For a week this June I plunged into the unfamiliar world of truly international deal making and intrigue. This, sadly, was not up front among the Heads of State and Government at the G20 in Hamburg, but at the Y20 in Berlin, which was hosted a month earlier to compile the worldwide perspective of young people into a report to be presented to the G20 host, government Sherpas and beyond. The stage was set for the daunting undertaking of 70 young people aged 18-35 to create a 30 page report on issues from climate change to global trade to counter-terrorism to empowering women to medical emergencies, and present it to Angela Merkel in 6 days time.
Accompanied by Anna Barker for the first half of the process and Pegah Moulana for the second, I set out, as the UK Representative, with two key aims: that the youth angle on President Trumps withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was a tough one, and that the document as a whole was sharp grammatically and clear of the drivel which so often plagues policy documents. We also set out to get Mental Health Awareness, which is still very much in its infancy in the vast majority of the world, on to the agenda, and unlike any year before it was. I ended up on the climate committee, renamed Climate First, and pushed forward the agenda that the G20 leaders must ground the Paris agreement more deeply by involving more sub-state actors like cities, businesses and state/county/provincial governments in the process. Furthermore, with a firm belief in presenting more solutions than problems, we sought out and adopted several innovative ideas concerning waste disposal, carbon trading and preventative measures to prevent the developing world from making the same polluting mistakes.
However, the event was not without its controversy. As you may expect, several national representatives could not support many issues of equality which we champion in this country. As a consequence, rather than explicit messages of support, more subtle methods had to be found. There was also disagreement in the room whether gender quotas with fixed percentage targets were morally right, with an eventual compromise being met that we must attain a more gender balanced society in all spheres of life. Perhaps the most visible UK contribution into the final touches was pushing through the decision that the document should be in UK rather than US English, as a visible sign of defiance against the Trump climate and immigration agendas which were addressed in the document. Furthermore, the UK and Australia established an English language committee go through the final document making grammatical and wording differences to the document, to ensure it was easy to understand, consistent and youth-friendly, the whole process taking a team of 6 over 5 hours well past midnight.
Finally the day came to present to Merkel, a colossus on the world stage having now served as Chancellor of Germany for nearly 12 years. The presentation took place at the heart of the Chancellory in a large circular room with delegates, translators, TV cameras, the press. She walked in with a smile on her face holding her hands in the familiar diamond shaped clasp which has become her trademark. I had not won the randomly selected place to present on behalf of climate change, though with a seat at the inner table had the opportunity to add supplementary information to Chancellor Merkel, firstly emphasising that the G20 was a place to make a statement to Trump on his withdrawal and to start building sub-national networks to bulwark the agreement in place. I also addressed an issue that had been underrepresented in the presentation so far – a mistrust in her. Well, not just her, but all the politicians, and the process as a whole which seems to review the same issues every year to the tune of billions of pounds and end up with non-action and lies. She seemed to, in her own discrete way, frustratedly agree.
However, with the G20 now over I can see that, in part, I was wrong. The summit still ended with no cast iron guarantees but it had sent a message. The message spread across social media of Donald Trump being snubbed by foreign leaders, and statement after statement on the Paris agreement. I don’t pretend to believe that the Y20 is solely responsible for this, but it brings to mind one of Aesop’s maxims, “Sticks in a bundle can’t be broken but sticks taken singly can be easily broken. Same applies to people.”