Christopher Palmer visits a project organized by one of the Climate Champions, Mita Sirait. The project aims at improving water sanitation for community at coastal area of Cilincing, North Jakarta. Courtesy of British Council Indonesia] Getting there: Christopher Palmer (second left) visits a project organized by one of the Climate Champions, Mita Sirait. The project aims at improving water sanitation for community at coastal area of Cilincing, North Jakarta. Courtesy of British Council Indonesia
Regulars to international conferences on climate change may have seen Chris Palmer. He is the tall unassuming lightly-bearded Brit with a distinctly English accent who works the corridors of these big meetings. He was at the big UN conference in Bali in December 2007, and again in Poznan, Poland, last year. He will surely be there in Copenhagen later this year, as nations hammer a new international agreement on how to save planet Earth from destruction from rising temperatures.
Palmer does not represent Britain or any country, or any environmental organizations for that matter. Instead, he is at these meetings to ensure that the most important but often forgotten stakeholders get their voices heard: the younger generation. At 54, Palmer is not exactly young, but when talking to him it is clear that he feels very passionately and strongly that any discussion on a new global agreement about climate change must involve the youth. And it is his job at the British Council to ensure this happens.
“It’s too late for the current generation, but not for the next generation,” the outgoing director of Learning and Creativity at British Council Indonesia says. It was his three-year term in Indonesia, which formally ends this week, that brought him to this preoccupation with youth representation, and probably to the new assignment awaiting him in London: as the British Council’s coordinator for global input into the Copenhagen climate change conference.
The council has selected young people, including Indonesians, to travel to Copenhagen. They will not so much speak as demonstrate their leadership and their work that is already making a difference in their respective communities or countries. “There is already an awful lot of talk in climate change,” Palmer says. “You can argue endlessly.”
The British Council delegation comprises what it calls “champions” from its acclaimed Asian Young Leaders Climate Forum (AYLCF) program. These are young people selected for their performance, their strong commitments and their potential in mobilizing and influencing others to contribute to saving our planet. Palmer says Indonesia spearheaded this movement of youths leading by example. The AYLCF was an idea that came from a 2006 meeting in Bogor just outside Jakarta, initiated by the British Council, which at the time was trying to find innovative ways of bringing young people on board the climate change debate.
This subsequently became the model adopted by the British Council in other countries around the world. Dozens of these young champions from across Asia were brought to their first meeting in Bogor, held in parallel to the UN conference in Bali in 2007. Some of these young leaders were later flown to Bali to meet with delegates and to showcase their works at the conference. This process was repeated in Poznan last year.
A highlight at these two events was meeting Sir Nicholas Stern, the British academic whose seminal 2006 report on the economics of climate change prompted the world to take global warming more seriously. Palmer recalls how the meeting with Sir Nicholas in Poznan got changed and delayed several times before it eventually took place at the British Council office there. Champions help one another where they can, Palmer says. A champion in the Indonesian province of Aceh working on an environmentally sustainable cocoa plantation is being assisted by another champion in Singapore who is familiar with the fair-trade mechanism.
A project to introduce solar-powered ovens in Central Java is getting financial assistance from a champion in Japan who knows how to get corporate sponsorships. One of the Indonesian champions, Ibnu Najib, a staffer at the Office of the State Minister for State Enterprises, early this year addressed a committee of the Scottish Parliament on their new climate bill. Ibnu also helped run a major climate workshop held under the auspices of former American vice president Al Gore, in Melbourne.
Although he is deeply saddened about leaving Indonesia, Palmer, who only became directly engaged in climate change work during his time in Indonesia since 2006, has become even more convinced that young people should be involved and engaged. And now he finds it much easier to get youths engaged and to act. “It’s their future. We’re not going to be around that much longer to worry too much,” he says.
An archipelago country straddling the Equator, Indonesia will feel the brunt of the global warming more so than most other countries, he says. “A one or two-degree rise in temperature for England would mean we could produce champagne. But for Indonesia, it will sink many islands and this will have a massive demographic impact.”
“This has been a steep learning curve for me,” Palmer says about his job on climate change in Indonesia. His long years of experience in Brazil before arriving in Indonesia helped him prepare for the job. Brazil and Indonesia host the largest tracts of tropical rainforests and both countries are experiencing massive rapid deforestation. Since the rest of the world has a stake in preserving these forests to prevent global warming, they must help Indonesia and Brazil.
Palmer, a native of Canterbury, Kent, has many ongoing projects in Indonesia that he would not be able to attend to directly because of his new responsibilities in London. One of them is the inclusion of climate change education into the curriculums of secondary schools in Indonesia. The British Council is also sending dozens of Indonesian school headmasters to take part in workshops in England to sharpen their awareness of the problems of global warming and what schools can do to help. A competition on entrepreneurship and climate change for schools is now in its final stage with more than 200 entries. “We have some excellent projects,” Palmer says.
He did not see any contradiction between conservation and the profit motive that underpins entrepreneurship. “I don’t have a problem with that. The environment can be exploited positively or negatively,” he says. Everywhere, people need to make a living, and the challenge is to make their production mechanisms sustainable, he says.
His other focus while in Indonesia has been in helping the country develop its creative industries. A major project being carried out with the council assisting the Industry Ministry is aiming to turn Bandung into the center of Indonesia’s creative industries. Palmer learned that Indonesia could reap huge benefits from the sector, which currently represents 6 percent of the gross domestic product. “Indonesia is full of creative people, probably more so than other nations,” he says.
“Young people and education are two of my passions,” says the holder of master’s degree in language from York University in the UK. Palmer now counts Indonesian as his eighth foreign language, after Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Polish and Arabic.
Palmer has two young sons, Alexander (16) and Sebastian (12), from his marriage to Gillian. Given the challenge of his new job in London, will Indonesia see Palmer returning any time soon? You bet. With the British Council not replacing the position he is vacating, Palmer may have to come back here to personally see the completion of some of the great projects he initiated over the past three years.