COP21: It's a Small World After All

April 27, 2016

Gerrit Wesselink, Executive Director, Youth Arctic Coalition

The very first thing I noticed walking into the site of COP21 at Le Bourget in Paris was the organized chaos I was throwing myself into. Thousands of people from every corner of the globe in one place to talk about the changing climate, the issues that are resulting from it, and what we can do about it. Negotiators, assistants, ministers, business people, NGO representatives all running around, talking, debating. People were literally everywhere, everyone’s faces looked like they were supposed to be somewhere five minutes ago, and that they were missing the most important meeting of their day. The first time you come to a United Nations conference like this, it’s very easy to feel lost and alone in the sea of conversations that are happening around you, and it’s hard to learn to navigate yourself through it all.

It was overwhelming.

At the same time, there is a feeling in this space; a feeling of hope, and of connectedness. I first realized this the very first day I arrived at the site of COP. After getting off the shuttle from the Metro station, I heard someone yell ‘Canada!’ in my direction. When I turned around, I saw a group of young girls standing and smiling at me. Just a few weeks earlier, I was sitting in a buggy in the Canadian Sub-Arctic near Churchill Manitoba with a group of experts talking to high schools from around the world. One of the schools that we talked with was from Peru, and they were sending a few of their girls to the COP negotiations, and I had just run into them! Imagine that - just weeks before, I was in northern Canada talking with this group from Peru, and now we’re all in the same place in France. That moment reminded me of a children’s song – It’s a small world after all – and it truly is. At COP you start to realize that the discussions, the proposals, and the solutions are not for each country, but are for all of us.

On Thursday, December 10, outside the Notre Dame Cathedral in the centre of Paris, the Saami people of Arctic Europe stood in solidarity with the Pacific Islanders from New Zealand and other small island states in their battle against a warming earth. People from two very different parts of the world came together to share their stories, and to stand with each other in the face of climate change. They brought the message that people need to stand together, and need to work together to bring change to our world. As they spoke of their respective challenges, people gathered from around the world to listen to their stories and to stand with these peoples even if demonstrations like these are illegal during France’s State of Emergency.

These two events spoke very loudly to me. They reminded me that the power of the people, and the power of communication is an incredible force. As young people, we are the first generation in the world that can contact anyone, anywhere, and at anytime, and this is incredibly powerful. When we come together to share our stories, and to encourage what others are doing, we’re creating a network of support and encouragement that goes beyond our governments and our countries borders. I believe that issues like climate need to be tackled by everyone, and working in solidarity with one another can do that.

It is a small world after all, and only by breaking down the barriers between us, will we realize that we’re all in this together. 

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