A Story by Holly Chang

50 Chinese Youth in Copenhagen

posted on December 16th, 2011   22648 views

Holly-COP15

This essay is a personal reflection of my experience at the end of 2009 as the lead organizer of the first grassroots Chinese youth delegation to a United Nations Conference.  There were fifty young people in our historic delegation, and it was the first time Chinese youth actively participated in civil society on the world stage.

“Feelings that Linger” (中文版以下)

 In Beijing

During the most important events in our lives, we often forget the details of what we said or what we did. But what usually lingers in our memory is how we felt. When I was first approached to take on this project, I remember feeling both inspired and nervous. I think I was sharing a cab ride with my best Chinese friend Shane Zhao in October 2009, rambling in our usual “Chinglish” way about the weather, China, and the future of youth. Shane said he had this idea about Copenhagen, but he had no funds, no plan and no experience.  As the conversation continued, I remember thinking I didn’t have much to offer.  But Shane and I had a rare friendship with a strong sense of trust and shared missions. So I said something like “OK, let’s bring some youth to Copenhagen”.  Later at home I would think about our conversation, and vacillate between feelings of excitement and panic.

A month later, I had become a crazed madwoman. My best friend and colleague, Ann, and I were pulling many all-nighters in a row, frantically rewriting countless versions of funding proposals, juggling the logistics of organizing a big delegation trip, training our teams on climate knowledge, while we gave pitches to everyone and their grandmother to support our cause.

I remember feeling my spirits lifted after I went away for a business trip and came back. While I was gone, all the youth delegates had organized their own sub-teams (Policy, Media, and Campaign) and managed to efficiently delegate all the upcoming tasks. In a matter of days, these young strangers had formed the semblance of a united delegation; prepared to put forth the best they each could offer to a mission larger than themselves.

By this time, Ann, Shane and I had approached nearly 100 organizations to support our initiative with no clear confirmation of funds. At wee hours in the morning in my living room, we would take turns encouraging each other with words like “Don’t give up!” and our slogan “No Other Way!” Privately, I was gripped with fear that we were going to let the delegates down, and that the three of us could no longer distinguish our courage from our desperation.

Less than two weeks before the start of the conference, our first three major donors (Nike, YOUNGO, and The Ford Foundation) confirmed significant funds to support our mission. When I saw the emails in my inbox, I jumped up and down, flapping my arms in elation.  Then in private I unraveled into tears with immense release and gratitude for the first real signs of hope to complete our mission.

Later, I remember sending a calm and cool email to the team to inform them of good news, making sure to sound like we had of course expected funds to come all along, and things were completely under control. In the last week of November, we were still under-funded. We also discovered that even the donations already pledged would not arrive in time for practical purposes.  And to top it off, our biggest potential Chinese funder had backed out completely.

I still remember the painful silence when we announced this news to the team in Beijing. As the days dwindled, we were forced to make some tough decisions. We decided to take the risk of buying all 40-plus flights and accommodations on our personal credit cards. If our elders knew what we were doing, they probably would have scolded at us, “No way!” But defiantly, we rushed to pack for Denmark, stuffing our luggage with t-shirts that said “No OTHER Way”, and big inflatable letters that spelled out “GREEN CHINA”.

In Copenhagen

When the first pod of us landed on December 4, Copenhagen’s skies were spitting freezing rain down on us. Helsinki airport was on strike and our luggage never arrived in Copenhagen. We found our way to the hostel and checked in, but those first few days, my chest was heavy with fatigue and financial worries. We had arrived at last, but I was utterly exhausted, wearing eyes like a refugee.

The next morning, we all got up early and coordinated t-shirt colors, then rushed to attend the 5th Annual Conference of Youth. I will always remember the buzz of energy that hit us at the conference, from the thousands of young people from around the world, reminding us why we needed to be there.  They had all gathered in Copenhagen ready to learn, share, and collaborate, and stake a claim on their future survival on this planet. Chinese youth had finally arrived at the party.

A couple days later, the official opening ceremony of the UN negotiations took place, and I felt relieved that we seemed to all be managing with the conference’s security logistics. But shortly after my brief moment of relief, I was blindsided by the blitz of hundreds of non-governmental events in Copenhagen, launched in parallel with the official negotiations, all vying for our full attention. That night, I was rushing between forums and lost my laptop inside the conference center.  I felt as if someone had cut off my leg at the beginning of a marathon.

Unfazed by my personal snafu, our Media, Policy and Campaign Teams launched into a full run. We all started campaigning, collaborating, blogging and having face-to-face conversations with thousands of people from other countries and other sectors. The minutes became an unending avalanche of urgent tasks, intense lessons and moment to moment decisions on managing the delegation.  The delegates seemed to always be scattered, and nervous tension became my only loyal companion.

Throughout those days, the corporate engineer in me wanted very badly to create management tools and more top-down structure to control and increase efficiency for the delegation.  But others reminded me that this was supposed to be an experiment in bottom-up activism, led by Chinese youth, however messy that would be.  So I braced myself as I witnessed our delegates diving headfirst into the strange and roaring global civil society movement at Copenhagen.

Amidst the mayhem, I found comfort in always seeing the familiar faces of our delegates in a sea of strangers. There was also extraordinary kindness from strangers. I will never forget the young artist named Jason who delivered boxes of bread and fruit to our hostel after he discovered that Chinese youth were tight on cash for food. After he dropped off the boxes on two separate occasions at our hostel, I never saw or heard from him again.

I still remember the warmth of laughter when young people from China and America shared their stories at our US-China youth workshop titled “Our Shared Future”. Every personal journey started in parallel yet eventually converged in Copenhagen. Even during the contentious debates of US and Chinese national responsibilities and approaches to climate problems, there was a sense that the youth drew wisdom from diverging perspectives, and we created a momentary safe-zone from the hostility unfolding elsewhere in Copenhagen.

There was one night Ann and Shane returned from a rainy visit with Yang Peng of the SEE Foundation. I had been nursing a fever in bed at the hostel, and they surprised me with an electric flask that Yang Peng had gifted to us to boil water. It was such a simple gesture but brought me such joy, just imagining a few days of the hot drinks and bowls of noodles we could finally make in the cold and wet city.

By the final days of the Copenhagen negotiations, over 100 heads of states and celebrities had arrived, and the conference exploded into tribal-like mayhem with Hollywood-worthy plot twists, roughened security, sensationalized media reports and increased frustration by non-governmental activists. Euphoria, confusion and distrust consumed the air in Copenhagen. Our delegates’ climate change blogs began receiving hundreds of thousands of hits from mainland China.  At the same time, we also started to find the faces of some of our young delegates published by international newswires alongside looming headlines that implied China’s sole guilt in negotiation failures. I felt torn with worry for the safety of our delegates, while trying very hard to remain focused on our missions.

In the culminating days, our group debated exhaustively on whether to publish a US-China youth joint statement. We wanted to send a positive message and signal an insistence on building trust and shouldering shared responsibilities amongst American and Chinese youth.  But we became paralyzed by the uncertainty of how the international media would portray our efforts, amidst a mounting PR crisis for China and breakdown of trust in Copenhagen. We never published our statement in the end.

When I finally arrived back in Beijing, I felt like a famished soldier returning from war. I spent Christmas Day quietly recounting the past weeks, mindful that our efforts were far from perfect. I privately wondered if I had failed the team, or if I should have done more to bring about a more positive outcome.

Moving Onward

In hindsight, I realize that we accomplished a rare feat. We started as a loose grassroots group of Chinese youth with no money, no government authority, no institutional capacity.  We simply wanted to show the world that Chinese youth cared about climate change, and that the future generations of China were an important stakeholder of the United Nations climate treaty. The COP15 experience educated us all in the complexities of the political negotiation process and on the critical importance of building capacity to communicate and have dialogue. I believe our efforts were successful in helping to inspire a new consciousness of climate change amongst the mainstream in China, especially for the younger generations.

Nevertheless, the feeling that lingers most from Copenhagen is a sense that our work is not over. It is just the beginning. Climate change is one of many critical issues that China must address as it develops and rises in global importance. The youth are inherently better at doing some things than adults could ever be, having grown up with the internet in a rapidly changing world. More so than ever before, I am convinced that we need to support and institutionalize these types of youth efforts to harness their unique strengths and foster a more globally competent generation.

For me, Copenhagen will always stand out as a rare time of pure intentions, youthful courage and raw emotions. As our youth delegates lean forward into the rest of their lives, I hope their feelings of passion and conviction from Copenhagen will linger on. After all, it is only if we feel that we care.  And only if we care will we act.  And it is only if we act shall we all be saved.

感触仍徘徊

   我们生命中的许多重要时刻,时过境迁,其中细节已渐渐淡忘。但当时所念所感,却常留心中。

   北京

 还记得当初受邀承担这个项目的时候,我又激动又紧张的心情。那是2009年十月,我和祥宇同乘一辆出租,用我们惯用的“中式英语”闲聊着天气,中国,和青年的未来。祥宇说他有个关于哥本哈根的点子,但是还没有资金,没有计划,也没有任何相关的经验。谈话在进行,而我想着也许我自己也帮不上太大的忙。但和其他人不同,我和祥宇的友谊,是建立在强烈的信任和共同的使命上的。于是我说“好吧,我们带些青年去哥本哈根”。等我回到家,仔细回味我们的谈话和我的承诺,才发现兴奋和慌张同时占据了我的心间。
 
一个月后,我变成了一个发狂的疯子。我和我的好友兼同事王琛,无数个夜晚通宵达旦地工作,疯狂的改写筹款申请,管理这个庞大代表团的后勤,培训团队成员的气候知识;而同时,我们也把支持项目的重任分摊给每一个成员,以及任何愿意支持他们的家人朋友。
 
我仍清楚的记得,一次出差回来时激动振奋的心情。离开期间,青年代表团的成员自发组成了他们自己的子团队(政策,媒体,活动)并且有效地安排好了下一步的任务。短短几天时间,这些原本陌生的年轻人已经展示出了一个统一的代表团的模样;每个人都准备为这个高于自身的使命和愿景,贡献出他们所能做到的一切。
 
那时候,王琛,祥宇和我已经向上百家机构申请资助,但仍杳无音信。每一个凌晨,在我的客厅,我们轮流互相激励:“不要放弃!”“没有退路!”而私下里,害怕让代表们失望、我们三个无法再从绝望中产生勇气的心情,总让我心惊肉跳。
 
离会议开始还有不到两周的时候,我们收到了第一批捐助者(耐克,YOUNGO,福特基金会)的确认,他们将提供一笔不小的资金支持我们的使命。我第一眼看到收件箱里的邮件时,我兴奋得挥着手臂上蹿下跳。怀着对第一朵希望火花的感恩,和巨大的放松感,我再也控制不住自己的眼泪。
 
而后,我发了一封冷静的邮件给团队成员,告诉他们这个好消息。我用平静的语气,让这好消息听起来就像早就在预料之中,就像我们从未崩溃绝望,就像事情从未脱离控制。
 
十一月的最后一周,我们仍然资金不足。同时,已经承诺的捐款也不能及时到账。更糟的是,可能提供最大资助的中国公司完全退出了。我仍然记得,当我告诉团队这个消息的时候,那让人心碎的安静。
 
时间越来越紧迫,我们只得做出一些艰难的决定。我们冒险用各自的自私人信用卡支付了四十多人的机票和住宿费用。如果我们的长辈知道我们这么做,大概会冲着我们大喊“不行!”。但我们还是匆匆收拾行装,在箱子里装上写着“没有退路”的T恤,和大大的“GREEN CHINA”充气字母,前往了丹麦。
   
哥本哈根
 12月4日,我们降落在了哥本哈根,而天空却向我们浇下了冰冷的雨水。赫尔辛基机场正在举行罢工,而我们的行李,甚至从头到尾根本没有到达过这里。我们找到了去旅社的路,住了进去。但在那些天里,我一直被疲劳和资金困扰压得透不过气来。我们终于来到了这片土地,但站在这片土地上的我们,却如此焦头烂额,疲惫难堪。
 
那些混乱的日子里,我曾经的工程师经验急切地敦促着我创造更多管理工具,以及更自上而下的管理方式以保障代表团的效率。但有人提醒我,这是一次实验,不管会有多混乱,这都应该是一个由中国青年领导,用他们的热情自下而上行动的团队。我只能振作起来,看着代表团成员们一头扎进这陌生又巨大的全球公民社会运动中去。
 
第二天一早,我们调整好每个人T恤的颜色,赶往第五次青年会议的会场。我会永远记得,整个会场所散发出的巨大能量。这能量来自全世界数千青年,同时也提醒着我们,为什么我们应该身处其中。他们聚集在哥本哈根,来学习、分享、合作,并捍卫属于他们的,世界的未来。中国青年虽来迟,却也最终成为了其中一员。
 
几天后,联合国大会正式拉开了帷幕。让我宽慰的是,我们似乎顺利通过了后勤安检。但在这短暂的安心之后,我却傻了眼。数以百计的非官方活动和政府协商同时进行,哪一个都不甘示弱地争夺着我们的注意力。我在论坛和论坛之间奔忙,不慎在会议中心里遗失了我的笔记本电脑。那时的感觉,如同我要参加一个马拉松,已整装待发,却被切断了双腿。
 
和我自己一时的混乱不同,我们的媒体、政策和活动小分队都开始了全力运转。所有人都忙着组织活动,合作,发博客,和几千个来自不同国家和行业的人面对面交流。无数紧迫的任务像雪崩一样压下来,而在管理这个团队时,总要不停做出各种决策。成员们似乎总是分散各处,而陪伴在我身边的,唯有自己紧张的情绪。
 
在一片混乱中,每当陌生的人群中出现代表团成员熟悉的脸,总能让我安心。而很多陌生人,也表现出了让人意想不到的好意。当年轻的艺术家Jason发现中国青年的钱包紧张,用于买食物的现金都很紧,他便给我们送来了成箱的面包和水果。我永远不会忘记他的好意。而他本人,送来两次食物之后,便从我们面前消失了踪迹。
 
 我还记得在中美青年“共同的未来”分享会上,两国青年讲述自己故事时,那温暖的笑声。每个人都从自己的路走来,却殊途同归,相聚在哥本哈根。即使中美两国在关于环境问题的责任和解决方法上针锋相对,青年们面对不同的意见却展示出了其本身无穷的智慧。在紧张情绪蔓延的哥本哈根,我们却创造了一个舒适的环境,如同硝烟中的安全区。
 
我也不会忘记自己躺在床上发着烧的那个晚上,王琛和祥宇拜访SEE基金会的杨鹏回来,并带回了一件他赠与的礼物。那是一个电热水壶。这样一个小小的礼物,却让我惊喜万分。在这个又湿又冷的城市,能喝上一杯热水泡上几碗泡面,是多么让人高兴的事。
 
 当哥本哈根谈判进入到最后阶段,超过100名国家元首、名人已然到场,此时的会场犹如部族之间的战场,充斥着足以搬上好莱坞银幕的曲折情节:严阵以待的安防措施,耸人听闻的媒体报道,还有挫败感越来越强的民间活动家。哥本哈根的空气里弥漫着狂喜,困惑和怀疑的味道。
 
 我们关于气候变化的博客开始得到来自中国的数以万计的访问,同时,我们也看到一些代表的面孔出现在国际新闻上,配以含蓄暗示中国是气候谈判最大障碍的刺目标题。一方面担忧着代表们的安全,心里却不断提醒自己要把重点放在代表团的使命上。
 
在最后冲刺的几天里,代表队就是否发表美中青年联合声明进行了彻底的讨论。我们希望传递积极的信息,同时表达在中美青年之间建立互信关系和共同责任的意愿。但是,在中国面临严重公关危机,在哥本哈根严重欠缺信任的氛围的情况下,我们对可能面临的外媒报道的基调忐忑不安。我们最终也没有发表这份联合声明。
 
终于回到北京的时候,我感觉自己像刚从战场归来的士兵,饥渴劳顿。我独自回想着这几个礼拜的经历,就这样静静地度过了圣诞节。我不断反思着,我有没有令团队失望,我们是否已经竭尽全力,或者,我自己是否还能做得更好。
   
永不止步
 回望当初,我知道我们的哥本哈根之行其实是一件罕见的壮举。我们原本只是一群组织松散的草根青年,没有资金,没有行政权利,也没有科研能力。我们只是想向世界传达我们对气候变化的关注,传达联合国气候公约与中国的未来一代息息相关的信息。参加联合国气候变化会议的经历让我们深刻体会到政治谈判的复杂,以及提升沟通能力的重要性。我相信我们的努力,成功地提高了中国主流社会、特别是青年一代们的气候意识。
 
即便如此,哥本哈根之行带来的最大的感受还是任重道远。这只是一个起点。气候变化是中国在发展和崛起过程中必须面对的诸多重大问题之一。这些在因特网伴随下成长起来的青年们,有些事情能比年长一代做得更好。但是我们离完成使命还有很长的路要走。这一次,我比以往都更强烈地感觉到我们需要支持和继续这种有益的青年活动,培养更具全球竞争力的青年一代。 
 
对我来说,哥本哈根永远意味着纯粹的意志,年轻的勇气,以及鲜活的情感。随着我们的青年踏上新的旅途,我希望哥本哈根留给他们的激情和信念能常伴左右。毕竟,用心感受,才有关切;关切之深,才能行动;付诸行动,才能缔造未来。

 


Every Pengyou has a story.
We want to hear yours.

2 responses to 50 Chinese Youth in Copenhagen

  • Wow. Great piece. I particularly enjoy this passage: “The COP15 experience educated us all in the complexities of the political negotiation process and on the critical importance of building capacity to communicate and have dialogue. I believe our efforts were successful in helping to inspire a new consciousness of climate change amongst the mainstream in China, especially for the younger generations.” Your story is an inspiration for us all. I can’t wait to see you again, I’m applying for the Youth Summit, whereupon if I get in I just might have a story similar to yours to whip up. =) I hope all is well in Beijing, when is the Project Pengyou team coming to Shanghai again? You guys should plan a promotional event on campus at NYUSH…just saying. Again, your work and story is amazing. Xin Nian Kual Le, gong xi fa cai

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