Naderev M. Saño, head of delegation for the Philippines, leans forward over the mic, his voice breaking under the weight of the emotion he is struggling to contain. It’s the closing plenary of the Kyoto Protocol. After nearly two weeks of disappointing inaction, rumors circulating about the failed leadership of the COP presidency, and the continued unwillingness of the U.S. to increase its ambition or financial pledges, the frustration at COP18 is palpable.
I’m struggling not to tune out most of what is going on, droning voices and stale positions. So when the Philippines delegate begins speaking, his voice catching on the emotion choking his throat, it pulls me forward. Because I feel what he is feeling.
As he voices his concern about the text and about the struggles of his people in dealing with a dramatic natural disaster, I cease to notice anything else in the room. Only the powerful emotion behind his words, his appeal to the world and its leaders, his reminder of what this is really about.
“The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by 7 billion people. I appeal to all, please, no more delays, no more excuses. Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around. Please, let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to find the will to take responsibility for the future we want. I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?’ (Scroll down for video clip).
I swallow my tears, trying to hold my emotion back as it rises up from my chest. This is the delegation I want, the delegation that reflects the urgency the American youth–the world’s youth–so desperately want from their leaders. When I sit back, reflecting on how the world would be if my delegation was more like the Filipino delegation, the chasm between what is and what should be is staggering and the weight of that reality burdens my heart and my conscience. When the U.S. asks what its youth wants from it, it’s this. This moment, this humanity, this leadership.
If my government took a leadership position like this one, Todd Stern’s words would bring tears of joy similar to the relief we felt breaking over us in 2009. Equity would be addressed, and common but differentiated responsibilities would not be a tattered argument dangling from the fingers of the disenfranchised. We would stop shirking our responsibility, we would increase our ambition, deal fairly with the countries burdened with the consequences of our actions, follow through on the financial pledges we’ve made, and our actions would enable and inspire an agreement that will pull us back away from the point of no return, a point we have nearly reached.
As the delegate from the Philippines left the room, the youth stood on either side of him, clapping as he walked by. He stopped, hugging each one of us and I broke down into tears as soon as he reached me. All of the frustration and hopes I have for my own country, all of the sadness my optimism tries to hide, broke loose. Because this was human, this was real. It was none of the false progress that my own delegates offer. No easy nonchalance, no careful distance, no empty words. This was real, emotional, reflecting the fear, sadness, and frustration that all of us hold so deeply within our hearts.
This afternoon I will go to a press conference. I will listen to Todd Stern, with the exhaustion hanging over his head, pressing down on his shoulders, as he tries to convince us we are making progress on an emissions reduction that is as inadequate now as it was when we first agreed to it. Sympathy stirs, a solidarity, a feeling that we–in principle–are on the same side. I imagine he must be exhausted, wrangling what little room he can from a Congress I am ashamed to call my own. Last night I felt a flicker of hope because he went so far as to mention equity and CBDR in his speech. Now I am ashamed that this elicited a flicker of hope rather than a wave of indignation that it’s taken us this long to simply mention it with any degree of openness or willingness to engage.
My country’s mandate in these negotiations has ceased to reflect the ideals that burn so brightly within my heart so I choose to follow a country more in line with the ambition, equity, and leadership that my country, my people, are fully capable of but consistently refuse to act on.
I stand with the Philippines.