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.