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.