COP28 Youth Delegate.jpg

Credit: The International Youth Climate Delegate Program - Photo: 2023

The Future Role of Youth in Climate Action

By Simone Galimberti*

KATHMANDU | 24 December 2023 (IDN) — The recently concluded COP 28 in Dubai has been heralded as the beginning of the end for fossil fuels. Though criticized by many activists, scientists and representatives of the most climate vulnerable nations, the decision taken at the end of negotiations of “transitioning away” from them has attracted almost universal attention.

This wording was the result of a difficult compromise, a much watered-down version of what COP 28 was required to agree upon: the total phase-out of fossil fuels.

Would have the final outcome of COP 28, the so-called UAE Consensus, been different if young people had been involved and had meaningfully participated in the final negotiations? How would they have, so far limited to official events and talks, contributed during the key hours of “behind the scenes” decision-making?

It is important to ask such questions because young people, despite having an unprecedented presence in Dubai, remained sidelined and left out of the key deliberations taken. These are, like any other binding treaties, only exclusive to the member states party to the United Convention on United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Despite this expected, “business as usual” marginalization of young voices, perhaps the COP in Dubai could lay down the foundations for much higher and deeper levels of youth participation in the future climate negotiations. Indeed, in many ways, the COP 28 broke new grounds in terms of youth participation.

But what will it take for such positive development to pave the way to real power in the hands of young people?

Dubai enabled new levels of youth participation, successfully building on a practice, initiated during the COP 26 in Glasgow, to involve them. Unfortunately, this attempt of trying to engage youths in climate policy decision making, together with important discussions on the role of education for sustainable development and role of learning to spur climate action, did not receive the deserved attention.

On the former, the Emirati Presidency of the COP 28 led to the creation of a permanent Presidency Youth Climate Champion (YCC), a new role that was introduced for the first time and was held by Shamma Al Mazrui, the current Minister of State for Youth Affairs of the UAE.

Youth Climate Champion

The idea of launching the Youth Climate Champion, inspired by the now established practiced of nominating for each COP process, two High Level Champions, was itself the brainchild of the hosting government.

What has been remarkable in the final outcome of the COP 28 is that this role is going to be institutionalized and ingrained within the UNFCCC mechanisms. Also interesting, from the perspective of finding novel ways to engage and involve youths in climate discussions, has been the establishment of the COP 28 Youth Climate Delegates Program.

The initiative brought over 100 youths especially from the Global South to Dubai for the COP 28 and, it is praiseworthy that program also included a strong capacity building component. As groundbreaking as the Youth Climate Delegates Program was, it could be even more ambitious and transformative to imagine it as only a first steppingstone towards the creation of a Youth Permanent Climate Assembly within the UNFCCC official process.

Imagining the establishment of such mechanism will require a lot of efforts and long negotiations even if the idea is plainly simple: give young people a permanent voice in tackling the most complex and urgent issue of our times.

But how can make this exercise truly “real” rather than just a symbolically important but, at the end, just tokenistic and deprived of any power? Even before discussing ways to turn it into something meaningful, it is essential, first, to explore ways to make it institutionalized.

The initial step would be for the COP 28 Youth Climate Delegates Program to become a permanent mechanism of the next climate COP processes.  What has been decided at COP 28 was only to create a permanent Climate Youth Champion that most likely will like as the “official” ambassador and spokesperson of youths in matter of climate.

On how to go beyond the idea of having a permanent champion and instead have a structured assembly, the role of YOUNGO, the Official Children and Youth Constituency of the UNFCCC, that was also so central in developing the COP 28 Youth Climate Delegates Program, is going to be paramount.

A steppingstone

Throughout the preparations of the next COP 29 that will take place in Azerbaijan in 2024, YOUNGO, along with the UNFCCC Secretariat, the United Nations Youth Office, the Azerbaijani Presidency could come up with a consultative process that would define options to institutionalize the Youth Climate Delegates Program, a steppingstone towards the creation of the Youth Permanent Assembly.

With the right political will, it is not implausible to imagine that the new entity could be set in place for the COP 30 to be held in Brazil in 2025. The Assembly could meet thrice in a year, of which at least twice in persons, including during the official COP negotiations in November each year.

Because of youth’s progressive and bold positions, achieving this goal would be already, on many extents, a game changing development in the fight against climate warming.  But how do you turn this new entity into something with actual and tangible power? This is probably the most difficult and intricate aspect.

Only discussions led and empowered by youths can decide on this crucial and essential element but here some ideas on how such power could be exercised. One of overarching goals for the Assembly would be for some of its representatives, ideally chosen through unanimity, to fully participate in the COP negotiations, from which they are now excluded.

Ultimately real power will only be held by the Assembly if the member nations to the United Convention on United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will grant it with the same powers that only parties to the Convention have.

This means, not only have it entrusted with the resources to carry out its own autonomous deliberations but also equipping this new mechanism with the authority to participate with equal powers of the governments in the deliberation of the final COP Outcome documents.

As difficult as it is to envision such development, a real breakthrough in the way international negotiations would be framed and negotiated, the idea of entrusting representatives of the proposed permanent youth climate assembly with states equivalent power, is long overdue.

Biodiversity protection

It is also going to be of paramount importance that this mechanism gets empowered in the COP negotiations related to Biodiversity protection and preservation that falls under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

We should not forget that the recently concluded COP28 in Dubai turned the page also in terms mainstreaming biodiversity into the climate agenda. Indeed, the final outcome document of the COP 28 also considerably covers and includes references and linkages to biodiversity.

In addition, the COP28 Joint Statement on Climate, Nature and People, endorsed by 18 nations, together with another declaration, the COP 28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food, and Climate Action, endorsed by 159 countries, can constitute important bridges bring climate and biodiversity agendas closer.

That’s why the Assembly, that could be officially designated as the Next Generation Climate & Biodiversity Assembly, should also represent the young generations at the negotiations related to biodiversity and possibly even to the those of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

It will take a lot of determination and commitment to establish the Next Generation Climate & Biodiversity Assembly. The governments, with, perhaps the exception of few, will strongly reject the idea.

Still forums like YOUNGO and well-known climate activists, together with media, will have a huge role to play to change their minds and enable a global consensus within the international community on why a powerful youths led assembly in matter of climate and biodiversity is required.

After all, innovative and groundbreaking ideas are always hard to be accepted at the beginning and what might seem as a mission impossible, can, step by step, take shape and gain consensus.

Because the biodiversity and climate crises are so existential, trying establishing the Next Generation Climate & Biodiversity Assembly is worth the effort. [IDN-InDepthNews]

* Simone Galimberti, based in Kathmandu, is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE and The Good Leadership. He writes about reforming the UN, youths, volunteerism, regional integration and human rights in the Asia-Pacific region.

Photo credit: The International Youth Climate Delegate Program

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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