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Three takeaways from the Global Youth Biodiversity Network’s Asia Capacity Building Workshop

By Mohammad Arju, Bangladesh

Hello people, who are reading this post, please be informed that on May 27 we’ve just wrapped up one of the most important events in Asia this year. I know, most of you never heard of it, but don’t be surprised; we know, relying on mainstream media as the only source of information has its own limitation- in many cases, the media fails to report on real important things.

So, please let me convince you about how the recently held Global Youth Biodiversity Network’s Asia Capacity Building Workshop will shape the future of Asia and the Ocean planet.

THE HOMEWORK

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One of my fellow participants at the workshop, Naseem Sultani from Afghanistan already written about it; the week-long workshop held in Singapore (with generous support from Singapore’s National Parks Board and Japan Biodiversity Fund) had a wide range of participants from the Central, South, Southeast, West and East Asia, and all of them are back to their home countries with a very specific homework. And the homework is not just about same-old-same-old romantic environmentalism about biodiversity; it is not about photogenic environmentalism of just holding another conference. The organizers were very clear about it, and this policy position was well reflected in all of the training sessions of the workshop (See the Schedule: PDF File).

The workshop was designed to train the youth leaders in real down-to-earth efforts for utilizing the already available multi-national process and mechanism (Convention on Biological Diversity, for example) on local, national and regional level to minimize the impact of market-economy on the diversity of life our planet hosts, and eventually help the governments in successful drafting and implementation of National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) to achieve Aichi Biodiversity Goals.

With this homework, the trained participants are out, therefore, more learning and real work, in their respective countries.

Using ‘System Thinking’ approach, they’ve built a scenario of current status and identified best possible leveraged to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity in Asia as a youth group. They’ve conceptualized several programs for the coming years to establish ASEAN and South and Central Asian sub-regional networks, to build a knowledge network, and to run a grassroots conservation program through Participatory Action Research led by youth organizations and fellows. In the coming months; they will design, develop and start implementing the programs.

So, in a brief, with the goal to secure more diversity of life on the planet, this workshop just deployed a team of well-trained youth leaders in the field to take part in political and decision-making processes at local, national, regional and international levels. The team’s work will certainly help the national governments in Asia to bring sustainability in the development process, also achieve many targets of the Sustainable Development Goals in the process and reconnecting the people with nature.

THE STRENGTH

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In these times of growth-hungry economy devastating the people and the planet, being a conservationist means you are engaged in really down-to-earth activities to reverse the process. The Convention of Biological Diversity’s stated role is to ‘prevent and attack the causes of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity at source’, you know it. And it’s not easy, rather daunting, oftentimes exhaustive too. But this workshop was a forum where we met the people face to face who are building their lives around this daunting task, it was really comforting.

Even in places like Singapore, where the economic violence affected the social-ecological systems severely, things have started to change, we’ve met several groups of people who are working for reconnecting people with nature. Even within such an extremely modified landscape, as a result of orchestrated efforts by government authorities and citizen-science groups like Otter-Watch and NUS Toddycats, the Singapore River is now hosting at least two large families of the smooth-coated otter. We’re aware that, there is no final victory in conservation, there will not be, but this sort of conservation-optimism story once again shows us the way.

And, it’s not just that, you listen to others’ stories, experience, and observation or go visit successful conservation initiative, which in some ways, or in many ways may be reasons to you, inform you about how people around the continent is bringing positive change for the conservation of biodiversity. One of the most important parts, for me, at the workshop was, I’ve learned a lot while articulating mine to others. Also, can sense that other participants were also re-discovering themselves by explaining their experience and ideas to others.

So, it is about self-motivation, as one of my fellow participants, Xu Waiting from Singapore was saying during their group presentation; ‘It’s the self-motivation what keeps you running to achieve what you believe in.’

WE THE PEOPLE

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The most important aspect of the forum was, I should say, together, we can now think of ourselves as a people, the people for advancing conservation in Asia. By taking parts in a number of self-organizing tasks (System Thinking, Project Concept Developing for example), through the process of feedback and evaluation, we’ve already started to work collaboratively.

As a team, now we know about our internal resources, strength, expertise we can offer to each other; and we have already come up with concepts about how to get easier access to this team and keep collaborating.

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A conservationist and journalist based in Bangladesh, Md Kutub Uddin (Mohammad Arju) is a Trustee of Save Our Sea.

Email: arju@saveoursea.social

 

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An Afghani take on the GYBN Asia workshop

By Naseem Sultani, Afghanistan

The GYBN Capacity Building Workshop for Asia – 2017 has been well objectively designed with a wide range of participation across the Central, South, Southeast, West and East Asia to address technical issues with the respective countries on implementation of NBSAPs. It brought in youth with various backgrounds to share and discuss their knowledge for improving implementation quality of NBSAPs for biodiversity protection of the respective country across the region.


The workshop provided me with an opportunity to get connected with other young people from all over the region in Asia. More importantly, now, I better understand the CBD role and its potential to support and protect the biodiversity of Afghanistan and the region through widening youth participation.

Moreover, the workshop enabled me to understand and explore new ways to enhance the country’s engagement with the CBD through improvement of networking within the GYBN community.


Particularly, the workshop improved my capacity to understand targets and strategies of Afghanistan’s NBSAP. It also facilitated discussions on how to engage with complex challenges and leverage more efficient solutions. We also discussed priority issues for the region and how to address it.

Additionally, I also enjoyed visiting the Commonwealth Secondary School where we were exposed to a wide range of environmental education program including student engagement for academic credit and also, we were inspired by a comprehensive methodology to keep kids close to the nature.

​As a result, this workshop has been a great networking opportunity for me and also improved my understanding of strategic actions, prioritization and youth participation across the region.

Here are some of my views on how we can strengthen these regional workshops:

• For sustainable approach, maintaining and following of such events is important to be considered.

• For more effective use of resources, more practical topics to address current needs of biodiversity conservation including working on a typical target of a NBSAP for designing, implementation, monitoring & evaluation of a project to be considered.

Mainstreaming Biodiversity & Marine Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas: Terminology, Treaties, and Timelines

By Charlotte Whitney (Canada), Alejandra Echeverri (Colombia), and Franzi Bäker (Germany)

The overarching theme of of the 13th CBD Conference of the Parties (COP13) is Mainstreaming Biodiversity, which means to consider and incorporate biodiversity for ecological and human wellbeing in all the productive sectors, including agriculture, forests, fisheries, and tourism. The group of up to 10,000 attendees was split into two working groups so as to be more efficient during the two weeks of the COP.

During the first week of COP13 we completed the first reading of the draft decisions on the Convention on Biological Diversity, which are provided beforehand for parties and delegates to consider and propose changes to. In Working Group 2, we worked through 20 Conference Room Papers (CRPs), which are working documents used during the conference. The topics considered included: mainstreaming biodiversity,  the rights of Indigenous peoples and Local Communities, marine management and EBSAs, invasive alien species, scientific and technical issues including synthetic biology, and wildlife management and pollinators.

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Temperate kelp forest, British Columbia, Canada | Photo by Jenn Burt

Charlotte (Canada) a global north delegate for GYBN, was in charge of following Item 15, on  Marine issues and EBSAs (Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas). The main discussion from the parties about this topic was around conservation issues, related to marine debris, underwater noise, and a diversity of protected areas tools.

On December 5th, GYBN made an intervention on marine issues asking that parties accept the current EBSA list, which should lead to more multinational support for this tool, and work towards more effective marine spatial planning. Following the parties negotiations closely allowed us to tailor our negotiation to the debates and support the stated positions of certain parties in our intervention. As members of civil society, we aren’t allowed to suggest specific changes to the text or the ongoing negotiation, so we spend a lot of time thinking about alliances and lobbying for our perspectives around specific items. Unfortunately, the contentious text about EBSAs continues to be a point of conflict throughout the second week.

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Small scale fishing boat, Canada | Photo by Lauren Eckert

 

Terminology rules at COP. It’s not uncommon for a discussion around a single line or phrase in the negotiating text to take half an hour or more, or to even come to a standstill. During the marine sessions, a lengthy discussion took place about the inclusion of “pelagic areas” or whether to use the more general phrase “open sea areas”, when referring to marine debris and the associated regulations. After talking to some of the more experienced delegates, we think that this disagreement relates to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and whether some nations are or are not signed on to that agreement. There are so many layers of complexity beyond sometimes simple points of disagreement here! It is important to understand that these discussions over scientific terminology are often referring back to political issues, such as the delimitation of boundaries on national jurisdictions.

 

During the first reading of the negotiating text, parties also discussed Item 10, which refers to mainstreaming and integrating biodiversity within and across sectors. Led by Alejandra Echeverri (Colombia) and Franzi Baeker (Germany), GYBN made an intervention to state that:

1) Mainstreaming biodiversity should be added as a permanent item in the agenda for future COP meetings,

2) Other sectors including extractive industries and energy should be included,

3) When referring to mainstreaming biodiversity on agriculture, sustainable and ecological ‘intensification’ are complex and unnecessary terminology that could be misinterpreted (back to terminology!), and that

4) Youth, and Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities should be added as relevant groups and stakeholders throughout the process of mainstreaming biodiversity.

This intervention was also in line with the values and perspectives of several parties and other groups, and we’re still continuing the progress of these changes a week later. Happily, we can report that our intervention related to sustainable agriculture (not intensification!) was spot on and is now a relatively ‘hot topic’ within the contact groups. Success! It’s good to feel that we’re on the right track. Unfortunately for the results of the COP, this issue is still unresolved.

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GYBN Evening Team Meeting | Photo by IISD/ENB | Francis Dejon

Treaties among parties are complicated and multifaceted. A main topic that continues to arise relates to inequality and funding disparity among developed and developing nations. For instance, last week some debate arose about subsidies and incentives for ecosystem protection and restoration. The debate was led by Nicaragua, opposed by Zambia, Norway, Switzerland. We have spent a lot of time discussing the integration of mainstreaming biodiversity within the CBD COP with other recent agreements (e.g. Honolulu Declaration, UNFCCC Paris Agreement, World Parks Congress, & CITES).

 

The mainstreaming issue continues… we will let you know how the discussion ends!

 

Hasta la próxima,

The GYBN

What is happening in Cancun should be impossible

by Thomas McAuley-Biasi, Canada
It’s been a week since the 13th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity officially started, and while I could take this time to beautifully sum up everything that’s happened, I’m not going to do that.  This is for two reasons: 1. So I can shamelessly plug our live updates on twitter (@GYBN_CBD), where you can get these types of updates in real time, and 2. Because discussing which brackets were and weren’t removed doesn’t make for the most compelling of blog posts.  What I want to talk about today is more big picture.
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At this very moment, members of 196 parties have come together from across the globe to talk about biodiversity- a term that, arguably, less than 50% of the world knows and understands.  They are spending tons of time, money, and resources to make sure that the correct policies and plans are made in order to protect, sustain, and mainstream biodiversity across our planet- once again, something most people don’t understand- and that’s incredible.  Furthermore, 196 parties are all coming to agreements.  Think about that for a second.  My family can’t agree on what movie we all want to watch, and that decision will only affect what we do as a family for somewhere between 2 and 3 hours.  These decisions affect close to 7.5 billion people, and will affect them into the foreseeable future.
So yes, a lot of what happens at COP13 deals with brackets around single words, sentences, and paragraphs.  And brackets aren’t engaging as a topic in a blog.  The words within those brackets, and the discussions they produce, however, should be.  Almost 200 countries argued about the inclusion of “for example” over “inter alia”, “in particular”, and “such as” for close to an hour.  That’s two words in a document containing 3,188 words.  And that’s only one document.  There are about 115 documents currently on the site, all which of have passed, or will pass, over everyone’s eyes, and need to be agreed upon.  We might look at those 8 words I previously mentioned and think that they’re all the same (or maybe think, “what the hell does ‘inter alia’ mean”), but they’re not, and their minute differences become much larger when you take into account the varying cultures and languages that these words will affect.
From the meeting happening at all, to the fact 100s of people, representing thousands of people, representing billions of people, can come to any agreements at all, is something truly special.  So even if, from an outsider’s perspective, these discussions, negotiations, and brackets may seem tedious, just remember that this entire process is anything but boring.

Tracking policy negotiations at COP13: A quick rundown

by Mika Tan, Singapore

What does it mean to track biodiversity conservation policy at a UN meeting?

At the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP 13) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the “negotiating text” (i.e., policy decisions that governments negotiate) is being discussed in two “Working Groups” 1 and 2, each handling about half of the topics, or “Item”s, in the negotiating text. Working Groups (WGs) have their discussions in “plenary” sessions in giant halls that look like this:

blogpost1  Plenary hall where all country delegates, intergovernmental organizations, and NGOs (including youth) negotiate the text. Seen here is the plenary hall from the Youth seat (“Jóvenes” is “Youth” in Spanish, since we are hosted by Mexico). Photo Credit: Thiemo Karwinkel

This COP, the negotiations for CBD-associated Protocols are also merged: the Nagoya Protocol (NP) on Access and Benefit-Sharing and the Cartagena Protocol (CP) on Biosafety. It was decided that WG 1 will cover the topics that are more cross-sectoral and relevant to the CBD and the Protocols.

This means that in one plenary session, Items from the CBD, NP, and CP are up for discussion and our team has to be very on top of things to keep up with the negotiations!

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Screen shot of an example agenda in each Working Group. Notice that WG 1 includes Items in the Nagoya Protocol and the Cartagena Protocol (and in other days CBD as well), but WG2 only contains CBD Items.

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Our amazing dedicated policy team members masterfully tracking negotiations in Working Group 1. Featured here are two social media team members who live tweet main happenings in English and Spanish. From left: Melina Sakiyama (Brasil), Michelle Pazmino (Ecuador), Bharath Kolan Reddy (India), James Kaliisa (Uganda), Amelia Arreguín Prado (Mexico), Miyuki Ando (Japan). Photo Credit: Bharath Reddy

Tracking then means that we listen and note down what country delegates and other organizations are saying about the particular Items. Sometimes these statements they make are more general, highlighting the importance and urgency of, for example, addressing sources of marine litter.

Other times the statements are about specific words and phrases used in the negotiating text, because every word that finally gets agreed upon by all Parties (i.e., countries that have signed the CBD or the Protocols respectively) is legally binding.

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In the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, “indigenous peoples” is a recognized, legal term that has been defined and the definition agreed upon by all Parties. Hence, if “indigenous people” without the “s” were included in the negotiating text and agreed by the Parties, it would not hold the same legal obligations as “indigenous peoples” would. Words matter!

Often, if Parties cannot agree on an issue in the plenaries, they move in to “Contact Group” sessions which are smaller informal negotiations. At the CBD, NGOs and non-Parties are usually allowed to enter these Contact Group rooms to observe the progress of negotiations, which can run late into the night.

After the sessions, our hardworking team then prepares a succinct summary for each topic, which we will be sharing in future blog posts. Keep an eye out for them!

Hasta luego,

The GYBN

 

Madagascar’s biodiversity being plundered

The beautiful island located in the Indian Ocean is well known for its unique Biodiversity. Sadly, this unique biodiversity is facing a heart-breaking high rate of species trafficking. One such species facing serious threat is the Radiata Tortoise.

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Radiata Tortoise  Photo.Credit. Kyle Bedell

 

Radiata Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) locally known as Angonoka is the most common species in the specialized pet market of Bangkok, Thailand known as “Chatuchak”. Its trafficking story started in 1996 at Roissy Airport in France when Radiata Tortoises were found in a traveler’s luggage. The trafficking has been rampant and has continued since the late 90’s.

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Radiata tortoise in luggage ceased by authorities 

 

In 2015, fourteen tortoises were intercepted by the Hongkong police and later transferred to Perth for safety. In 2016, the trafficking is still an on-going issue in Madagascar. With the intervention of the State the Civil Society “Alliance Voahary Gasy”, their members raised their voice and acted on ground to drive the environmental justice concept. Their effort has been fruitful as many lawsuits have been placed on the “Species dealers”. According to midi-madagaskara, three people have been arrested for trafficking 227 tortoises and a sentence of 18 months has been served to the chief trafficker, Mrs. Hanrita.

While I applaud this work, according to WWF, around 5000 Turtles are illegally exported from Madagascar monthly. This only shows us how much more we need to do.

Thus, more action should be enforced as this is just one species of the several that get trafficked from Madagascar.

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By GYBN Member,

Rasoamanana Alexandra

 

A day at SBSTTA20

Impressions from Alan Jarandilla – GYBN delegate from Bolivia

On Monday April 25th, the Chair of the 20th Meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity opened the discussions of the Parties in Montreal, Canada to provide Recommendations to the Conference of the Parties on the Decisions it should adopt during COP13 in Cancún, México.

It was 8:30 when the Global Youth Biodiversity Network arrived to the Conference Center and started the registration process for the meeting along with delegates from different Parties and observer organizations. After registration, we attended a meeting with other CSOs and after that we went to the Conference Room of the Conference Center.

At 10:00, delegates from Parties, IGOs, NGOs, and other stakeholders entered into the Conference Room to begin the discussion of sixteen agenda items, including the scientific review of the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, mainstreaming biodiversity across sectors, marine and coastal biodiversity, biodiversity and climate change, protected areas and ecosystem restoration, sustainable wildlife management, synthetic biology, among others.

The Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity Mr. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias on his Statement on the occasion of SBSTTA-20 gave a brief summary of all the documents issued by the Secretariat for the preparation of the meeting and invited Parties to the Convention to consider the Recommendations contained on the different documents. Mr. Braulio Ferreira de Souza at the end of his Statement announced the end of his term comes in February, 2017 and that he will not seek and extension of his mandate for personal reasons. He said that he had requested the UNEP Executive Director to start the process for recruiting a successor. After that announcement the Chairman expressed his appreciation to the work done during his mandate and the negotiations started.

After the adoption of the agenda and the organization of work, Parties started to address the Scientific Review of Implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. During the discussion many countries emphasized that the year 2020 is getting closer and that there is a lot of progress to do to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, so it’s necessary to continue and enhance the efforts made to achieve Aichi Targets. Parties discussed for about two hours the topic and lunch time came.

In the afternoon, Parties continued discussions at 3:00. They addressed the issue of mainstreaming biodiversity across sectors. Many Parties shared their activities and practices regarding the topic and other provided specific changes to the Recommendations issued by the Secretariat. Civil society groups were allowed to take the floor and stressed the importance of mainstreaming biodiversity with civil society participation. The next topic to be discussed was marine and coastal biodiversity, the Chair announced the discussion of the first subtopic, ecologically or biologically significant marine areas, and Parties stressed the importance of the protection of marine areas coral reefs and marine biodiversity in general. At 6:30 pm, the Chair suspended the session.

Following negotiations and discussions of Parties is a unique experience. At the beginning you feel lost and confused. Sometimes you don’t know what’s happening, especially in the procedural agenda items. It can be tiring to follow what has been said by each delegate, to finish interventions in the meanwhile, to try to share what’s happening with pictures and social media, but it is an amazing experience I will definitely never forget. It’s my first time attending a CBD meeting and I’m excited for the opportunity.

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Microplastics will put you in the hospital

Image by gentlemanrook on Flickr, licensed under  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Image by gentlemanrook on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastics less than 5mm and could even be as small as a grain of sand. When plastic marine debris is being broken down from wind, rain and other natural elements they become microplastics. They can also be found in cosmetic products that we use. They can get into the food chain to humans through animals eating it. Fish and other seafood when caught and dissected, bits of plastics have been found in their stomachs. Now the major issue is the toxins from the additives in the plastics which can not only poison you but may cause cancer when you consume the fish.

In this light, the negotiating text addressing Marine Debris highlighted the impacts of microplastics on animals and the environment but not the effects on human health. That is why today, I got the chance to deliver an intervention for GYBN on this topic. If the link between human health and microplastics is made, then persons will more likely want to change their behaviour – since it may affect them personally.

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During the interventions, several Parties in general mentioned the dire need to prevent the marine debris from occurring at all, and also highlighted the negative effects of it on animals and ecosystems.

Steps to Delivering the Intervention

  1. I had to read the negotiating document and flag certain recommendations that I thought needed work or was not suitable.
  2. I worked with more experienced members of the delegation who read it through and edited the document. We had to make sure that it was concise and that specific words were emphasised in order to denote some emotion to the Parties, UN agencies and NGOs there.
  3. Practice, practice, practice. I had to practice and after much coaching I believed I was ready.
  4. In the plenary room we had to make sure to press the microphone button to indicate that we wanted the floor soon after the interventions started. This was to make sure we would be able to get onto the list to speak.

I got really nervous as the time soon came for me to speak. The Parties were finished and the UN organisations were on. A strange thing happened after all that rehearsal. An NGO (IIFB), mentioned the importance of the participation of young people within their intervention, so at the last minute, we added another point to support them. The next thing I knew, I heard the Chair speak and my microphone turned red and it was time to speak. After a minor fumble I finally found my voice and began reading the intervention loud and clear and with motion as practiced. It was such a blur but from the applause from my teammates I knew I did a good job.

Day 1 of SBSTTA20 Negotiations

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About to enter the ICAO Conference Centre – the venue of the SBSTTA and SBI negotiations.

As I walked into the plenary hall, I saw a vaguely familiar room which I only saw in photographs. There were hundreds of persons sitting here and there trying to find their seats from the name plates on the tables or the faces of familiar persons from the last meeting. The youth delegates finally found their seats and took them and were ready. The meeting opened around 10 a.m. and the negotiations began. As a first timer it was a lot to get used to. Even doing the enormous load of background reading, I soon found out that you can never really be fully prepared for the actual proceedings taking place. Trying to keep up with the interventions was tough enough especially with the array of different languages and accents being spoken and the cold temperature of the conference room – especially for me, coming from a tropical country.

The battlefield - the plenary hall where countries will be busy negotiating for the next two weeks.
The battlefield – the plenary hall where countries will be busy negotiating for the next two weeks.

On top of this, you really have to pay attention for the three-hour negotiating blocks.

Afterward, you also had to get used to the political language being used to negotiate the text. Once I got the essence of what was happening I realized a few things. While some Parties gave their recommendations for making changes to the text, I realized that others first shared their national or regional situations to provide the context for their recommendations. Some to advertise their work and others to induce a sense of sympathy from other parties it seemed. Others criticized the late distribution of some texts by the Secretariat as their reason for not being able to read the documents thoroughly. I thought to myself, really? It’s definitely a technical meeting.

Likewise, many Parties had a very technical way of speaking to the chair such as identifying the exact document name, paragraph numbers and even page numbers. I saw that some wanted changes to one word and others to completely delete or add paragraphs. Now I am beginning to understand why it is a difficult process and why negotiations have to occur many months before. Every Party and non-party delegate have a point of view and want to get their points into the documents.

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Members of the youth delegation conversing before the plenary begins

Interventions from civil society and especially youth are extremely important in order for a more holistic view of certain situations rather than simply from the governments of countries. We as the youth got our first chance during the SBSTTA20 to experience the thrill of writing an intervention and then the disappointment of not being able to deliver it, due to time running out. We will definitely learn from our mistakes and press the button to get in line to speak much earlier. Hopefully tomorrow we will get that chance.