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At a glance: Denmark

Copenhagen event brings young people and global leaders together to discuss climate change

© Louise Dyring/Save the Children
Six young people from across the world met with the Danish Government and humanitarian leaders to discuss climate change in Copenhagen.

By Kate Donovan and Guillaume Simonian

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, 16 December 2009 – As world leaders struggled to 'seal the deal' on climate change in the plenary halls of the Bella Center, six young people from across the world met with the Danish Government and humanitarian leaders to make their concerns be known.

The event was held as part of Humanitarian Day, which United Nations agencies, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and the Children in a Changing Climate Coalition organized to raise awareness around the devastating impact of climate change on people who are vulnerable to disasters.
The children and young people asked the assembly whether their children will be able to live the traditional way of life that some of them have known. Will schools be built to withstand increasingly unpredictable seasons, slashing rains and high winds? And they asked what they can do to get governments to listen to them as they try to adapt to a world increasingly vulnerable to climate change.

Oxfam recently estimated that the number of people affected by climate-related disasters will climb to 375 million annually by 2015.

No easy answers

Ivalu, 14, from Greenland, spoke of the melting snow in her country, the disappearance of the traditional way of life for many hunters and fishermen, who often migrate to the cities. She asked what world leaders are doing and what she can do to affect change herself.

"So far there are no easy answers to this problem," said Head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Sir John Holmes when asked about preserving peoples’ way of life. "What we can do is help people adapt to climate change."

Holmes and other speakers stressed local action as a key solution, including reforestation, agricultural development and reducing the impact of
disasters through preparedness, such as protecting water sources.

High-profile participants

The dialogue between the young people, from China, Indonesia, Kenya, Netherlands and Senegal, took place in the Politiken Centre. Panelists included Ulla Tørnæs, Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation; Bekele Geleta, Secretary General, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; Jet Li, Founder of the One Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador; Mary Robinson, President of the Realizing Rights Initiative and former President of Ireland; Josette Sheeran, Executive Director, World Food Programme; and Sir John Holmes. The event was moderated by Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Secretary General of the International Save the Children Alliance.
WFP Executive Director Sheeran noted that young people are mystified by what adults are doing and emphasized that their plight is an immediate one. "We have to jointly bring together emergency action and solutions," she said. "We are hearing a simple plea."

One girl complained that schools are being flooded, students and materials soaked because of poor infrastructure and increasing rains, and she blamed her government for ignoring the problem. "They prefer to raise symbolic buildings rather than schools that would withstand disasters," she said. "We need to educate children…we don’t need to promote symbols."

Invoke the CRC

Mary Robinson encouraged young people to invoke the Committee on the Rights of the Child which monitors progress towards the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a way to leverage their power with officials.
Several speakers noted the power of young people as agents of change, especially their ability to join forces through the Internet and mobile phones to communicate powerful messages.

"Children always asked me what to do, but they already know," said Jet Li. "Information is powerful and lots of young kids are active and already have
a powerful voice."



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