Saving the world

 

UN Youth member?

I’m sure people kinda expect this from you:

 

People who have been a Model UN or two might know better, but for the majority of the public, UN Youth membership is taken to mean that we have a direct line to President Obama, we’re personal advisors to Nicholas Sarkozy and Model UN events are relayed via a direct feed into the General Assembly in New York. #ifonly

If what we debate and the resolutions we pass aren’t implemented and acted upon, what is the point of it all (asides from the fact that UN Youth members are the coolest bunch of kids you’ll ever meet and it’s a lot of fun?).

Our VP Education may have a more refined statement on the educational values of the model UN programme but I think it the skillsets you learn and develop, and the awareness that debating about global issues raises.

I’m assuming as a reader you have previously attend or currently attend our Model UN events – what do you see as the value of Model UNs?

 

Introducing the Team behind NZ Model UN 2012

It’s 8:00pm on an ordinary night. Six individuals are glued to their laptop screens in anticipation of a Skype conference of epic proportions.  As usual, Pasan is 2 minutes late. Or you know, accidentally casually putting his fellow committee members on hold and causing a moment of confusion.

This has been a frequent occurrence for a number of months – our team convening, discussing, planning and organising what is going to be the most amazing NZ Model UN conference ever orchestrated in the history of UN Youth NZ.  We discuss every tiny little detail involved in making UN Youth’s premier Model UN event memorable from the logistics, advertising, teachers workshops, quality of debate, education, educating conference assistants, steak knives, saving the planet, outreach, social events to the food.

So, who are we? Presenting to you the team of #swag:

COORDINATOR: JEROME CAMERON

 

Kia ora, I’m Jerome and I’m the coordinator of the undisputed most amazing conference that UN Youth runs called NZ Model UN. I’m currently studying towards a BA in Geography and International Relations in which I love development and environmental studies as well as looking at the challenges facing the traditional nation-state. I’ve been with UN Youth since 2007 which was when I attended my first NZ Model UN, I’ve been hooked ever since and am now organising the behemoth of a conference.

Bananas or apples? Bananas! They are slightly more flexible, fried banana with pancakes or banana smoothies as well as a trusty fruit.

Batman or Superman? Captain Planet. He’s going to take pollution down to zero!

ASSISTANT COORDINATOR: PORTIA HOLT

 

Hi I’m Portia and I’m the assistant co-ordinator for NZ Model UN 2012. I hail from the Wairarapa and have been studying History at Victoria Uni since 2008. I am a part of the small, but extremely cool, group within UN Youth who do not study Law/Political  Science/International Relations – you should join!

I have been involved with UN Youth since 2006 when I first attended Wellington MUN. I had such a great time there that I have gotten progressively more involved, hence I am helping to organise UN Youth’s biggest conference.

The Wizard of Oz or Charlie & the Chocolate Factory? This is a tough one because I really like both    movies. Wizard has the all important yellow brick road, pretty shoes and instructions on how to kill witches while Charlie has zany sweets and crazy inventions. They both have pretty awesome music too. The child in me says that Charlie wins this competition because there is nowhere else in the world where you are able to find lickable wallpaper and levitating fizzy-drink. Random fact: Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz is an allegorical tale based on the farming crisis that was happening in the US in the late 19th Century. (You can add this to your collection of random useless pieces of information gleaned from MUNs, such as the capital of Mauritania and Luxembourg’s GDP).

Adele or Lady Gaga? Definitely Lady Gaga. Her music is much more fun to dance to and sing along with.

 

EDUCATION OFFICER/OFFICER OF THEMATIC COHERENCE: DIPTI MANCHANDA

Salutations!  I’m Dipti, your Education Officer for NZ Model UN 2012.  I’m studying Law, Politics/International Relations and Economics at Otago University, where I’m pretty excited to have a heat pump in my flat this year.  With two of my three areas of study forming your stereotypical “UN Youth degree”, I’m particularly interested in human rights and international relations.

I attended my first UN Youth event and NZ Model UN back in 2008.  I loved it so much that I pounced at the opportunity to get involved with my Regional Council when I got to uni, and have never looked back!

Dancing or Singing: Hailing from the land of Bollywood but equally incapable at both, this is a tough choice for me.  Since Bollywood makes the former a bit more accessible to uncoordinated folk like myself, I think dancing might just edge out singing.

Coke or Pepsi: There’s a difference?

 

REGISTRATIONS OFFICER: PASAN JAYASINGHE

Hello! I’m Pasan and I’m the Registrations Officer for NZ Model UN 2012! I’m a Law and Arts student at the University of Auckland, and am particularly interested in international relations, human rights and diplomacy, which quite neatly brings me to the largest Model UN event in the country!

My first Model UN was the Waikato/Bay of Plenty High Schools Model UN in 2005, my first UN Youth event was the Auckland Model Security Council in 2006, and I have been to countless Model UNs since then, probably too many to list here!

Steak Knife vs. butter knife: the serrated blade of a steak knife makes it an excellent tool for handling not only meat (which I do not eat), but most kinds of vegetables too (which I do). Also, if used with proper skill, it can be used to apply a variety of spreads, making it more useful than a butter knife. As such, it is an invaluable addition to anyone’s kitchen!

Pokémon or Digimon, the better monster: <activating nerd-face> While the two series were created around the same time in Japan, the English-dubbed Digimon cartoons arrived after the Pokémon ones, leading to the idea that Digimon was a bad rip-off of Pokémon. This is clearly not true, as Digimon promotes the idea that the digital monsters have their own feelings and ambitions, and that they are more like their tamers’ partners rather than their pets, or worse, slaves. This is in contrast with Pokémon where the Pokémon-Owner relationship is characterized by hunting, slavery, prize-fighting and gambling. If you disagree, come to NZ Model UN 2012 and we can settle this!

 

CONFERENCE STAFF OFFICER: NICOLE BUXEDA

Currently the only Canadian/Mexican representative on the team, Nicole is doing LLB and BA in Spanish and political science and her dream is to start a South American revolution.  Having being involved with UN Youth for quiet sometime, she has also been a part of the 2009 UN Youth NZ delegation to the Hague Model United Nations.  Apart from the fact that she’s incredibly excited to order around conference assistants, she’s leaving windy Wellington for shaky Christchurch. Jerome has heard that she still collects Dragon Ball Z cards.

Peanut Butter or Jam? We think that she’s more of a peanut butter person.

Drake or Jason Derulo? Considering that she’s Canadian, she might have a secret thing for Justin Bieber.

 

COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER: ANU KAW

Ciao amigos, I’m the youngest member of the committee and possibly the most interesting minutes taker ever.  I’ve only been associated with the UN Youth family since May 2011 – prior to that I had caught the Model UN bug whilst I was living in Saudi Arabia, back in 2007. The great thing about Model UN is that it has taken me to numerous interesting places such as Istanbul, Holland and (although I didn’t really have to travel to attend this one) Cairo and even met some incredibly people (including the boss at THIMUN).  Considering that I’ve lived in some of the most interesting regions in the world, the issues that  interest me particularly are female rights, education and health problems in developing nations.

I will be beginning my first year of uni this year (after being on a bit of a gap year) down in Otago, studying First Year Health Sciences.

Summer or Winter – the better season? I’m more of an autumn person

Goats or Sheep? I do like Llamas.

 

So now that you know us a little better, keep an eye on this blog for updates on NZ Model UN 2012!
If you have any questions for us or general enquiries please drop us a line, we would love to hear from you. 

 

A unique history lesson: Valentine’s Day

Although Valentine’s Day has become highly commercialised, it is a day celebrated by many young (and old) lovers. As we know, it is common for flowers, chocolates and messages to be exchanged between couples. Personally, I prefer to avoid all florists, restaurants and date locations on the 14th of February. However, I have come to realise, that although slightly cheesy, Valentine’s Day is a nice way to appreciate the people we care about.

There is uncertainty around the origins of Valentine’s Day. The story I found most interesting goes as follows. There was an ancient Roman fertility festival held on February 15 known as Lupercalis, whereby males and females were randomly allocated to spend the duration of the festival together. This allocation often resulted in marriage. The rise of Christianity resulted in many Pagan festivals, like this one, being refocused towards Christian beliefs. This saw Lupercalis become known as a Christian feast, named after Saint Valentine, a third century Roman priest. At this time, when the Emperor was gathering an army, he banned young men from marrying, believing the best soldiers were those unmarried as they had no emotional attachments to their wives. He believed marriage weakened men. This outraged Valentine who continued to secretly marry young lovers. When Valentine’s actions were discovered it was ordered he be beaten to death with clubs and have his head removed. While in prison Valentine fell in love with the prison officer’s daughter who visited him frequently. Before his execution on February 14, he wrote a note to her, signing it off “From Your Valentine”, which is a popular phrase still used.

Valentine’s Day became popular in Great Britain in the 17th century and during the 18th century it was common for friends and lovers to exchange letters and gifts. In the United States, the first commercial greeting card was produced by Esther Howland in the 19th Century. She is remembered for her elaborate cards made of lace, ribbons and ‘scrap’.

Some interesting Valentine’s Day facts that I came across are as follows:

  • Valentine’s Day is the second largest card-giving day (Christmas is the largest)
  • Women purchase 85% of all valentines
  • Of the flowers sold, 73% are purchased by males
  • 15% of women send flowers to themselves on Valentine’s Day
  • On average consumers spend $100 on Valentine’s Day

Although this is considerably unrelated to UN Youth and the United Nations, I decided very few know the origins of Valentine’s Day. We tend to get caught up in the gifts and romantic gestures of the day, however, I think it is important we remember its core value of appreciation.

Reflections on COP17: Applying Model UN to the UNFCCC

I don’t know how many Model UNs I’ve been to, but I’ve only been to one actual, real, proper United Nations conference: COP17 in Durban.  My UN Youth New Zealand experience was invaluable, but did not and could not fully prepare me for the experience of the Conference itself.  COP17 was the 17th Conference of the Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC.  I attended as a member of the New Zealand Youth Delegation and occasionally blogged for the Adopt a Negotiator Project. I was one of around a thousand youth representatives at the Conference.

As youth delegates, we were there to lobby government negotiators; bear witness to what was happening and report back to our home countries; and do everything we could to campaign for recognition of youth interests.  The international youth climate movement is huge, truly multicultural, and inspiring.  It combines many of the things I loved most about the UN Youth with passionate and informed advocacy for intergenerational justice and an ambitious response to climate change.
We have limited opportunities to be heard in the negotiating session.  NGOs have few opportunities to formally speak.  On the third day, a Canadian girl I had barely met delivered a speech to the plenary session of the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol (that is, AWG-KP).  Another New Zealander, two Englishmen, and I had finished writing it in a dingy corner at our backpackers, Tekweni, at about 2 am that morning.  Two days later, delivering another speech written by the Tekweni After Midnight Drafting Committee, a South African boy scout asked negotiators in the same committee to raise their hands if they were there to solve climate change, and then to raise them again if they thought that the Conference could agree on a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol.  Many raised their hands to both – including New Zealand’s negotiator.

The negotiators did eventually agree on a second commitment period, but they did not solve climate change.  The two week conference officially ended on Friday 9 December 2011.  In truth, it ended at around 6:30 am on Sunday 11 December 2011.  Many of us in the international youth climate movement were operating on a similar sleep deficit.  I discuss the outcome and my personal views on it in a post on the Youth Delegation’s blog and set out my views on how New Zealand acted at Adopt a Negotiator.  In short, though: Things are grim, and civil society must speak with a renewed voice.

COP17 was a draining and exhausting experience.  Though I found the other youth representatives there inspiring, the Conference itself took a toll.  I am glad, however, for the foundation provided by my years of involvement in the UN Youth.  So, how, then, did UN Youth experience help me at Durban?

Obviously, Model UN gave me a basic understanding of how the UN processes work.  I understand what a plenary is, and how decisions are made.  I can read and comprehend UN documents and draft texts quite well – because of the UN Youth.  But’s that’s the very tip of the iceberg.

I learned to go without sleep as a UN Youth officeholder.  That might sound trivial and silly, but its importance can’t be stressed enough.   The last day of COP17 lasted 54 hours; COP’s Friday finished at 6:30 on Sunday morning.  Most of the negotiators, if New Zealand’s were anything to go by, had slept for less than three hours since the Wednesday. As NGO representatives, we managed a little more sleep.  Four hours was my average for each night.

If you were at the Conference centre from 9-5, you’d miss some of the best side events, most interesting last minute opportunities, and the best chances to speak to negotiators.  The sheer amount of time I spent at the conference centre meant that I came to understand its strange processes relatively quickly. It comes back to a simple point one of the senior lawyers at my office told me about working long hours: Twice the hours, twice the experience.  A first year lawyer who works 12 hours billable a day has the same experience as a second year who works six – and, in truth, probably more.

Of course, as well, every night, there were tasks to do back at the Hostel: blogs to write, Skype calls to make, speeches to draft.  Sleep was a rare luxury.

High school rowing taught me to wake up early, but it was the UN Youth that introduced me to the concept of “conference time”.  That’s the zone I lived in during COP17, familiar from organising several Model UNs: Wake at six.  Be there by eight.  Work until six, seven, or later.  Drink coffee.  Go home.  Prepare for the next day.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Writing speeches at Tekweni was not too different from writing speeches in the old, windowless UNYANZ office in the James Smith building.  Only difference was, the speeches I wrote at COP were delivered to plenary sessions of the UNFCCC.

The UN Youth taught me the importance of the meeting before the meeting.  Very little in the UNFCCC is truly decided in the final plenary.  The most important meetings are in cafes, in corridors, or just behind closed doors.  Lobbying and networking is key – both for negotiators and NGO representatives.  It sounds unbelievably trite, but who you know is as important as what you know.  Getting to know the right people can get you incredible information and opportunities.  The best opportunities I had at COP, we made ourselves.  Good things come those who hustle.

You know this, if you’ve been active at a Model UN.  It’s not the speeches that change other delegates’ minds; it’s the talks over lunch, the small groups formed, and the notes passed.  You can’t just propose an amendment and hope.  You need to secure the supporting signatures first.  And, at least in my day, the same thing applied at the organisational level of UNYANZ: Half the decisions made at an AGM or National Council meeting were made, just as much, around a cafe table weeks earlier.  It may sound underhand, but that’s how most organisations function – and that’s very much how the UN functions.  The open session, the plenary, the grand vote – that’s a rubber stamp.  The deal was cut the night before.

The UN Youth also taught me a lot about the internal politics and dynamics of youth organisations and delegations.  This helped me to become actively involved in the international youth movement, and led to me being caught up in doing damage control for some internal controversies within the movement at COP17.

So, what didn’t the UN Youth prepare me for?

First, the sheer, absolute, maddening inertia of the system.  When the youth movement actually gets to COP, the fix is already in.  The slow, inexorable, grinding cogs of the UNFCCC are in motion, and you can do very little to change it.  Sure, the outcome is uncertain until (at COP17 at least) only a few hours before the end, but the processes are fixed and set and utterly certain.

Imagine showing up at Model UN and discovering that the resolution is drafted, no amendments will be accepted, no new alliances will be formed, and, by the way, about three other delegates will listen to any of your speeches – if you luck out and even get to make one.

That’s about how it goes, for an NGO at COP.  You can do protest actions, in a small out of the way corner, but they’re reduced to mere street theatre.  Some delegations – including, to their credit, New Zealand’s – are open to engage with civil society.  But, even so, their objectives and parameters are set.  If you want to really change government climate policy, the key isn’t two weeks at COP17.  That’s too late.  The key is to join the youth climate movement back home and campaign, constantly – so that’s why I’m devoting my free time to Generation Zero this year.

Second, it did not and could not possibly prepare me for the emotional intensity of the COP experience.  I mean, sure, I’d learned through my UN Youth experience that the intensity of working closely with someone can make or break friendships – but, at COP, all of that is painted black, covered in spikes, and turned up to Spinal Tap 11.  Everyone is under extraordinary pressure.  I have shared more with people I knew for a mere two weeks than with some people I’ve know for years.  Not a day went by without someone from the NGO community sobbing.

And that’s absolutely, completely, totally right and understandable, because the COP process is dealing with the greatest human rights issue of our generation.  At COP, we spoke with the Ulu of Tokelau.  That is a man whose people have had their freshwater supply taken from them by climate change, already.  That is a man who knows that either he or his children, and everyone else of their entire culture, will become refugees, unless drastic action is taken now.  On the night before the conference, an unseasonal rainstorm caused flooding in a township on the outskirts of Durban.  Six people died.  350,000 people died in 2010 from the effects of climate change.  In that context, how can emotions not run high?  By comparison, a Model UN is a wholly ersatz experience.

Third, the UN Youth did not prepare me for the ever present fog of war at COP.  Or, to put it more bluntly, it didn’t prepare me for the fact that, in the NGO community, most people, most of the time, have very little idea what is actually going on.  Part of this is the scale of the thing.  You can’t compare COP to, say, New Zealand Model UN.  For sheer numbers, the Big Day Out is a closer parallel.  And there are constantly multiple tracks of debate, often highly specialised.  You can’t be everywhere at once.  The picture to the right is three random days from COP17 in my Google Calendar.

Even negotiators have this problem.  I’ve heard tales of negotiators with two portfolios where, for the entire Conference, all the meetings were at the same time.  So, one State wasn’t represented in one negotiating track – at all.

And you can’t be an expert on forestry and climate funding and agriculture and technology transfer and the Kyoto Protocol and and and all at the same time.  You have to pick your battles.  I did, focusing on the AWG-LCA and AWG-KP.  I still don’t understand half of what happened – and I wrote my honours in law on the Kyoto Protocol!

 

As so much of the debate happens behind closed doors and you can’t feasibly get into all the open sessions you want to, you come to rely too much on rumours and hearsay.  I’ve heard negotiators lamenting press reports of things they said…that they didn’t say.  News spreads like wildfire.  Often, it’s right.  For example, we all knew that Canada was pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol two weeks before it did.  Other times, it’s not.  Have you ever been in a Model UN, when you think you know what’s happening, and suddenly a new amendment is proposed, that you didn’t know about, signed by countries you thought were your allies, that totally blindsides you?  Take that feeling.  Extend it for two weeks.  Sleep less.  Welcome to COP.

So, in summary, Model UN is a great initiative.  I value my time with the UN Youth greatly.  But it cannot compare to actually attending a United Nations conference.  If you ever get that chance, take it.  I return from Durban with new drive and new passion.  I am excited by the international youth climate movement, and feel betrayed by the UNFCCC system.  But – and perhaps I should credit the UN Youth for this – I understand that the system functioned as designed, made incremental progress, and did all that could reasonably be expected.  The UN will not solve climate change.  Only a mass popular movement will do that.

And now, the year that changes everything?

I’m Stefan Lodewyckx, VP Communications at your friendly UN Youth Association from across that Tasman, UN Youth Australia. Aside from managing UN Youth Australia’s branding, communications, and publications (such as the Perspectives Journal of Youth Opinion), I’m not a particularly exciting person. Instead, I’m happy to bite into my pet topic of the month.

With an exciting and full year ahead, we over in Australia look forward to a year of awesomeness where both Australia and New Zealand can get together to make the UN and peer education more accessible to more young people in the region.

But there is a catch — segue to my dramatic headline:

And now, the year that changes everything?

A happy new year to you all! That is, if you make it to the next one. You see, as the calendar clicked over to 2012, you have unwittingly entered the year that will see the destruction of the world as we know it. Numerous sites on the Internet say so, therefore it must be true.

There is a minor issue concerning the apocalyptic end of 2012 — there are so many different variations on the theme! With literally dozens of different theories out there, some doubters among you may even go so far as to question the legitimacy of the impending apocalypse. Scorn!

To that, I simply say this: there are dozens of different ways to make a cake. But in each case, the end result is still a cake (some just aren’t as delicious as those sachet mud cakes you get at the supermarket). In just the same way you pick your favourite cake recipe, I am hopeful that my brief rundown of the most fashionable apocalypse theories will help you pick an end to the world that best suits your dietary requirements:

The Mayan theory

The one that started it all! According to a partially defaced Mayan inscription in southern Mexico, the 13th b’ak’tun of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar will be of particular significance. Converting between calendars, that lands on December 21, 2012. What sort of fun did they predict? The end of the fourth world! Nobody has been entirely sure of what the end of the fourth world may actually involve. Therefore after much conjecture, research, and conspiracy, we have arrived at the hypothesis that this will involve the end of all life in earth. May contain traces of destruction, armageddon, academic disagreement.

 

 

 

The Christian theory

A straight shot of apocalyptic goodness is coming for those who subscribe to this most venerable of theories. Chapter 6 of the Book of Revelation states that the world will be utterly destroyed in a wave of catastrophic devastation when the sixth seal is opened. The Good Book specifies no date, so people have been creative about deciding when it could be. Many have dedicated their creative skills to justifying why 2012 will the year that fury will be unleashed, so brace yourselves if you’re a believer. Mind you, the end of the world was meant to come a couple of times in 2011, so be patient with this one if it doesn’t arrive this year.

 

 

 

The Extended Michio Kaku theory

A dose of Y2K-like apocalypse with a chaser of scientific plausibility. Every eleven years, the sun’s poles flip around in what scientists call the sunspot cycle. In this process, the sun goes a little crazy and emits massive solar flares. Most times this happens, they knock out a satellite or a couple of power stations by overloading electricity grids. Physicists, including the well known science communicator Michio Kaku, suspect that the next sunspot cycle will be particularly severe. Can you guess when this is due to happen? 2012! Look out for disabled satellite communications, decimated e-commerce, destroyed electricity infrastructure, and a scientific community chanting ‘we told you so’.

 

 

 

 

The Stefan Lodewyckx theory

My personal favourite. You will attend a UN Youth NZ (/insert country here) event. And you’ll never look back, because after going, your world will never be the same. Instead, you’ll see a wide open landscape beyond your shores that consists of countries, corporations, organisations, leaders, diplomats, commodities, greed, charity, prosperity, poverty, war, peace, and real people who are affected by them all. If that’s anything to go by, it could be a hard reality to swallow. But at least this one leaves a world that we have the power to understand and interact with. I’m sure that each and every person who reads this blog would rather subscribe to this theory than other theories whose prerogative is for you to twiddle your thumbs while the world changes around you.

 

A brave new world awaits. What are you waiting for?