the world and sufficient funds from developed countries to assist developing countries in adaption projects.

Over a dozen of the 2009 summit attendees went in person to the UN Climate Negotiations in Copenhagen last December to present the declaration and take part in the negotiations. Bhandary, who participated in the negotiations reflected, "Although the outcome of the Copenhagen Climate Talks was dismal, it has made the need and urgency to take strong actions at home very clear. Without building strong momentum domestically and strengthening our voice as a region, it will be difficult to have the influence we need to achieve an international agreement."

At the youth summit next month the South Asian Climate Action Network will finalize the 2010-2011 declaration which will be taken by a subgroup to the United Nations Climate Negotiations in Cancun, Mexico this November.

Wijenayake hopes for a more positive outcome in Mexico. "I hope from Cancun we see a responsible and committed attitude from the politicians. Climate change is happening and lots of people are suffering the effects of climate change across the globe right now. We need a treaty that commits to bold action on climate change to come out of these negotiations, otherwise it just does not make any sense to waste millions of dollars and fly across the world just to emit more carbon into the air."

One thing is clear, this group of young people are highly motivated and will continue their work in their own communities and within their own governments to make the changes and create the change they want to see in the world, in spite of what comes out of the negotiations in Mexico.

Says Wijenayake, "Politicians do have a major role to play, but we as individuals must do out part as well. Youth need to mobilize and take collective measures in order to see productive outcomes. SAYSoCC is part of such collective measures. Youth around the world are leading the way and we are inviting country leaders and politicians to join us in doing their part in materializing the needed change."