Speaking youth to power at COP26

November 5th was Youth Day at COP26, happening in Glasgow, UK. Early last week, the conference officially started with country delegations, businesses, civil society and young people converging at what has been described as the world’s most important climate conference. In this blog, I reflect on my own participation at previous COP events, as well as what could be different about this year when it comes to having meaningful conversations with young people.

COP26, so far, has had some wins. For example, there has been a commitment to end deforestation by 2030. However, following negotiations on the Action for Climate Empowerment last Friday, parties are refusing to acknowledge that public participation should be informed by human rights. The climate crisis is a human rights crisis; when we remove a rights-based approach to climate action, we miss an essential part of developing impactful solutions.

It is also important to note that, from October 28th – 31st, 2021, just a few days before the main COP events started, a Conference of Youth (COY16) was organised by YOUNGO, the official children and youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The central objective of the COY is to empower young people and include their voices in the formal UNFCCC processes to shape intergovernmental climate change policies. Below is the summary statement from this year’s COY16:

Thousands of youths from all over the world have come together to demand change from global leaders. Inputs from individuals, environmental organizations and educational institutions have been brought together with the expertise of our policy teams to highlight the most indispensable action points to tackle the ongoing climate crisis. In 15 thematics, we urge world leaders at COP26 to once and for all provide the necessary policy framework to win our fight for 1.5°C.We are here to hold decision-makers accountable for their actions and demand they finally step up their game.”

Are we not loud enough?

On November 5th, there were several youth-centered events, ranging from the youth climate strikes to the youth and public empowerment event, which explored elevating the voices of young people and demonstrating the critical role of public empowerment and education in climate change.

I personally believe that in recent years, young people’s voices have been most elevated through climate strikes, multiple social movements, and youth-led climate action. Young people have been at the forefront of raising awareness on climate injustice and its impact on vulnerable communities. Young people are already loud enough, but the COP presidency isn’t listening. They should consider hosting a listening event where the demands of young people (like the summary statement above) can be adhered to and commitments made for action in the coming months.

COP26 can be true to children and youths

At the last COP25 event which was held in Madrid, I recall being overwhelmed and angry at the overall turnout of the event. I had been invited to make a presentation about my work with young people in Nigeria and was asked to speak for only 2 minutes. I felt that inviting me to speak at that session was a very tokenistic way of including a young person.

This COP event will only be true to young people if our feelings about the climate crisis are validated. Our feelings of anger, fear, overwhelm, shame and powerlessness are healthy responses to the climate crisis. Therefore,  the usual attitude of ignoring young people, calling them names and refusing to acknowledge their voices is a crucial part of the climate crisis. Quoting UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta Fore in their recent COP26 press release:

“Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing this generation, with 1 billion children at extremely high risk. Yet, while the outlook is dire, world leaders at COP26 have a significant, time-sensitive opportunity to redirect the terrible path we are on. They can do so by committing to strengthening the resilience of services that children depend upon, and by cutting emissions faster and deeper. The futures of billions of children depend on it…. COP26 must therefore be a COP for children.”

On November 5th thousands of young people marched in solidarity for climate change, chanting passionately and asking leaders to take urgent action to protect our future.  I hope that they are listened to. I hope that adults listen and support our voices going forward. We know that collective hope is needed in our fight for a better planet, and therefore young people will continue to “speak youth to power” at events like COP, on social media and at the local community level.

I hope that the summary statement from the COY event is also clearly discussed and that for a change, there will be real commitments backed by action, investment and plans to truly drive youth participation in climate change decision making. I hope that I will not go back home feeling as overwhelmed as I did in Madrid and that COP26 is true to me and other young people present in Glasgow.

Photo credit: DefundClimateChaos_SF_IMG_4032-1 | Peg HunterCC BY-NC 2.0