A crowd of activists at COP 24 holding a sign reading "Which side are you on?"

Youth Climate Action: Making COP accessible to young people

The first time I attended a climate COP was in 2012 in Doha, Qatar. At the time, I was 24 years old and I had won a blogging competition that gave me the opportunity to speak at a side event about the importance of youth in driving climate action.

June 5, 2021

Unfortunately, what I remember most about that experience was not the panel I participated in, but instead the confusion I felt in trying to navigate the various zones of the conference centre and the difficulty in understanding the role a young person like me was meant to play in such a structured and complex intergovernmental process. It was like the other delegates were speaking a familiar yet distant language and, despite my passion for the subject matter, I had not properly studied up.

Fast forward almost 10 years, and I am no longer a youth delegate at COPs, but the progress we have made on advancing climate action is substantial - not near enough but substantial. However, what is more impressive is the incredible mobilization of young people all over the world standing up for their future. Their voices, passion and commitment are needed in multilateral negotiations now more than ever. Reaching the Paris Agreement was just step one in a long journey that will only be successful if young people have the tools they need to hold governments, businesses and society at large accountable.

This is why IISD partnered with YOUNGO, the official youth constituency of the UNFCCC, and CliMates, an international laboratory of ideas and actions for young people around climate issues, to produce Youth Climate Action, a web platform that gives young people the most crucial information needed to meaningfully participate in UNFCCC processes and COPs. We are thrilled to be launching this platform on World Environment Day 2021 and during the first ever virtual UNFCCC Subsidiary Body session, that will lay much of the groundwork for COP 26.

Youth Climate Action (youth-climate.com) leverages the diverse knowledge of the three partner organizations and translates it into youth friendly and accessible resources on the climate negotiation, targeted at newbies to the process. It provides simple-to-understand overviews of key climate issues, a breakdown of how the negotiation is structured, and practical tips for young people to participate in a COP, whether it be on-site or from home. Between now and COP 26, the site will have more resources added and will include additional multimedia content and resources on how to network, advocate and communicate about climate change.

In honour of the launch, we have asked each of our partners to answer a question about Youth Climate Action and our collaboration. 

IISD has learned so much from working with YOUNGO and CliMates in the process of co-creating Youth Climate Action, what kind of partnerships or support do young people need from NGOs and think tanks to advance climate action?

Marie-Clare Graf, YOUNGO: What we need is solid and substantial long term youth engagement which values youth as passioned and knowledgable experts driven by a higher purpose. If we want to overcome the climate and interlinked crises we need to ensure diversity and inclusivity are not only buzzwords. Youth is not a homogeneous group, we are half of the world’s population. Hence we need to ensure youth engagement various parts of the world and with a variety of backgrounds is essential. We are much more than sidelined victims, we are the ones, together with everyone who is interested, solving these crises because #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs. Many youth have the innovative and creative mindsets needed to think and do things differently. But youth networks and movements such as YOUNGO, the official UNFCCC Children and Youth Constituency, work and function differently and often lack financial resources, this is where traditional NGOs and think and do tanks can come in and support. This requires openness and out-side-the-narrow-minded-process-thinking.

Being the official youth constituency to the UNFCCC, what is the most important thing you think that young people can do to prepare to make a difference at COP? 

Heeta Lakhani, YOUNGO: Join YOUNGO so we can support you in the lead up and during the COP. Even with the best preparation, COP can be an overwhelming space. Furthermore read up about the negotiations. Engage with youth groups, experienced negotiators, anyone who has some amount of experience or has been part of UNFCCC negotiations. Try and understand what goes on during the COP and what is being talked about. Also understand the repercussions it has on our day to day lives and whether or not these decisions have any impact. As mentioned it's quite hard to be able to do this all by yourself. So join youth groups, organizations, networks, constituencies that have been engaging in the UNFCCC process over the past few years. Ask questions, reach out and most importantly, don't fret. After all, it is a very complex process and things will slowly start to make sense over time. You do not need to understand everything on Day 1 to be prepared. Remember that this is a journey and enjoy the process! 

Why is it so fundamentally important to have young people engaged and active in climate negotiations?

Sarah Bittner, CliMates: Youth and future generations are the ones whose livelihoods are and will be most impacted by climate change. Intergenerational equity is enshrined in the Paris Agreement – to make the principle a reality, a first step is to work with youth as equal partners in the climate negotiations. With new and innovative ideas, passion and expertise, young people around the world are powerful agents of change. They raise awareness, push for more ambitious policy responses and climate action, and hold governments and businesses accountable. To safeguard our future and planet, and to work towards more just and equitable societies, it is thus essential to empower young people along with other civil society constituencies to participate in a meaningful way in climate change decision-making and action.

CliMates has been preparing young people for COPs for a long time, what value do you think Youth Climate Action brings to youth who are following the COP process for the first time?

Inès Bakhtaoui, CliMates: COPs are very confusing for a young newcomer. So much is happening at once, and the conversations can sound very complex. Therefore, getting an understanding of how things work is essential to have an impact. I am so happy that all the knowledge and experience accumulated by the wide network of youth organizations is now captured on a single platform accessible to all! Youth Climate Action educates and empowers young people.

Youth Climate Action