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Deepa Gupta on Youth and the Global South

June 11, 2009

I mentioned before how many impressive 20-somethings I’ve met here at the Bonn climate talks. I haven’t yet given them a chance to speak for themselves on the issues they are passionate about, so an interview was in order.

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Deepa Gupta has been a leader at the Bonn conference by leading a fundraising effort to bring youth from the Global South to Copenhagen in December. She is also the co-founder of the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN), and was an Indian Coordinator for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. In February she participated in theĀ IYCN Climate Solutions Road Tour, a five-week trip across India in an electric car. NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote about the project, mentioning Deepa specifically. I sat down with Deepa to learn more about her and the issues she cares about.

So how did you first get involved in climate change issues?

I got involved probably in the start of 2006. I joined up to my Enviro Collective. I didn’t do very much in 2006 because I was mainly interested in animal rights and poverty issues, but a girl in Enviro wanted to do climate change issues. When she graduated, I became the default person. What became my goal in 2008 at the University of Technology Sydney was to begin lobbying and building strong relationships between staff and students with the whole idea of collaboration [on climate change issues]. Simultaneously, I was working with PricewaterhouseCoopers, the world’s largest accounting firm. With my interest in the environment, they asked me to do a presentation on climate change, which was a big deal. I was the most junior staff. After the presentation they asked me to be on a business development team and to keep working with climate change in that area.

You’ve worked a lot with the Global South. What is the Global South? Are they all developing countries?

Good question. Generally, the developing countries are in the South. By saying ‘developing’ countries and ‘developed’ countries you attach a value judgment to them. Even more so with ‘third world’ countries vs ‘first world’ countries. This is a way of avoiding that.

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Why do you think it’s important that the Global South is proportionately represented at these conferences?

You can’t call yourself a global youth movement until you’re actually a gloal youth movement. And the countries that are most affected by climate change are those that are least represented. This often becomes a debate among those that are polluting the most. It should be driven by principles of humanity. A huge part of justice is just representation from every country. Same thing with youth.

There are three things we want to do [by having Global South youth at the Copenhagen conference]. First, we want to have a truly global voice at the actions in Copenhagen. Second, we want to build capacity for youth movements in those other places. It’s easier for us who are privileged with education to mobilize, but it’s our responsibility to teach and support those that don’t have that privilege. Third, we want to give them a chance meet the people who are doing inspiring things around the world. Someone may be in Nigeria wondering how he can make a difference but now he will have have connections around the world.

What do you think about the divide between “youth” and the rest of the NGOs at these conferences? Why are the two separated?

I don’t see them very separate.

NGOs love the youth.The youth can’t stand the bureacratic processes. We’re a little impatient, a little more nimble. We’re just different. A lot more idealism to a certain degree. We come from different generations and different ways of doing things, which is why if we are without NGOs we would have to do what they have to do. Instead we are able to use our excitement as a strength.

And the very issue is more about younger people. It’s all about the future. Since we are the ultimate stakeholder, it’s important that we highlight this as well. We have this moral legitimacy that adults don’t have.

Another reason is egos. You have a lot of egos. A lot of times when adults talk to adults their egos get in the way. But youth talking to delegates sometimes softens them up. This is the one things where I don’t want to grow up because everyoneloves you when you’re young. You don’t get that leeway when you grow up.

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For more information, you can follow her on Twitter at DeepaGupta. You may also read her Adopt-a-Negotiator post, “My first date with the Indian negotiators in Bonn.”

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