by Elvis Omoit, 2022 Youth in Landscape Initiative intern for Africa, Inusa Ibrahim, Global Ambassador at Youth4Nature and Kofi Kisiedu Acquaye, Young Professional for Agricultural Development (YPARD), Africa Coordinator.
Last November at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, we at the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) joined forces with other youth-led initiatives and organizations from around the world to bring young people’s perspectives and voices into the negotiations.
One of our main goals at the “African COP” was to bring a delegation of young African climate leaders to attend COP27, and, of course, our own GLF Climate side event, where we offered a safe space for young people to share their feelings about the climate crisis. As YIL delegates, our mission was to bring our ideas to the table to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution and waste.
Our youth delegation consisted of three separate organizations: Youth4Nature, International Forestry Students Association (IFSA) and Young Professional for Agricultural Development (YPARD), working together under the YIL banner.
Exclusivity hampers climate action
At COP27, we witnessed high-level negotiations involving more than 100 heads of state and governments, over 35,000 participants and numerous pavilions showcasing climate action around the world and across different sectors. However, we observed that historically marginalized groups, such as Indigenous Peoples, local communities, women and young people, continued to be underrepresented at the summit. We believe effective climate action requires the involvement of all stakeholders and partnerships between diverse groups. Moreover, climate change is disproportionately affecting these marginalized groups, making it ever more crucial – but also more difficult – for them to participate in decision-making processes.
On the other hand, political, academic and grassroots movements are leading efforts to adapt to the climate crisis. Marginalized groups are increasingly taking on conservation and restoration projects and actions at the local and global levels. It is essential that we recognize the diversity of peoples and communities and offer a space to exchange experiences, share opportunities, create networks and develop partnerships.
Youth climate power in action
GLF Climate and COP27 were especially exciting for the YIL delegates as they had the opportunity to advocate for youth interests and perspectives on climate and related challenges.
The solutions proposed highlighted the need to remove barriers including gaps in skills and knowledge, access to technologies and innovations, and challenges with governance and regulatory environments. The discussions also revealed youth contributions to building climate resilience within their various communities. These contributions included the promotion of sustainable agriculture, including climate-smart agriculture (CSA) approaches; capacity development programs; and advocacy for youth visions of sustainable agriculture through publications, public speaking, and policy working groups.
During the Youth Daily Show on loss and damage at GLF Climate, Ayisha Siddiqa suggested that a financing mechanism should be put in place to handle loss and damage financing. She explained that it should be legally binding to make money available for financing, and it should be ensured that money reaches those who need it. Rahima Paulette also discussed how climate finance should reach people at the grassroots, suggesting that organizations should work directly with stakeholders and create social media awareness for events that involve climate. She pointed out that poor people often have no option but to use coal and other polluting energy sources, which further contributes to climate change. Emily Bohobo called on the Global North, which has been predominantly responsible for climate change, to provide climate finance to support vulnerable countries.
One of the key lessons learned is that mitigation is not enough, and loss and damage must be managed before climate change can be mitigated. It is too late to prevent climate change. However, we still have time to decide how severe its effects will be.
After 30 years of UN climate change conferences, parties finally agreed to adopt a framework for loss and damage compensation. This means providing financing to help countries in the Global South recover from the effects of the climate crisis.
When the system is obsolete, there is nothing that can fix it unless it is redesigned to accommodate the current situation. From all of the conversations at COP27 and GLF Climate, one takeaway that echoes in our minds is that we have not been doing the right thing for people and the planet for the past 50 years. As speakers emphasized, we need to urgently adopt a holistic approach to adapt to the current crises, which requires global, intergenerational and multisectoral collaboration.
What the conferences meant to us
For most of us, this was our first in-person GLF Climate event and UNFCCC COP, and we were overwhelmed by all of the opportunities and the people we met throughout our stay in Sharm El Sheikh. From the conversations with young people we met on the ground, we learned that not everybody is still taking government promises seriously, but what we can believe in and be hopeful for is the real connection and passion we see in young people to tackle the climate crisis head-on.
There is no doubt that we all need to start shifting our perspective and trust that our collective actions to tackle these crises actually count. More consideration needs to be given to the meaningful inclusion of youth, as well as vulnerable, marginalized, grassroots and Indigenous Peoples, as key stakeholders in the transition to a sustainable global economy, especially those from the most affected areas.
COP27 concluded with a historic decision to establish and operationalize a loss and damage fund. Despite this major win for the Global South, the conference left a lot to be desired in terms of cutting global emissions. As young Global South leaders, we are more concerned about the mechanism that will drive the process and its operations, especially where the funding will come from and where it will go.
Young people should understand that we are knowledgeable, passionate and determined. We are connected for a reason: we are already building solutions to the climate crisis on the ground within our various contexts, and we must unite to achieve our common dream of a sustainable future. The current system has failed us. It’s time to start thinking holistically as future leaders, not only by participating in dialogues but also in driving a paradigm shift now and for the future.
While guarding against youthwashing, we need to position ourselves for meaningful inclusion in discussions as well as look out for one another and connect to lead the change in mindsets within our communities. When we look at future conferences and gatherings, we need to emphasize greater collaboration not only among individuals but also across organizations to ensure that we are bringing the same messaging forward around building a system we can trust: a system with intergenerational parameters, a just system for the people, nature and the planet.
To those young people out there who have never been to a COP, start thinking outside the box, because there is no action without nature, no action without youth and no action without justice. We can still decide how far we will go and how we will adapt and transform our realities and relationships. We continue to face this and aim to build a future of connection between the climate, biodiversity and society. We invite you to join YIL and our partners in this journey to live in harmony with the climate and nature.
Our hope is that YIL continues to support many other young people like us from Africa and the rest of the Global South to be part of the next YIL Delegation at future events like GLF Climate and the UNFCCC COPs to forge connections and catalyze real change at home.