New Zealand Law Society - New Zealand Youth Delegation

New Zealand Youth Delegation

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Despite the Paris terrorist tragedies of early November, New Zealand Youth Delegation (NZYD) 2015 co-convenor James Young-Drew is all set to go to Paris for the United Nations Climate Change conference.

NZYD is a non-partisan organisation that gives young New Zealanders the opportunity to be officially accredited at United Nations climate change conferences.

NZYD is committed to fair and effective climate action to safeguard the interests of current and future generations, he says.

The born and bred Wellingtonian completed his law degree from Victoria University and after a year gallivanting across Italy with a theatre troupe, he is now working as a law clerk at Wigley & Company solicitors.

photo of James Young-Drew
James Young-Drew

Mr Young-Drew enjoys the challenge of engaging with the law and he relishes the prospect of further developing those skills as part of the legal profession. He thinks that a legal career can co-exist alongside and, in many ways, complement activist aspirations.

While he wasn't always socially minded, his interest developed as a result of meeting "extraordinarily selfless individuals at university".

"I have a sneaking suspicion I learnt far more from my fellow university students than I did from textbooks.

"Navigating the 'law' is a scary and confusing proposition for many. This includes law students and, from time to time, some practitioners, I'm sure. But I think 'legal activism' is a much wider concept than courtroom advocacy or access to justice. The law underpins almost every form of social and political activism, which makes legal skills and knowledge very valuable."

Excellent example

Climate change is an excellent example of the law underpinning activist enterprise, he says.

"Whether climate change solutions are sought in the international, domestic, business or community arena, there is almost always a web of legal and regulatory issues to be addressed, challenged, overcome."

Climate change is a social justice issue, he says.

For example, several low-lying Pacific islands are already facing the prospect of rising seas destroying their homeland, their culture, and their future as nation state.

Globally, the effects of climate change will disproportionately affect indigenous peoples, women, children, and the impoverished, despite the fact that these peoples have contributed the least to the causes of climate change.

"I think that our collective response to this social justice issue will define my generation."

The 2015 delegation, comprised of nine young Kiwis, is travelling to the Paris conference where the world's nations are set to negotiate the terms of a universally binding agreement on climate.

Necessary measures

New Zealand's commitments going into the Paris conference fall far short of the measures necessary to keep climate change below the internationally-agreed guardrail of 2°C, he says.

"We believe New Zealand's unwillingness to transition to a low carbon economy will create significant opportunity cost, reputational loss, and long-term economic risk."

New Zealand's emission commitments are modelled on two very specific factors: the ability to offset emissions through forestry, and New Zealand's access to international carbon markets, he says.

"These could be sink-or-swim issues for our negotiators in Paris."

In his capacity as a delegate, Mr Young-Drew hopes to achieve three things in Paris.

"The first is to fulfil our designated role as civil society observers by ensuring that New Zealand's climate negotiators are held to account. A related goal is to enhance public discourse around climate change by communicating developments from Paris to people back home. Finally, from a more personal perspective, the conference will be an incredible opportunity to engage with international issues, and to develop our activist and legal skills."

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