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Adopting a negotiator

The UN's climate change negotiations can be dreadfully stuffy talk shops to outsiders but for one group of young people they're totally gripping. For the last year 13 students from counties around the world have been shadowing negotiators from their home countries at these events. They tweet and blog about every move, keeping their peers back home up-to-date with what's happening on the ground.

Leela Raina, a 21-year-old student from India, is one of them. "When I first started tracking India's negotiators I didn't even know how to tweet," she confesses. "We were initially asked to blog only about the state of the negotiations but none of my friends wanted to read that. So I decided if I don't feel like reading my own blog, then I won't write it."

That's one reason why Leela's posts are now some of the most popular on the Adopt-A-Negotiator website. In one she writes about why girls shouldn't date boys from Annexe 1 countries – or in other words rich countries (http://adoptanegotiator.org/2009/10/07/why-i-shouldnt-date-an-annex-1-guy/). The reason: they make promises but don't keep them. It's a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that several rich countries still haven't cut down on the amount of carbon emissions despite promising to do so under the Kyoto Protocol.

"Very few people in my college would read about the environment, but everyone read that blog!" she says with a grin. "That's the idea. I want more people to learn about what's going on without diluting the message."

Leela's blogs also focus on the lives of India's negotiators. Most are unsung bureaucrats so she decided to give each one a face by interviewing them and writing about their lives back home. "I write about their families and children. About who their favourite negotiators are and what they're doing individually to fight climate change." One post about a bureaucrat's efforts to reduce paper in his office drew several comments, including some from other bureaucrats who pledged to do the same.

In just one year, Leela and her team's unconventional approach to the negotiations has made people take notice. The work of the trackers has even been appreciated in plenary, where all UN member countries gather for major negotiation sessions. 

Leela's own entry into the environmental movement happened more by chance than design. Although she read economics, she'd also scored well in chemistry during a qualifying exam for the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology. Encouraged, she signed-up for an additional Green Chemistry course in another college. "For my final paper, I combined my areas of study and wrote about how environmentally-friendly chemicals can be made economically viable for industries." The paper won her an invitation to the 2008 Delhi Sustainable Development Summit. There she met environmental big-wigs such as Rajendra Pachauri, head of the inter-governmental panel on climate change and Yvo de Boer, the outgoing chief of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

"The event opened my eyes to the problem of climate change," she says. She immediately became active in college, organizing an ecology club and even adopting nearby villages. Her work put her in touch with other like-minded young people in the Indian Youth Climate Network where she then bumped into the organizers of the Adopt-A-Negotiator movement.

So, what's her reading of the current climate negotiations session in Bonn? "It's déjà vu unfortunately. The same frictions still exist. Nothing is moving the way it should be," she says rather dejectedly. "The only good thing is the atmosphere is much less charged now coming after Copenhagen. There's no deadline, but perhaps there should be if we want a result!"

Leela still doesn't know where these experiences will take her professionally. "I'm not sure if I want to work with the UN or back home in India in the media," she says. It's the only thing she's undecided about. What's not in question is her commitment to the environment. What else do you expect from a girl who says this: "I didn't even celebrate after finishing my final exams in college. I wrote my last paper, packed and was on the next flight over to Bonn."

You can track all of Leela's blogs here: http://adoptanegotiator.org/category/india/ and you can read blogs from other countries' negotiator trackers here: http://adoptanegotiator.org/the-trackers/

Pierre Fitter lives in Delhi where he reports on climate change and foreign affairs for the Indian news channel News-X. He is in Bonn as a Climate Change Media Partnership fellow. The opinions in this blog feature do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panos London.

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06/11/2010

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