Article / 08 Dec, 2018
Youth Lend Ideas, Truth, Passionate Voice to COP24

UN Climate Change News, 8 December 2018 – On a day dedicated to young and future generations, youth delegates spoke truth and passion to power with a message of urgency and action at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, this week.

“Now it’s time for youth to speak up, and we have the right to do it,” said youth delegate, Teresa Bajdol, a student at University of Silesia in Katowice speaking at the Intergenerational Inquiry, the cornerstone event of Young and Future Generations Day at the climate conference on Thursday.

Many dozens of dedicated youth delegates from around the world participate in the annual climate conferences, to make recommendations, urge on delegates, track progress, organize and attend side events, and build their networks. Some youth directly support country delegations in the negotiations.

Strong civil society action “is the only way we can solve this huge climate challenge in front of us,” said youth delegate Monika Skadborg. In her home country of Denmark, young people protest for climate action each Thursday in front of the parliament building.

Perhaps these youth were inspired by the example of 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, who grabbed the attention of lawmakers in Sweden when she went on strike from school, protesting climate change on the steps of the parliament in Stockholm during school hours for three weeks this past fall.

Her remarks at the Inquiry were to the point: “I strike school for the climate.” The video of her compelling remarks the previous day, sitting between UN Secretary-General António Guterres and UN Climate Change Patricia Espinosa and urging adults to act on climate change, has more than a quarter of a million views online.

Youth organized a Conference of Youth held at the University of Silesia two days before the start of COP24. They handed over the conference results to the chair of the G77 and China negotiating group. More than a symbolic gesture, the views of youth are being heard by delegates.

The COP is not just about “text and negotiation” but about “real-world issues,” said Mohamed Fouad of Egypt, representing the G77 and China negotiating group in accepting the conference report. “People like you keep diplomats and delegates on track,” said Mr. Fouad.

In 2013, then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established the office of Envoy on Youth. The present Secretary-General has placed climate and youth issues high on his agenda.

“As young people, we have a unique stake in the global dialogue on climate change,” UN Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake told youth delegates. “We are the ones who will live with the outcomes of this process.”

They are dynamic and constructive in their engagement, but the youth at COP24 have no appetite for complacency.

“We see progress, but we really don’t see the action we need,” said Phillip Brown from Jamaica and the United States, among the eight youth delegates there to tell stories on the theme “stepping up climate action.”

“We have to stand up and be the responsible adults that our forefathers have not been able to be,” said Maria Auma from Uganda.

“Diversity is a strength, not a weakness,” said indigenous youth delegate Richard Muñiz from the Philippines, who wanted to call attention to a “world-wide synthesis of youth research, recommended policy and action on Climate Change.”

Martin Frick, Senior Director Policy and Programme Coordination at UN Climate Change, expressed admiration for how the Youth Non-governmental Organization (YOUNGO) constituency has organized itself and how countries are placing youth delegates in their national delegations.

“That speaks for your countries’ openness to include you; but, you organized this yourself,” said Mr. Frick. “Now is your time to get your textual proposals to your delegates.”

In Paris in 2015, countries agreed to limit average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial time, and to strive for the safer 1.5-degree target. They also set COP24 as their deadline for preparing the guidelines for implementing the agreement, called the Paris Agreement Work Programme.

A representative of the host Poland recognized the youth constituency’s devotion and called on youth to help negotiators finish in Katowice the guidelines for implementing the Paris Agreement.

“You have the voice; you have the opportunity to influence the political negotiations,” said Karol Templin, focal point for civil society in the COP presidency.

The Intergenerational Inquiry was organized by the YOUNGO constituency and UN Climate Change, in collaboration with the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth. It was designed to give youth delegates another opportunity to engage with key players in the intergovernmental climate change process.

Youth delegates also met with UN Secretary-General António Guterres and UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa on 3 December. They talked about youth’s concerns and expectations, received a briefing on the status of negotiations, and posed for a “family photo.”

The Intergenerational Inquiry was open to participation by young leaders, youth organizations, civil society, Parties, NGOs, the private sector, UN agencies, members of the development community, and accredited media.

Youth deliver record-breaking message from a glacier

Youth from around the world sent a record-breaking message last month calling for countries to meet the 1.5-degree target of the Paris Agreement – in the form of 125,000 postcards laid out on Aletsch glacier in Switzerland.

At the COP24 Action Hub on Thursday, the head of the Swiss delegation, Ambassador Franz Perrez, invited people to learn about a “special project uniting 125,000 youth from all over the world to deliver a call for action to address climate change.”

Schools were invited to paint postcards describing their climate action. They were put together, transported to the glacier, and rolled out for the world to see. The effort attracted plenty of media attention and should soon be recognized as a Guinness World Record, said Daniel Maselli, project initiator and coordinator from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Youth delegates from Tunisia, Uganda and South Africa told about their efforts to collect cards. Their stories as told at the Action Hub, as well as a full video of the postcard project, with a birds-eye view of the postcards, together with video of all the remarks made at the event are available on demand.

The plan is now to auction the postcards and use the proceeds to plant trees.

Award Ceremony – Global Youth Video Competition on Climate Change

A large crowd helped close out Youth and Future Generations Day and Thursday’s COP24 Action Hub programme at a ceremony to honor the winners of the 2018 Global Youth Video Competition on Climate Change.

Vikas Yadav from India was honored for his entry in the category "Green and climate friendly jobs,” and Andrea Sofia Rosales Vega from Mexico was honored for her video in the category “Responsible production and consumption.”

Entries were received from over 100 countries, from Azerbaijan to Yemen, with young people between the ages of 18 and 30 submitting over 300 videos.

The two winners were on hand for the ceremony, flown to the conference as part of the prize. They will spend the COP shooting photos and video and learning more about the international climate negotiations and the global response to climate change.

Bertrand Piccard, famous for flying a solar-powered plane non-stop around the world and as a passionate and persuasive advocate for action on climate change, said stories that describe solutions and opportunities will have more success inspiring action than will negative stories.

“It is not about telling people what they should not do,” said Dr. Piccard. “We are here to speak of solutions, not about problems; about human skills more than the fear of the unknown.”

The audience also heard words of motivation from Tomasz Chruszczow, High-Level Climate Champion and Special Envoy for Climate Change from the Ministry of Environment, Poland.

“Your videos are truly inspiring,” said Mr. Chruszczow, before applauding the youth constituency’s role in shaping work under Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE), covering education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation under the Climate Change Convention. “You are changing the threats of climate change into the opportunities of climate action.”

At negotiating sessions in May in Bonn, Germany, countries agreed on a draft decision on ACE that requests the secretariat to continue organizing awareness-raising campaigns and training activities to empower children and youth to support and lead climate action. The decision is the first agreed of what will become the Paris Agreement Work Programme.

The audience enjoyed a screening of the winning videos and a trailer of Youth Unstoppable, a documentary by Slater Jewell-Kemker, and heard remarks from the video competition co-organizers, UN Climate Change and the United Nations Development Programme–Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme, implementing partner TVE, sponsor BNP Paribas Foundation, and partners Connect for Climate, Youth Climate Report (click on the world map to find a video), and the German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU).