In September 2021, the Youth for Climate summit in Milan concluded, gearing up for COP26 that has just begun.The strong focus was on solutions and more youth involvement in the COP. Youth engagement is about empowering all youth to be valuable partners and making decisions about things that affect them. Italian Prime Minister Draghi said to the youth delegates, “Your generation is the most threatened by climate change. You are right to ask for empowerment, to ask for change". Yet, to me this feels a bit painful to read, youth should not be asking for change and we shouldn’t be cornered into begging for it either. Despite the existence of the Conference Of Youths, the COP lacks true, meaningful youth engagement. True youth engagement places youth at the centre of the decision-making process. This has not been the case in the past, nor is it today.
Time and time again, youth have been used as complimentary tokens of inclusion. Even on the article on the COP26 website, the page discussing the last months Youth for Climate Summit did not outline anything the youth representatives said, just the prime ministers and envoys. The COP needs to grant YOUNGOs constituency with official status, so our words are not spoken into a vacuum, so our ideas, will, and perspectives are valued and exert real influence.
Just imagine what the world would look like without the influence of those who inherit the earth, but instead adults, or worse- experts. As more youth activists are flooding the streets, more are also going on the "inside", all attempting to exert influence in a web of power dynamics. The urgency of the climate crisis is tangible for us. Severn Suzuki’s mantra in her speech at the Rio Summit in 1992, "I am just a child, yet...," rings in my head when I think of this.
Severn Cullis-Suzuki at Rio Summit 1992: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJJGuIZVfLM
Young people, once "given" the opportunity to speak at the table, have always brought the talks back down to the basics- and isn't that what we really should be doing? Bringing this huge problem down to generosity, greed, and survival. As the indoctrinated bought and paid for politicians continue talking numbers, costs, benefits, and growth, the "bla bla bla", as Greta put it so nicely, rings on and on, outlined by hesitant, general, interpretable words.
I hope the COP and other major decision (or bla bla bla) making institutions take youth engagement seriously. We are the past, present, and we are certainly the future.