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Heeding young Voices at COP27

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Graphic: REUTERS/Emilie Madi – Climate activists protest against big polluters at the Sharm El-Sheikh International Convention Centre, during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 10, 2022.

By Dominic Naidoo

The 27th session of the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference of the People (COP27) is in full swing in Sharm-el Sheikh, Egypt. The conference, which began on 06 November, will see the largest gathering of world leaders, climate negotiators and climate stakeholders against a the backdrop of extreme global weather events, an energy crisis propelled by the war in Europe, and scientific data reiterating that the world is not doing enough to tackle carbon emissions and protect the future of our planet.

Last year’s conference, COP26, marked five years since the signing of the Paris Agreement and culminated in the Glasgow Climate Pact, which kept the goal of curbing global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius alive, but “with a weak pulse”, as the then UK Presidency declared.

Nations also promised to deliver improved commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions at this year’s meeting but so far, only 23 out of 193 have delivered their plans to it, a UN press release says.

According to the Presidential vision statement, COP27 will be about moving from negotiations, and “planning for implementation” for all these promises and pledges made. Egypt has called for full, timely, inclusive, and at-scale action on the ground.

One of the main points of discussion at this year’s COP will be the continuation of talks regarding the issue of “loss and damage”, which remained inconclusive at last year’s event.

According to UN News, loss and damage financing will assist countries at the frontlines of the crisis to deal with the consequences of climate change that go beyond what they can adapt to.

Negotiations will also continue regarding the fulfilment of the promise of an annual amount of $100 billion from developed nations which will assist developing nations to reinforce and develop important climate adaptation strategies.

Loss and damage is certainly an interesting topic to discuss and is hotly debated in climate circles around the world. In a nutshell, loss and damage is the term used to describe the negative impacts climate change is having on the planet, more specifically, the negative impacts experienced by those least responsible. Those least responsible are developing countries, largely the global south, whose lifetime emissions pale in comparison to western powerhouses such as the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Europe and Australia.

It is generally agreed that developing nations facing climate catastrophes need financial assistance from developed nations to help them to develop viable and sustainable climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

It is in these discussions within global youth voices are needed the most. Young people are the ones who are going to be faced with increasing climate disasters in the decades to come, they need to be included in discussions that ultimately affect them.

For this very reason, the UN created YOUNGO, which is a combination of the terms “Youth” and “NGO.”

YOUNGO is the Youth Constituency of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).

It consists of youth-led organisations, groups, delegations, and individuals from all over the world working in climate change-related fields.

YOUNGO runs various working groups which focus on specific aspects of climate change within the UNFCCC negotiations and events to ensure that the perspectives of young and future generations are taken into account in the multilateral decision-making processes. The organisation was formed in 2009 as an official constituency to the UNFCCC which holds the right to be represented at negotiations organised by the UNFCCC. It is also invited to represent youth at other UN events related to climate change.

YOUNGO also plays an important role in organising the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Youth or COYs that takes place days before COP. This year marked the 17th session of the COY where global youth met demands to make a “Global Youth Statement” on climate change.

The statement consists of demands compiled by youth from around the world during regional COYs and then further refined at the international meeting. Last year’s statement was presented to COP26 president, Alok Sharma, at a ceremony in Glasgow which I was privileged to attend.

The opening statement read: “COP26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, is the make-or-break moment for the future of our planet. Over the past year, the increasing frequency and severity of global climate-related disasters, combined with the IPCC’s warning, labelled as ‘code red for humanity’ by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, highlight the imperative for ambitious and immediate climate action.”

Picture: Taylen Reddy Young people participate in Climate talks during a session held as part of the overall COP27 conference in Egypt.

One of the overarching demands that came out of COY16, unifying all themes, is that the “youth should be actively and meaningfully included in all decision-making processes concerning climate change governance and implementation.”

The statement called for youth policy demands to be integrated into national and international agendas and commitments. The youth demanded an inter-sectional approach to youth inclusion in environmental governance, acknowledging that the climate crisis affects some communities and social groups disproportionately, and recognising that the climate crisis is a broader socio-political crisis that necessitates systemic and radical action.

The following focus areas were detailed in the global youth statement:

● Politics and Policy-making

● Under-represented Groups

● Energy

● Climate Finance and Markets

● Loss and Damage

● Food and Agriculture

● Sustainable Cities and Communities

● Mobility and Transportation

● Health

● Climate Justice and Human Rights

● Sustainable Consumption and Production

● Water, Sanitation and Oceans

● Wildlife and Environmental Conservation

● Technology Transfer and Innovation

● Arts, Culture and Heritage

Taylen Reddy, a 22-year-old South African delegate who attended the 17th Conference of Youth in Sharm-el-Sheikh last week said that the conference allowed him the “opportunity to meet scores of amazing young people from all over the world, all with the same goal raising awareness and committing to the cause of finding sustainable solutions to many of the issues our planet faces while also holding the people harming it accountable for their actions”.

Reddy is a Global Youth Ambassador for Break Free from Plastic, an organisation advocating for the eradication of single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis.

“It’s extremely important for youth to be actively involved in policy making as we are the ones that are going to carry this burden in the future. We need to prepare for this adequately by inclusion in all processes of mitigation and adaptation for climate change,” Reddy said.

Even if global carbon emissions are reduced, the effects of climate change will go on and we need to prepare to deal with that. This was discussed during an African Youth Adaptation session by Desmond Alugnoa, co-founder of GAYO.

Reddy also took part in the drafting of a youth statement which will be passed on and considered during negotiations at COP27, allowing the voices of youth to be heard during these talks.

“It was an honour representing South Africa, a country in the Global South that faces so many issues that are exacerbated by climate change.

We, as youth from the Global South, need our voices to be heard as we experience the effects of climate change first-hand while many of the

top polluting companies in the global north are killing our planet without any consequences.”

“We need better regulations and policies and we need the capacity to implement and enforce them,” Reddy concluded.

Dominic Naidoo is an environment activist and writer.

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