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Youth turn to music as climate message falls on deaf ears

By Tierney Smith  

On the final scheduled day of the UN climate talks in Doha, over 100 campaigners including Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo gathered beneath a huge spider sculpture and sang for the climate.

At a conference notable for the lack of strong protests, their collective voice and anger stood out, flowing along the marble corridors and around the $1m swarovski chandeliers that bedecked Qatar’s convention centre.

Six months earlier thousands met in Rio for the Earth Summit, which aimed to bring together the three pillars of sustainability – economic,  social and the environmental.

The Global Youth Music Contest aimed to share the views of young people through their own songs.

As part of RTCC’s Youth Series I spoke to Jean Paul Brice Affana, global coordinator of the project to find out about why he chose music as the vehicle for his message.

What is your group doing and what areas of work do you focus on?

The Global Youth Music Contest for Rio+20 was organised by a coalition of organisations. The main aim was to mobilise hundreds of youth NGOs from different regions around the world. It was the idea of the International Association for the Advancement of Innovative Approaches to Global Challenges (IAAI), based in Austria.

They got me to be the global coordinator of the contest. We brought together more than 50 organisations, representing all of the world regions – the Pacific, Asia, America, Latin America, and Europe – to support and implement this project. We had national coordinators from each of the countries that were involved and also regional coordinators for each of the regions.

We launched the competition on 15 September 2011 in Austria with a workshop before to train all of the coordinators; a weeklong workshop in Austria. At the end of this we launched the competition officially with UN representatives, government representatives and civil society participation.

After the official launch of the project we started to work with our national and regional coordinators who mobilised entries at a national level. Young people who were interested submitted a music video to address the topic of the Rio+20 conference.

Our national and regional coordinators were able to organise local events where they promoted the contest and made sure people were aware of it. They showed them they could learn more and make their voices heard in the Rio+20 process through music as a channel to bring their voice into the debate to discuss the future we want.

One other thing we asked our coordinators to do was to mobilise local partners to get involved with them to implement the music contest at a regional level. They were able to mobilise several partners in their region to work with them and make the contest very successful, very visible and very attractive.

At the end of the competition, we received over 300 entries. The selection of the winners was done by online voting – so we opened it up to more people. We had more than 400,000 people voting online and we had two winners – one from the youth category (14+) and one from the children’s category.

We brought the winners to Rio de Janeiro and they spent a week there and performed at many events. In the youth category the winners were Milena Paraschiv and Radu Popescu from Romania and then in the children’s category the winner was the Choir Santo Amaro de Oeiras from Portugal, who had 34 children who all travelled to Rio to perform there.

We had an hour ceremony where they officially received their award.

What results have you seen from your work so far?

The first success was that we were able to connect the dots. We couldn’t have all of the world youth attending the Rio+20 conference but we were able to bring their voice to the conference through their submissions.

It was open to everyone so they were able to connect with the conference, the outcomes from it and the negotiations. The UN negotiations are kind of formal and they do not have informal ways of involving people. This was our informal way of involving young people and getting them to be a part of the Rio+20 outcomes. It is opening their minds and giving joy to people.

We were also able to really galvanise young people at the grassroots level. We had almost 100 youth organisations involved in the competition representing all the regions around the world. We were able to organise and create this movement worldwide where people were working together and connecting with each other and supporting the same initiative with the same goal.

Another outcome of the project was that many of those who participated come from rural areas and had never heard about the UN process or the Rio+20 conference before. They did not know for example that their governments were part of the UN process discussing sustainable development but they were able to get involved through the work that our coordinators were doing at a local level.

What are the challenges you faced in your work?

The first challenge was convincing people to believe in the initiative because this was the first time we organised the competition and most of the entries were from people who had never done something like this before.

Choir Santo Amaro de Oeiras from Portugal won the children’s award (Source: glocha)

Even though the main organiser was based in Austria it was not strong enough to convince people that they should believe in the organisation and support and work with us. That made it very difficult for us, for example, to mobilise the funding that we needed. From September 2011 to July 2012 only one partner, one organisation, funded the project; that was IAAI. Funding was a big challenge.

We also had to convince the UN, mainly the Rio+20 Secretariat to believe in this non-formal way for young people to share their messages with the world leaders. By supporting the contest they provided us with the administrative support so that everything was running well, but when we asked them to give us a space to make sure the young winners could meet and sing in front of the world leaders we had a lot of bureaucracy. That was very difficult.

It was a very big challenge because we wanted to bring the final results in front of the world leaders so they could hear what these young people had to say. But because of the bureaucracy at the UN this was not really possible.

We were able to have our winners go inside the conference venue but they were not directly in front of the world leaders who were making the decisions.

What support have you seen for your activities?

We had very good mobilisation. For example in Romania our national coordinator was able to mobilise the UN, and WWF in Romania to create momentum. She had young people and civil society behind her to mobilise the public into supporting the initiative.

That is why young people in Romania were able to get a lot of votes because they had a lot of people behind them.

In Tobago we were able to see people from a grassroots level coming together and joining countries close to Trinidad and Tobago and working together.

In some places it was a little more challenging for example in the Seychelles, they heard about it a little bit late. But after the first month they were able to mobilise a lot of support at the national level. At the end of the competition period the President of the Seychelles received those to have them perform. The government took their message to Rio+20 as something that was very important for them regarding the conference.

We had a lot of specific examples of that where their success was their ability to overcome the specific challenges that they met. We are very proud of that.

How does this relate to climate change?

The main focus of the project was sustainable development but by talking about this we were also able to get young people to share their message about how they were dealing with the impacts they are facing regarding climate change. In some of the videos we received, from people from Bangladesh or Nepal, for example, they had put images of the impacts of climate change into their music videos such as floods and disasters caused by the rising levels of water.

We also had submissions from people from the Pacific and also from Africa where they were able to show how the drought and desertification were affecting their countries.

It showed that talking about sustainable development was also thinking about climate change.

This also linked back into the Rio+20 agenda because many people did want to have climate change as part of the discussions because they believe that the UNFCCC is responsible for the climate discussions and that the UNCSD should only focus on sustainable development. Many were against linking the two topics. Through our work we were able to bring climate change back into the discussions.

People were able to see that young people are affected by climate change and that they want to share this impact with others worldwide.

We had some very beautiful videos with local images from people who are impacted by climate change. For example in the Pacific region most of the youth were focusing on ocean governance or the blue economy and through their message they were also able to raise the issue of climate change’s impacts on their lives.

What would be your vision for the future?

One of the ideas that we had after the Rio+20 conference was to organise another competition that this time focused on the UNFCCC COP18 in Doha. Unfortunately seeing as we finished with the Rio+20 global youth music contest in June and then had the month of July to produce the final outcome and report we didn’t have enough time to prepare for COP18.

For the next level we are thinking of having the contest that will be launched next year and will address climate change and then we can link it up to COP19 in November/December next year.

Then we are going to have a discussion on where next to take the project. We have had all of these discussions about 2015 and the Millennium Development Goals so we are also thinking how we could use the project to contribute to those discussions.

The first thing we wanted to do by organising this initiative was to have a long term vision and that is to improve the way we implement education for sustainable development. When I say improve the way of implementing I mean bringing together the formal way of educating people and the non-formal way by using mostly arts.

We discovered that for people to be passionate about something they have to understand it and that depends on the means of communication you use. We are convinced that music is one of the best ways of communicating with people.

We want to see how education on sustainable development can be part of creating the national cooperation on development. Ensuring sustainable development for all can only be achieved if we train and we educate people on sustainable development policy and action so that people become eco-citizens.

Then by doing this they will not contribute to the problems, like climate change or the degradation of our environment, but they will contribute by taking on a role in saving the environment and also in educating the next generation.

This is how we see that we can use music to help drive education. Also with the all inclusive aspect of the initiative people from all regions in the world can feel part of something because they are able to understand the message through music. That is the main aim that we have.

All of the winners attended the Rio+20 Summit and performed (Source: Global Youth Music Contest)

What would help your group in your work in the future?

First of all we need to consult with the people that we are working with so that together we can identify what could be the next project. From our side we thought that addressing climate change in the UNFCCC COP would be the best thing to keep the momentum going but if we have already missed one COP we could loose this momentum so it may be better for us to consult with young people – all of those who were involved – and ask them what should be the next focus of the music project.

When we have this next focus identified together we can present it to the people we want to mobilise as partners and see how they could work with us.

At the moment we are not sure how to move forward. We want to address the next COP but we need to include the voice of all of the people involved.

Why did you get involved in the group? What do youth groups bring to the debate?

I am personally working with a youth NGO in Cameroon called the Vital Action for Sustainable Development. When we started to work we were thinking only locally because we were implementing local projects to tackle the concerns we had seeing our environment destroyed by local people.

We came to understand that working at a local level is good but if you don’t link up your ideas with what is going on at the global level you are out of the picture. We have many groups in Africa, and even in Cameroon that are working to address climate change but yet they do not know about the UNFCCC process, even if their government is part of the UNFCCC or the Kyoto Protocol.

For us it is a lack of achievement and not having an effective way of contributing. That is why we decided to link our local action with global policies and we were able to be put in touch with people doing the same work. Creating this global movement is what I really like.

When you work alone and you are not aware that people do the same work as you, it can be very discouraged. But when you work and remind yourself of the others doing the same work, all of us the same age and all around the world, it is really motivating. That is how you keep the momentum going and keep the energy that you need.

What we do here can be used as best practice in Uganda, Bangladesh, Nepal, the UK and France, all over the world. If we all have the same problem we can use the same way of solving the problem. We just need to add our local context.

When you connect the dots you improve your work and your impact.

When young people are involved in these discussions they really understand the importance of getting involved. They become experts on those topics. We have more and more of a discussion on green jobs for example but we do not have enough people who are trained in green jobs.

Having young people engaged really makes them aware of the pathways to having a career that will help their country towards a sustainable future.

More RTCC Youth Profiles:

Youth Profile #20: How are Pacific Islanders coping with life at climate change ground zero?

Youth Profile #19: The new group taking the green world by storm – meet the Arab Youth Climate Movement

Youth Profile #18: The young African scientists linking modern research with indigenous wisdom

Youth Profile #17: The African youth group driving climate adaptation in rural communities

Youth Profile #16: Inspiring climate change action through education in Africa

Youth Profile #15: Canadian youth rise above dirty domestic policies and push for climate action

Youth Profile #14: Costa Rica’s youth eye a carbon neutral future

Youth Profile #13: Giving youth a platform at the European Parliament

Youth Profile #12: European activists demand governments put their futures ahead of ‘dirty industry’

Youth Profile #11: China’s young activists out to prove they do care about climate change

Youth Profile #10: Life on climate change’s frontline with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition

Youth Profile #9: Young entrepreneurs driving sustainability at US campuses

Youth Profile #8: Why education is key to developing climate awareness in Ghana

Youth Profile #7: Why Indonesia’s biodiversity is at the front line of the fight against climate change

Youth Profile #6: Meet the African coalition that brings together 54 countries to tackle climate change

Youth Profile #5: Bangladeshi youth fight to give world’s second most climate vulnerable country a voice

Youth Profile #4: Nepal’s youth fight to save Himalayan paradise from effects of pollution and climate change

Youth Profile #3: Canada’s climate coalition on taking on the Tar Sands lobby and fighting for Kyoto

Youth Profile #2: How PIDES are working on practical solutions to climate change in Mexico

Youth Profile #1: How Nigerian Climate Coalition are building green bridges ahead of COP18

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