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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Young Activist Speaks Out in Durban

Air Date: Week of

(Photo: Abigail Borah)

Middlebury College student Abigail Borah interrupted a talk by Todd Stern, the chief U.S. negotiator at the climate summit, with a impassioned plea for a fair and legally binding treaty. She received a standing ovation and was then thrown out of the conference hall. Host Bruce Gellerman speaks with Borah about the urgency for action.


GELLERMAN: How did that play there in Durban?

MORGAN: Well, I think that she was very inspirational and spoke the words that many people feel here but that sometimes diplomatic speak doesn’t allow to be said.

GELLERMAN: Talking to us from the UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa is Jennifer Morgan; she’s director Energy and Climate Programs at the World Resources Institute. Jennifer, thank you so very much.

MORGAN: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Well, Abigail Borah - the 21-year-old student who disrupted the speech by U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern - says she doesn't regret what she did. I reached her in Durban by Skype.

BORAH: I was a bit terrified. It was one of those things where I knew that I had to rally all the forces and be courageous and stand for what I believed in. It was a high level plenary event. The COP president takes statements from distinguished dignitaries from every country at the UN. And when he called the United States representative, Todd Stern, to come up I started speaking, because I didn’t think he could speak on behalf of the United States. So, I wanted to issue a statement calling for more ambition and calling for more urgency in the U.S. position.

GELLERMAN: Where you arrested?

BORAH: I was not arrested. The UN has a code of conduct and speaking like that is against the code of conduct and so they took away my accreditation for the rest of the conference.

GELLERMAN: When you were led out of the session you got many a cheer.

BORAH: I did receive an ovation from both civil society sitting in the back as well as negotiators from a lot of different countries.

GELLERMAN: So, your position is that the United States and other countries that the process is just failing.

BORAH: I definitely think there’s a lack of progress and I think the United States in particular is deliberately postponing any type of ambition. We’ve decided that because of the obstructionist congress we can’t make a stance. We have nothing to bring to the table when we come to these conferences, and so it’s stillborn right from the start. So, what my statement was trying to say is that we cannot perpetuate this international gridlock in the negotiations. As the United States, we need to lead in the fight against climate change and we can’t deliberately postpone progress.

Watch Abigail Borah at COP 17

GELLERMAN: It’s your generation that’s going to have to deal with this mess.

BORAH: That’s true and a lot of adults - parents of friends, teachers - will say, you know it’s up to your generation to fix the problems. And frankly, I'm really not willing to take that. I think, because of the science, and the necessity to act now, yes, my generation is willing to step up to the plate, but the generation before us must set the scene.

If we need to have peak emissions before 2020, and the United States doesn’t want to have a binding agreement to have emissions reductions until 2020, it will be too late to wait. And that’s part of the statement that I had is as a youth, I have the right to have a livable planet.

GELLERMAN: So, are you now encouraged by what’s happened at the COP 17 in Durban?

BORAH: I’m still pretty disappointed. I think we need to really rev up the action. One thing that I am encouraged by is that after my statement Todd Stern pushed his press conference earlier, and spent a significant amount of time trying to justify the U.S. stance. And in fact, saying things that he had not been saying before.

And so, I think what I did really opened the door and was a game changer in terms of the U.S. stance, and how other countries, as well as NGOs, were able to relate and really push the U.S., and drawing attention domestically as well as internationally to our government’s lack of action.

GELLERMAN: Have you seen the video of you giving your protest?

BORAH: I have. (laughs)

GELLERMAN: What do you think?

BORAH: I think that the youth have a really strong message. And, we have an enthusiasm and urgency about us that is so unique in the negotiations. You can sit in the plenary halls for hours on end and the negotiators themselves will fall asleep. And, they’re full of empty rhetoric and empty promises. And I think it really was time for someone to stand up and say we are shackling justice and perpetuating international gridlock.

GELLERMAN: Well, Abigail Borah, it has been a real pleasure. I want to thank you so very much.

BORAH: Thank you for having me.

GELLERMAN: Abigail Borah is a student at Middlebury College and a member of the youth delegation to the UN Climate talks in Durban.



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