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In Bali, A Quest For Change

In Bali, A Quest For ChangeTufts junior Rishikesh Bhandary traveled to Bali as a member of the American Youth Delegation to the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.22.08] This past December, nearly 200 nations gathered in Bali, Indonesia, for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, negotiating the successor to the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions. But the official delegates were not the only ones speaking out.

Rishikesh Bhandary, a Tufts junior and quantitative economics major, joined climate-conscious youth from around the world representing the next generation of leaders concerned about climate change. Through his involvement with Focus the Nation, a climate change educational initiative, and PowerShift, a youth climate movement, Bhandary has gained experience advocating for these issues. The Bali conference, however, gave him the opportunity to do so on a global stage.

SustainUS, a nonprofit organizing young people around issues of sustainable development, sponsored the 21-member American Youth Delegation, where Bhandary joined fellow college students and recent graduates with an interest in combating climate change. Along with their international counterparts, they sat in on the negotiations, prepared policy briefs and shared their intergenerational perspective with government officials from around the world. E-News spoke to Bhandary about his experience in Bali.

Why did you attend the conference?

I saw it as a great opportunity to learn how climate negotiations actually work from a very close level. I think climate change is one of the biggest constraints for development in countries. Coming from Nepal, I was able to see how much even the lighting in a house can change the amount of activities you do on a daily basis. Having a light bulb can change the behavior pattern of individuals. You increase the number of hours you spend awake.

What was your interaction with the official American delegation?

We told them that we want America to be more active in supporting renewable energy projects and also to actually have a mandatory emissions cap. The officials pointed out the political difficulty in implementing any form of a nation-wide environmental legislation, be it a carbon tax or a cap and trade mechanism. They don't have the votes, regardless of how popular the issue might seem and how grave climate change and its impact might be felt around the world.

It's very interesting to see the consensus among the youth and how radically it differed form the official government policy platforms.

What were the negotiations like?

Everybody was very positive at the beginning, because everybody wanted a big "Bali breakthrough," as they were calling it, to emerge from the conference. But with all the formalities and diplomatic protocols and niceties, there was a lot of frustration amongst the delegates.

What was more frustrating, people before the conference thought it would be the developing countries that would not agree to a cap on emissions. But it turned out it was America, Canada and Japan who were trying to block any sort of a global cap. The developing countries were much more receptive in terms of how many more targets they would bind their emissions to. It was very frustrating to see that type of inertia in the American side.

How did you interact with delegations from other nations?

One of the key messages we were trying to bring was: whatever the official American stance may be, that won't be forever. There are people like us who are in the American Youth Delegation who want a radical departure from the climate policies in Washington. They can depend on the future generation of American leaders to have a much more sympathetic outlook to climate change, both in terms of the actual acts passed in Congress and in terms of sponsoring technology for developing countries to be more energy efficient and helping other countries achieve more of a carbon neutral growth path.

I spoke to the delegates from Comoros and Zimbabwe, and it was very, very encouraging to see how receptive they were to ideas from everybody else. That said a lot about how willing developing countries were to be more effective in dealing with climate change.

Do you feel you were effective in communicating your message of change?

I think we were very effective, actually. The Fossil of the Day award [given out to three countries at the end of each day based on how much they blocked substantial progress in the negotiations] really put the spotlight on certain countries that were completely blocking certain parts of the negotiation process.

Since we had prepared so much before the conference in terms of writing policy briefs and learning about the issue in general, we were able to have meaningful and substantive discussions with other government delegates. That definitely was able to portray the American Youth Delegation as an effective vehicle to lobby for climate change policies in America domestically.

What was it like connecting with youth delegations from other nations?

We worked very closely with other international youth-Indonesia, Canada, Australia, even China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Africa. We met every single day to discuss where international youth stood on various issues. We transcended "how my country stands, how your country stands" to how international youth as a whole stand. We saw it as being more effective in saying what all the international youth have to say on this particular issue and how we want policies enacted as the future generation.

We formed a support network and a more institutional framework, and we'll be working more closely in Poland next year and planning events on how we can collaborate internationally so we can be equally if not more affective than we were in Bali.

What's the next step for climate change-conscious young leaders?

We have to continue putting pressure on Washington. There has to be a great deal of domestic momentum, not just reflected in activities we do on campus and events we organize but in a more electoral sense, so we elect politicians who are sympathetic to global climate change and will enact policies. As long as we're unable to change the domestic outlook, we won't be able to affect climate change internationally.

What are your plans moving forward?

I'm taking a class on clean energy technologies at The Fletcher School. In terms of a personal academic goal, the conference definitely helped to put in perspective what types of classes I need to take to understand these issues more. It also was very helpful in giving a very wide and even balanced view on global climate change. I definitely want to get more involved in energy issues, especially in developing countries, either through immediate academic work after Tufts or working in the energy sector.

Interview by Georgiana Cohen, Web Communications

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