Coming to my first COP I am pleasantly surprised by the amount of passionate youth dedicated to making an impact in their world that I have met at the conference. It’s difficult to go to a side event without making contact at least once with a young person who has developed a project in their local community or created a youth climate advocacy organization. The passion and dedication of my generation is alive and well at COP22.
Yet is this passion being utilized as it should? I for one don’t believe it is. From what I’ve seen this week at COP22, youth involvement here seems to come in two forms. First, there’s the meetings where youth discuss youth issues with other youth. These are important tools for organization and development of a strong common message, yet discussion in a closed circuit of youth will not influence much outside of these meetings unless combined with action.
Second, there’s the token involvement of youth from high level officials, an issue brought up by Siamak Loni, Global Coordinator of SDSN Youth. Ministers and representatives from various countries will come to an event, give an impassioned speech on the importance of involving youth and then leave when their speech is over. They do not listen to the presentations and speeches of the youth. This form of involvement may make the high level official look good, but what real impact does it have?
At a side event on intergenerational equity and youth empowerment hosted by the Italian Climate Network and the Taiwan Youth Climate Network, Ronny Jumeau, the climate change ambassador of the Seychelles, called for national delegations to include the active participation of youth. This inclusion shouldn’t come through token speeches with little weight behind them, but through actually giving youth the coveted pink badges and including them as official members of the national delegation.
By relegating youth to youth-focused side events and discussions we are allowing youth to be seen as the “other.” When youth are allowed to participate directly in the negotiations through national delegations the idea that youth are a vital and necessary part of all climate change talks is solidified. Until more countries follow the example led by the Seychelles, the Philippines, and other countries with involved youth delegates we can’t state that the passion and dedication brought by youth is being utilized as it should.
As COP22 winds down talk is turning towards COP23. Let’s hope in Bonn we see more youth actively included in national delegations in a way that allows for their active involvement in these vital negotiations.