When the Global Survival is at Stake

Esmeralda Altmeyer

In early December I had the opportunity to join the World Climate Conference that took part in Katowice, Poland. The COP24 (Conference of Parties) is the annual worlds highest-level decision making body on climate change, organized by UNFCCC, the United Nations organisation on climate change. COP24 in Katowice was especially crucial as it was the last chance for world leaders to agree on a joint common rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement before it will go into effect in 2020. Therefore the most daunting question of COP was the “How?” How will the targets set in the Paris Agreement be reached? Special importance held the recently published IPCC report on climate change, outlining the urgency of action to reduce carbon emissions and putting more pressure on all parties.

We arrived to the venue on Monday morning and were overwhelmed: A giant space filled with 30,000 participants and an incredible buzz of energy in the air. This was further strengthened when we attended the first meeting of the official observer youth constituency YOUNGO that YEL is also part of and that would organise incredible events, powerful protests and demanding interventions throughout the next week.

With an abundance of  high-level segments and side events to choose from, each of us was full-time busy learning and exploring. I decided to focus on the topics gender and Talanoa dialogue. Talanoa is a special form of dialogue that aims to build empathy and trust to solve conflicts and was introduced to climate negotiations by the presidency of Fiji during COP23. UNFCCC had made gender the main topic of a full day to highlight the increased vulnerability of women during climate change as well as push for women’s participation in the negotiations.

As a student of international relations I was particularly excited to listen to the speech of Antonio Guterres (UN Secretary General) during the opening of the Talanoa Dialogue – and I was not let down. Guterres stressed that “Katowice must be the dawn of a new determination to reach the Paris Agreement. We clearly have the knowhow and the ability to reach the 1.5 degree target.(…) What we need is the political will. A failure of this conference would be suicidal.“ His call for action and strong commitment to climate justice set the tone for the Talanoa dialogue that would follow the next days at around 20 roundtables behind closed doors.

Equally powerful was the national statement of Vanuatu. Small Island states usually don’t play a big role in the UN. However,  when it comes to climate change they are the ones who have the most at stake as they face the imminent threat of losing their complete state territory. A strong risk that called for strong words by Minister of Foreign Affairs Ralph Regenvanu:  “Whether you welcome or note or shamelessly ignore (the IPCC report), it is a fail of humanity.(…) 16% of my countries GDP was swept away by a cyclone within hours. If Vanuatu one of the least developed countries can move to 100% renewable energy by 2030, what stops others?

Myself being a German citizen I was delighted to hear that Germany and the EU joined Vanuatu and other small island states in forming the “High Ambition Coalition” to push negotiations forward. Thanks to the efforts of other German youth delegates I had the opportunity to meet the German Minister of Environment Svenja Schulze and discuss the coalition, national climate policies and the role of youth with her on Friday. And a few days earlier, me and the other YEL delegates had already joined a youth meeting with Talieh Wörgebauer from the EU delegation to demand more ambitious climate policies of the EU and a greater inclusion of European youth.

When negotiations started stalling on Friday, the Women and Gender constituency invited youth organizations to join their powerful protest in the main hall, calling for a strong commitment to reach the 1.5 degree with a just transition on the way. This being the last of many protests and actions during COP, it unleashed great energy and made it to many international media outlets, including Germanys biggest TV news show “Tagesschau”.

I am incredibly thankful to have had the chance to participate in COP24 and experience the strong spirit and unity of climate defenders across the world. That world leaders have been listening to the stories and voices of youth throughout the COP gives me strength to continue being an agent of change at home.

The Role of Youth: Young Professionals, COP24 and Climate Change.

I am Carmen Huidobro and, thanks to the Young European Leadership (YEL) organisation, I was able to attend the first week of COP24 as media delegate. The “observer” status allowed me not only to fulfil my delegate role by attending open meetings, side-events and interviewing several stakeholders, but also to see with my own eyes and reflect on what such an event is like. As an environmental policy master student, being able to experience the real-life version of what is being taught in the classroom and academic readings was an incredible lesson.

The main focus of my interviews was to investigate the role of youth and their participation in COP24 and Climate Change leadership. As a YEL delegate, my colleague Karishma and I were also looking to empower and inspire future young leaders, so asking different key stakeholders about their thoughts and organisational activities sounded quite appropriate. From NGOs and government parties to youth groups, the different answers surprised us quite a bit.

COP24 delegates

All professionals we interviewed recognised the importance of youth towards efforts to tackle Climate Change, and how these future generations were more aware than ever about the climate crisis and the need to increase ambition and action. They talked about various strategies for Climate Change communication and youth engagement among universities, schools, and even young professionals. These professionals acknowledge that future generations will be in their positions someday, and enabling knowledge sharing and participation is key in strategies for Climate Change.

For instance, we interviewed some of these young voices to get to know the insights of the other side. From YOUNGO (United Nations youth group) to Young Reporters of the Environment and other groups formed by students and young professionals, we asked how they see the role of youth, our role, in COP24 and Climate Change. They all agreed on how new generations are more aware of Climate Change issues, and how they are interested in demanding action and mobilising towards change. You could sense that spirit across the venue, with groups of young people taking part of the side-events, attending the meetings, writing articles and interviews, even pushing political leaders and demanding action through different protests and sittings. It was definitely inspirational to see youth interacting with the current leaders, highlighting our demands and getting to know the COP24 negotiating process to communicate it to the rest of youth throughout the world. The presence of youth at COP24 is key to inspire and gather these voices, and transmit the message to the respective audience in every country.

Nevertheless, they all agreed in something else. Besides the presence of youth through the venue and the “young and future generations” day, it was definitely hard to see as many young professionals and students as you would expect in the side events, or represented in the discussions. In my experience, and from the other young people we asked, none of the side events took into account the role of youth in their topic discussions. Not even the work we will need to be part of and in charge of during the near future. Unfortunately, youth do not get a real chance to intervene and negotiate, or to transfer demands and thoughts in the final documents. Nonetheless, some voices were listened to indeed. For example, the teen Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, was the real youth star and inspiration of COP24. As she claimed in one of her speeches: “we have not come here to beg world leaders to care (…) we have come here to let to you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. Real power belongs to people”. And that includes us!

As youth and young professionals, we have more power than we might realise. According to the IPCC scientist, we have 12 years to act towards lowering emissions and innovative solutions to manage the global temperature raise. And we will be pursuing our careers during that time, careers and actions that can solve the challenge. We can be an inspiration to others, help to communicate the actions that can tackle Climate Change, giving a message of hope. That is why it so important to include youth and future generations to the climate discussion, to share the innovations with them, to include us into the negotiations. We have a role to play, and a word to say! Let’s keep inspiring each other, and working hard, because together, we can change the world.