VALERIE KOH Today Online 18 Dec 15;
SINGAPORE — It was an hour before the 6pm deadline on Dec 3, and still nobody had volunteered to speak on behalf of YOUNGO — the official youth constituency at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — during the high-level segment of the talks in Paris.
Deciding to take the plunge, Miss Nor Lastrina Hamid of the Singapore Youth for Climate Action (SYCA) signed up for the role. Her hard-hitting speech urging nations to take action to fight climate change, delivered in the French capital on Dec 8, has since gone viral.
The 26-year-old told TODAY that one of the requirements was that the speaker had to be from a vulnerable country in the global South, and few in the youth constituency fitted the bill.
“So, given the two situations above — last minute still no representatives (and the) ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) representation was small, I decided to give it a go,” said Miss Lastrina, a project manager at Stratcon, a project management company in the construction industry focusing on renewable energy.
Drafting the two-and-a-half minute speech was a team effort, with input from other youths. “Singaporeans can be quite safe and neutral, but you have kids from Brazil who can be quite passionate and strong in their words. In that three to four days drafting it with them, it was a bit of a learning point for me ... to learn the art of compromising,” she recounted.
Brainstorming started on Dec 4, and the speech was completed on the evening of Dec 7.
In her speech, Miss Lastrina labelled the ongoing climate talks as becoming “more and more exclusive”. Pushing for an agreement which keeps temperature increase below 1.5°C, she called upon developed countries to take the lead “based on their historical responsibility and their respective capabilities”.
A legally binding agreement — which acknowledged the need for strong adaptation measures, a bold mechanism to help developing nations cope with loss and damage from disasters, technology transfer, capacity building and finance flowing — was crucial to help vulnerable communities, Miss Lastrina said.
On social media, reception to her speech was mixed. Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan, for instance, applauded the “sincere and passionate” plea, but at the same time, described it as idealistic.
“Alas, the world does not work that way ... She will learn that the fervency of the wish to change the world, does not change the world. To do so you have to work by, and thereby subvert, the world’s rules,” he wrote on Facebook.
Of the reactions, Miss Lastrina said: “When I was writing it, it didn’t feel idealistic, to be honest. We felt like this was the most real voice we could give.”
Off-stage, the response was highly positive. China’s former Vice-Minister of Education Zhang Xinsheng “seemed impressed”, and delegates from Malaysia and Indonesia also offered her their congratulations, she said.
Asked for her thoughts on the Paris Agreement inked on Dec 12, Miss Lastrina zeroed in on the commitment from developed countries to channel US$100 billion (S$141.2 billion) a year in climate aid for developing countries by 2020. “The fund looks good ... but in reality, how are they going to make sure that the funds are raised and (used appropriately)?” she said.
The agreement included a pact to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C in this century, and to drive efforts to limit the rise even further to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Although the agreement has been hailed by many as a breakthrough in efforts to save mankind from global warming, Miss Melissa Chong, who was also at the talks as an SYCA representative, said she remained “a little hesitant to call this a great success”. “There’s still a lot more that needs to be done to achieve our 1.5°C target. Countries and governments really need to make drastic changes to their policies of renewable energy,” she said.
However, she was “more optimistic” about the power of civil society in the push for change. Miss Chong, 25, noted that during the talks in Paris, “civil society was doing everything they can to make sure 1.5°C was included in the text”.
Her team-mate Juliana Chia, 24, pointed out that some aspects of the agreement — such as the emission targets for each country — were legally non-binding. “This needs to be improved upon ... Countries can easily put economic growth ahead of environmental protection,” she said.
The Paris talks may be over but Miss Lastrina said there is still a need for youths in Singapore to remain interested in green issues. “In Singapore’s case, we import 90 per cent of our food. Rising temperatures will affect food supplies in neighbouring countries; it’s also going to affect our water supply. Climate change affects every aspect of our life,” she added.
VALERIE KOH Today Online 18 Dec 15;