CHEC Member, James Propa at the UN-CBD COP13 & The Youth & Business Forum in Cancun Mexico

James Propa is a CHEC member currently setting up a bee and livelihoods project for young people in Uganda.  James is also a steering group member of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN) where he represents Uganda and that region in Africa.  James  writes on his thrilling first time  experience of attending  the UN-CBD COP13 and The Youth & Business Forum in Cancun Mexico  from the 27th November to  17th December 2016 and delivering the GYBN opening statement.

The Global Youth Biodiversity Network being the umbrella organization for young people both individual and organizations working on biodiversity issues  was able to bring together a few young people who work on Biodiversity to attend the UN-CBD COP13 and The Youth & Business Forum which all happened between 27th November and 17th December 2016 in Cancun Mexico.

This is the first time, we as the GYBN steering committee got to meet in person. Over the years we have been working largely online and the few who are able to attend international conferences would meet there.

The CBD is the Convention on Biological Diversity which resulted out of the 1992 Earth summit or better known as the Rio Convention. In 2010 during the COP in Nagoya Japan, a set of 20 measurable 10 year targets were set by the parties and these are known as the Aichi Targets.

At the youth conference, being an African youth leader and worker from Uganda it was an opportunity to meet fellow young leaders and workers in biodiversity. There was a lot to learn and inspiration from projects the young people are doing in their countries. A lot of presentations about Biodiversity international policy, fundraising, communication & more were made. Young people came up with a statement from the different working groups that were presented to the President of COP13 who is also the Mexican Minister for Environment Rafael Pacchiano Alamán.

Having a youth project about pollinators in the pipeline, I met young people working on bee-keeping both in rural and urban settings and we shared a lot of information and ideas. The landscapes and opportunities in each country are different but there is still so much in common.

Then time came for the COP13 which also served Meeting Of parties 2 on 4th -17th December where we had to split into 2 working groups as the youth, one was responsible for Policy and the other Media. Being an experienced media personality and a first timer at a UN Conference I opted for media team as I felt that is where I would use the best of my abilities. Policy was the reason we were all there but there are also other elements like media that had to support the policy. The voices of young people had to be heard and we had to report back to them in real time.

I was honored to read the statement on behalf of GYBN at the COP 13 opening ceremony together with Mexican Youth Leader Grecia Barcena. It was an overwhelming experience and had to bring out the best of a communicator I am. I had to make a statement on behalf of millions of young people out there.

During the conference the team made several interventions on topics including, Synthetic biology, Mainstreaming Biodiversity, Invasive species and Pollinators. Other members of the steering committee delivered the intervention on pollinators which included removing the text “where necessary” from the document as it said research would only be made “where necessary.” When it is all necessary.

During the COP13 I had to coordinate the social media posts, both Twitter  and Facebook while overlooking other forums like Instagram. Together with the team we had to work in real time to tweet about the proceedings, take pictures and share videos of the proceedings in real time. There were a lot of restrictions the fact that it is a UN conference, for example we could not post opinion to a statement by a country. Inside the COP venue, events happen parallel and very fast, from the plenary sessions to the side events. You have to be a fast learner to get in sync with everything. The most challenging experience was the closing ceremony which went on until 5am in the morning because the budget committee had not finalized yet. We had to wait!

We grew social media reach and numbers significantly with over 100,000 total post views and proud that the followers who were thousands of kilometers away had the awesome coverage of the entire process, from both working group 1 & 2.

A lot of topics caught my attention for example synthetic biology and how some organizations were pushing for it while others were against. I realized how important such policies discussed at these conferences are, and how they affect our future, more so for young people from developing states.

You also can’t forget to talk about the beautiful white sand beaches of Cancun and the amazing Mexican food. It was worth an experience.

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