The Climate Generation and the Fight for Better Representation
Over the past decade, some of the most prominent and largest climate action campaigns have been spearheaded by youth. Millions of young people, including children as young as 11 years old, have gathered together to campaign not just for urgent climate action, but also for stronger youth representation at climate talks, which is vital in the fight for more impactful change.
NGOs such as YOUNGO, a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) civil society, have been established to give children and youth an opportunity to engage with political leaders and participate in official COP proceedings. YOUNGO organises a pre-COP event known as the Conference of Youth (COY) in the three days preceding COP, where participants can voice their concerns and experiences regarding the climate crisis.
Nevertheless, whilst progress concerning youth involvement in policy-making has been made, youth still face stringent political and social barriers, especially in many countries in the Global South, where opportunities to participate in governmental decisions are scarce. In a recent questionnaire sent out to Mock COP26 volunteers and delegates about youth involvement and climate progress, 80% of them agreed that youth should play a stronger role in shaping policy, but revealed that their local governments do not consider their opinions important enough to address in official negotiations.
According to Harriet Thew, a Postgraduate Researcher and Graduate Teaching Associate at The Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, YOUNGO, in particular, have found it difficult to develop relationships with individual policymakers and offer concrete realistic solutions due to their lack of material power, which has thwarted their ability to sustain participation over the long term. She believes that ‘’if the UNFCCC wishes for youth to remain engaged in the UNFCCC as constructive rather than disruptive actors, they should invest in ensuring that the early experiences of new participants are positive ones, and that participatory arrangements take account of the differentiated abilities of NSAs [ Non-State Actors] to utilize them, paying particular attention to those endowed with less Material Power.’
Needless to say, youth must play a more significant role in policy-making because they have a right to shape their future and protect our planet from irreversible damage. Leaving key decisions related to climate mitigation and sustainability solely to older generations, many of whom don’t show as much dedication to the climate action cause, would be short-sighted. Moreover, youth participants at climate talks tend to have greater moral integrity than their adult counterparts because they are not being paid to be there or being guided by someone else’s political or economic agenda.
Soon, Mock COP26 will be sending an open letter to COP26 and the UNFCCC, calling on them to feature a stronger, more inclusive youth presence before and during the COP conference in November, so stay tuned!