Many lessons learned by students at climate talks


COPENHAGEN — A Japanese university student who attended the climate talks here as a member of an international nongovernmental organization says everything at the conference was a learning experience, even if he was disappointed with the outcome.

Jun Matsumoto, 23, a Waseda University senior and member of the International Youth Climate Movement, now believes Japanese people should try harder to foster a sense of responsibility as global citizens, with more involvement by young people.

After sharing a slice of two weeks’ worth of political wrangling over a common global challenge, Matsumoto said he feels Japanese people in general are behind in this regard, and this needs to change.

“Before coming here, part of me was thinking that people may not take students seriously. I also didn’t know how we could act in the first place,” he said. “But if we do take action, there are people who have ears to listen to us. That was important to know.”

More than 1,000 students from better than 100 countries formed the youth NGO and registered at the Bella Center during the two-week U.N. conference to press governments to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The conference ended Saturday afternoon.

Matsumoto, who majors in environment economics, was one of more than 50 Japanese college students who came to Copenhagen as members of the youth group.

After the conference began Dec. 7, the international students divided into smaller groups and met with various delegates to exchange their views while occasionally putting on performances in the conference venue to raise public awareness for mitigating climate change.

Everything from compiling concrete policies to planning how to get the message across was a learning experience, he said.

Students from the U.S. and Europe often took the lead when negotiating with the delegations.

“They were more active in doing their part, and I felt we should learn to do better,” he said.

For security reasons, the U.N. permitted only a limited number of people to enter the conference venue from Tuesday. Only 12 students in the youth group, including Matsumoto, were allowed in.

The denial of access was severely criticized by the NGOs.

On Friday, the students met with Mexican environment minister Juan Rafael Elvira, who will chair the U.N. climate change meeting next year.

Matsumoto said Elvira told the youth group that the problems involving logistics in Copenhagen will not be repeated in Mexico.

Matsumoto was disappointed that the outcome in Copenhagen fell far short of the initial expectations that the conference would produce a legally binding framework to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Along with rifts between developed and developing countries, Japan’s low-key presence drew criticism from many NGOs, although Tokyo’s earlier pledge to curb its greenhouse-gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels had been welcomed by the international community.

“I wondered if the parties really thought about the future generations,” Matsumoto said.

After returning to Japan, he plans to provide feedback to his peers about the activities and accomplishments in Copenhagen so they can start preparing for Mexico next year.