Where Kids Run the World
On April 28, representatives of China called for a worldwide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, saying that "global warming is an extremely pressing issue" and that if countries don't join together in stopping it, "the world will be forever changed."
The nation of Cameroon agreed. "Global warming is an ongoing, exceeding crisis in our world," its officials said.
If you didn't read about this in the newspaper, it's because China and Cameroon didn't actually say that -- but they might if kids ran the world.
At a Model United Nations conference, they do.
Late last month, hundreds of middle schoolers from the Washington area gathered at the State Department for one such conference. Representing different countries, they met just as the real United Nations does in New York: raising cards printed with their countries' names in order to vote, abiding by time limits on speaking, and proposing motions to talk about different ideas.
Desmond O'Brien, a sixth-grader from Janney Elementary in Northwest, represented Morocco, an African country bordered on two sides by water. Using language often heard at the actual United Nations, Desmond motioned (asked) for a five-minute moderated caucus (meeting) to discuss rising sea levels.
The other countries denied his request.
A motion for a five-minute unmoderated discussion (during which the kids/countries talk among themselves) about global warming was approved.
Speaking with representatives of Burundi and India, China's delegation argued that China, as a developing country, should have less-strict limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. (These emissions, from cars and factories, are thought to contribute to global warming.)
Not giving China a break is "like [placing a] weight on a child," said Kevin Cao, a seventh-grader at Frost Middle School in Fairfax, who was representing that country.
Meanwhile, representatives of Turkey, Bangladesh and Pakistan were talking about the Kyoto Protocol, a real-life agreement among more than 175 countries to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The students debated whether the pact is fair to smaller countries that don't produce a lot of emissions. Maybe the standards should be based on population, they said. (The real agreement divides countries into two categories: developed and developing.)
When that discussion ended, delegates returned to their seats for a moderated session during which Sweden said it "would like to develop new techniques" to fight global warming, Antigua proposed "developing a beach preservation plan" and Thailand supported "finding alternative energy sources."
As the conference neared an end, the kids wrote "resolution papers" -- just as actual U.N. representatives might -- on how their countries would address global warming.
The kids continued to discuss solutions, including a national month when people wouldn't use any energy, and raising taxes to fight global warming.
Desmond, for Morocco, pressed again for a discussion of rising sea levels. He didn't get it. What he did get, he decided over lunch, was hands-on knowledge about how the real United Nations works.
Before, "I didn't know what a resolution paper was, or a working paper," he said. Nor did he know much about Morocco. But all that had changed, thanks to Model United Nations.
-- Moira E. McLaughlin