For two weeks, the entire world had been laying its eyes upon COP26, deemed the most important climate change conference in history following the signing of the Paris Agreement, which would decide whether we could ‘keep 1.5 alive’ or not (1). Within and outside of COP, the demands and actions of youth are loud and clear- more ambitious and inclusive climate actions from national leaders.
The youth has been the major driver of the Climate Movement around the world, accelerated by the Fridays For Future Movement (2) that Greta Thunberg spearheaded. However, despite the enormous efforts to push for more ambitious climate actions, the youth is still left out of the decision-making table and lacks the right to express opinions and perspectives, even at COP26. Indeed, there is multiple challenges youth face at COP, which in turn makes the role of youth much more important in influencing the decision-making process with our voices missing. Youth needs to be part of the conversation which will affect the future of many.
Inaccessible and non-inclusive COP?
The prerequisite to attending COP is to have a badge that allows you to go into negotiations to observe. There are different types of badges, such as ‘party’ badge, ‘press’ badge, ‘observer’ badge which is the most common badge to get. On one hand, some parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) might grant youth in their nations ‘party’ badges and form a national youth delegation; on the other, youths individually could only get them through an accredited institution or organisation (3) under the UNFCCC, provided that there are remaining badges available for youth.
Even with a badge, going to COP amidst the pandemic poses a heavy financial burden, especially for youth, with COVID-restrictions, visas, traveling, and accommodation costs accounted for. With the Conference having the largest number of delegates ever this year, hotel prices skyrocketed with limited accommodation capacity in Glasgow (4), making it extremely difficult for youth without access to adequate fundings or financial resources to get to COP.
Hence, it is not surprising that youth from the most affected areas and the Global South have been denied the chance to access COP(5) from the very beginning.
Within COP, there is also an obvious inaccessibility issue for youth. With the ticketing system in place in regard to COVID regulations, the Children and Youth Constituency under UNFCCC (YOUNGO), with over 15 different working groups, was only given 4 tickets to attend negotiations, only as an observer. Though the system was dropped after days of confusion and opposition from delegates, there was still a cap on the capacity of observers, where youth are not guaranteed a spot to enter the negotiations to observe. On top of the fact that there are already lots of closed-door meetings and negotiations happening, it made the entire process inaccessible for youth and civil society in general.
It has been claimed that COP26 is the most inclusive COP ever, but is it?
Global youth representatives delivering youth statements at the Official Closing Plenary when country representatives had already left the room.
At negotiations, youth and civil societies are placed at last to speak, but only if time allows. Youth and constituencies are not guaranteed the right to speak and propose ideas unless there is time left in the room, even if youth and NGOs prepared their 2-minutes statements and were fortunate enough to be allowed in. One particular personal experience could symbolise the value of and place that youth and civil societies hold in COPs. While I had the chance to represent and speak on behalf of global youth at the Official Closing Plenary of COP26, by the time constituencies and we got to speak, the majority of the country representatives had already left the room. What’s left is an empty room, where we wondered, are youth’s and civil societies’ voices valued and heard at COP? Is COP really inclusive?
Without a doubt, the youth is entitled to the right to speak and have a say at the decision-making table, nothing less than that. However, with the inaccessibility, lack of youth inclusion, and other challenges at COP, some of you may ask, how could youth influence the process?
Within or outside of COP, youth and civil society are incremental to the decision-making process, from striking to drafting policy recommendations.
Had there been no constant pressure and demands from youth, the Glasgow Climate Pact might have excluded some of the fundamental languages and principles that are detrimental to ambitious climate actions in this decade.
Climate Activists Putting On Pressure from the Outside
Although COP might not be accessible for youth, youth outside of the venue were actively organising demonstrations, strikes to reiterate the need for more ambitious climate actions, to amplify their voices for the world’s attention with the scale of actions happening at COP, and to keep up with the pressure put on world leaders’ shoulders. To the youth, voicing out is not an option, but rather a need to survive the current and future environment under the severe impacts of the climate crisis.
Global Day of Action for Climate Justice with different groups and orgasnisations urging for solid actions now.
Fridays for Future Scotland, part of a youth-led and organised global climate strike movement organised a large-scale strike that took place on the first week’s Friday in Glasgow, with around 10,000 people (6) joining the protest. Whilst questioning the inactions of leaders and legibility of the decision-making process at COP, the youth were calling for immediate concrete climate actions from leaders and mobilisation of public pressure on leaders in process of climate negotiations. Following Friday’s protest is the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice (6th November), organised by COP26 Coalition. With an exceeding turnout number of 100,000 participants in Glasgow (7), it gathers Indigenous People, Racial Justice Groups, Youth Strikers together to show unified support towards more human-centric climate solutions as well as immediate actions that recognise and focus on climate justice. Being there firsthand, I could hear the continuous chants from youths, ‘What do we want? Climate Justice. When do we want it? Now’; ‘Power to the People’; ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’...etc.
Even though some youth do not have access to COP to create changes from within, they strike, protest and march on the outside to build up power from coalitions and civil society, so that they could make voices, demands, and frustrations of the people heard by the leaders as climate activists.
Agents of Change and Lobbyists from Within
Desperate to represent global youth and involve youth’s voices in the negotiation process, the youth from within are the proactive agents of changes that did not miss any opportunities to advocate, lobby, and have any extent of influence on the negotiation process.
The official Youth & Children Constituency of the UNFCCC, YOUNGO, has different working groups with specific topics (e.g. cities, renewable energy, adaptation...etc.). During the 2 weeks of COP, working groups arranged daily meetings to discuss probable strategies to have youths’ voices heard, ranging from drafting policy recommendations and proposals, reaching out to country negotiators, to staging small-scale demonstrations or actions.
Part of the ACE Working Group at one of the final informal consultation (negotiation)
on the Glasgow Work Program.
For instance, the Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) Working Group scheduled meetings with negotiators to provide solid concrete policy solutions for the brand new Glasgow Work Program and lobbied throughout the process, leading to buy-ins from Parties during negotiation processes. With active engagement with respective country representatives and proactive lobbying approaches, it resulted in the adoption of the youth inclusion element into the new Glasgow Work Program, directly from the Working Group’s policy proposal.
This is a testament to the power of youth and the importance of youth working from within with clear targets, goals along with ambitious and collective actions.
What’s Next for Youth before COP27?
COP26 concluded with calls for more inclusion and representation, more focus on climate justice and human rights, and more ambitious and solid climate actions in all aspects. Following the outcome of COP26, the youth will keep on pressuring their governments to fulfill their promises and pledges and to avoid empty promises; the youth will convene together for more ambitious and solid policy solutions; the youth will continue building their capacity and raise awareness at all levels...
The role of youth is as important as it could ever be in the climate crisis, as climate activists, strikers, lobbyists, changemakers at the community, national, regional, and international level. Youth is part of the solution and should have the right to voice out and be part of the decision-making processes that affect their future.
Nothing about us without us.
1 Bassetti, F. (2021).COP26: the Latest Attempt to Keep 1.5 Alive. Retrieved 30 Nov 2021, from https://www.climateforesight.eu/global-policy/cop26-keep-1-5-alive/
2 Fisher, Dana. (2019). The broader importance of #FridaysForFuture. Nature Climate Change. 9. 10.1038/s41558-019-0484-y.
3 UNFCCC-How to obtain observer status.Retrieved 30 Nov 2021, from https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/parties-non-party-stakeholders/non-party-stakeholders/overview/how-to-obtain-observer-status
4 BBC News-COP26: Cruise ship arrives on River Clyde to accommodate summit goers. Retrieved 30 Nov 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-58897151
5 Shetty, D. (2021). COP26 disappoints young people from developing countries. Retrieved 30 Nov 2021, from https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/climate/cop26-disappoints-youth-from-global-south/
6 Walsh, A. (2021). COP26: Fridays for Future protest calls for climate action, not hollow promises. Retrieved 30 Nov 2021, from https://www.dw.com/en/cop26-fridays-for-future-protest-calls-for-climate-action-not-hollow-promises/a-59720397
7 Kottasová, I and Fox, K. (2021). Global day of action to demand climate justice. Retrieved 30 Nov 2021, from https://edition.cnn.com/world/live-news/cop26-summit-2021-protests-11-06-21-intl/index.html