Most Threatened, Least Represented

cross-posted on SustainUS’s Agents of Change blog

As reported by the BBC last week, the President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, will have to skip the United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen because, well, they just can’t afford it.

The low-lying island nation is at serious risk of disappearing under rising oceans caused by global warming, but can’t afford to fight for its own survival at the negotiations, citing the financial crisis. The Maldivian economy ranked 186th in 2008, and more than 20% of Maldivians are below the poverty line, with average income per person at $4,400.800px-Male-total

It’s an extreme example of a common problem – those with the most to lose from global warming often have the least representation in the UN climate debate. All of those flights and hotels add up, and poorer countries can’t bear the costs. Many developing nations only have one or two government delegates, and the UN has a fund that only covers at most one delegate per country.

With multiple parallel meetings expected each day of the two weeks in Copenhagen, sometimes lasting late into the night, one or two delegates just aren’t enough to represent their country’s needs.

The U.S. and other big polluters  send dozens of negotiators and specialists to each meeting.

The situation for youth from most countries is even worse. Some have literally never had a young person from their nation attend the climate talks. For youth from many more countries, especially in the Global South, one or two youth at most might be able to afford to come. Even for countries like the U.S. that will send a large youth presence to Copenhagen, the poorest among us – those least able to afford a hotter future – still face the biggest obstacles to participating.

This year, youth from the UK, India, Australia, and the U.S. are working raise money for their peers to speak for their future in Copenhagen, but the problem for cash-strapped countries and youth remains.

No word yet on whether Maldivian youth will have a voice…


About Kyle


Kyle Gracey is a Research Scientist and the Science Coordinator with Global Footprint Network. He is the past Chair and a Board Director of SustainUS: U.S. Youth for Sustainable Development, and delegate to more than 20 United Nations negotiations on climate, social development, and sustainable development. He is a Specialist with the California Army National Guard, where he trains for disaster response. He was recently an Energy and Climate Fellow at the Worldwatch Institute. He also recently worked in the Speechwriting office for U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden. He was a consultant with the Gade Environmental Group in Chicago. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with B.S. degrees in Ecological Economics and Biochemistry/Biophysics, where he is their only Truman Scholarship recipient, and from the University of Chicago with an M.S. in the Physical Sciences Division and Harris Public Policy School, where he was a Harris Fellow. He also investigated international development and environment issues at The American University in Washington, DC and in Brazil, Israel, Iceland, and the United Arab Emirates. Kyle has worked in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation as an Environmental Policy Analyst analyzing biofuels, hydrogen, congestion, and air quality, and managing research grants, and as an International Economist Graduate Intern in the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and was an Education Docent at the National Aquarium. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the youth science & technology policy organization Student Pugwash USA, where he was recently named its Vice President, and on the Treaties Task Force Chair for the Society for Conservation Biology. He is a Life Member of the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega. He has over 150 media interviews, presentations, and public writings. Other awards include the BoardSource Emerging Nonprofit Leader award and U.S. government Presidential Management Fellowship.

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