Climate Change Responsibility and Representation: Young Climate Leaders discuss

Yesterday was Earth Day. And it’s a little over 6 months until the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26. A lot has happened since December when we asked young climate leaders what real climate ambition they wanted to see from world leaders. So, we caught up with youth climate leaders to get their perspectives on climate finance, climate change responsibility, inclusion and representation on the road to COP26. 

A UN report in February confirmed we’re still seriously off track to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5°C by the end of the century. The USA, under the Biden administration, has re-entered the Paris Agreement and showed signs of taking more serious climate change responsibility. And an unequal global COVID-19 vaccine rollout has cast doubt on whether COP26 will go ahead at all, with Greta Thunberg recently stating she would not attend as countries would not be able to participate on equal terms. 

To mark Earth Day the USA will host a ‘Leaders Summit’ bringing together countries who are collectively responsible for over 80% of global emissions and global GDP. They are also likely to announce their national targets and their proposed contribution to financing climate issues. 

Iris Zhan. MockCOP USA Volunteer. 🇺🇸

A picture of Iris Zhan a young climate change activist with a speaker in her hand.

What climate change responsibility does the USA have to drive a just, climate transition and to help vulnerable countries cope with climate impacts? 

The majority of the most polluting companies in the world are headquartered in the USA. The USA regularly exploits MAPA (most affected people and areas) countries for our own gain at the expense of destroying global majority countries. Being a “leader” on the world stage, both militarily and culturally, means our actions have a large impact across the world and will influence the direction the rest of the world takes. The USA needs to take climate change responsibility and take action in a manner that is considerate of the urgency climate science demands, and in a way that does not continue to perpetuate systems of oppression and injustice that are furthering the climate impacts in global majority countries. 

Henry Roberts, UK Youth Climate Coalition, COP working group 🇬🇧

A picture of Henry Roberts, a young climate change activist.

Why is it particularly important to fund youth-led climate action and grassroots organisations?

While it may sound cliché, it really can’t be repeated enough: it’s young people’s futures that are at most at risk from our changing planet. As the years march on, the effects of the crisis are only going to get worse. For that reason alone, young people are absolutely crucial to the climate discussion. The more youth-led climate organisations there are, the more pressure we can exert on those in power. We demand our futures be taken seriously. 

But whilst every future is at risk, not every future is at risk equally. Young people from the Global South will continue to endure the worst effects of the climate crisis (rising sea levels, deforestation, extraction, extreme weather events) despite contributing the least to the crisis via emissions. For young activists in the UK, therefore, it’s important that we acknowledge these disparities and campaign for truly global climate justice, not just local action on our doorsteps. At UKYCC, for instance, we’ve started our Missing Voices campaign, raising money to ensure young activists from the Global South can fully participate in COP26 later this year. You can find out more about that campaign and others here

What can the UK COP Presidency do to shift the global narrative and power on climate justice to include more diverse voices, particularly young people? 

As President of the COP process, the UK must ensure that opportunities for civil society involvement are not compromised, for both UK and international groups, particularly from the Global South. Related to that, the talks must remain transparent for civil society. Whether online or in-person, observers and campaigners have a right to monitor and input into the discussions of global leaders. Furthermore, the UK delegation should be ethnically and gender-balanced, reversing the current male-dominated delegation set to represent the UK on the worldstage. 

The UK Government should also hold a meeting with youth representatives at Intersessionals, while we can still influence the COP agenda. For more details, check out our list of demands we’ve sent to the UK Government ahead of the Intersessional talks here

What effect would a near fully virtual COP have on participation and inclusivity?

In some ways, an entirely-online COP would improve inclusivity. Whereas before, many civil society groups would have been unable to attend an in-person COP due to money, travel, and visa issues (not to mention the added hurdle of the uneven rate of vaccinations globally). A virtual COP would theoretically solve these problems. 

But the digital divide is very real, both within and between states, and whilst it may be easy for some to log on and join the conference virtually, for many others without a reliable internet connection, this is a gargantuan, in some cases impossible, task. Add to that the problem of time zones and suddenly we see that a virtual COP has the potential to be the most inaccessible conference yet. 

Mayana Nell Torres, Outreach Coordinator Sustain US 🇺🇸

A photograph of Mayana Nell Torres, a young climate change leader.

What climate change responsibility does the USA have to drive a just, climate transition and to help vulnerable countries cope with climate impacts? 

It is vital that those of us in the Global North understand the privileges our passports give us, especially due to our colonial histories. It is our responsibility to act in solidarity with the Global South. The U.S. government’s actions and policies have a rippling effect on the lives of communities around the world. The USA has the responsibility to implement policies that acknowledge its imperialist impact on other countries, and its deep connections to the Oil and Gas industry (the USA is responsible for 40% of excess global carbon emissions). Recognising this is key to dismantling the underlying power dynamics. 

SustainUS is a youth-led organisation focused on connecting youth in the USA. However, we have a global perspective due to our connections to amazing organisations all around the world. It is a part of our work to continue strengthening these relations and supporting actions in any way we can. 

What does the prospect of a near fully online COP mean for diverse youth and indigenous people’s participation? 

Meeting activists in hallways is one of the most critical parts of COP. Gavi Reiter, one of our team members, noted that it was in the hallway that she met people that she still organises with to this day. Often it’s here, in these in between spaces, and in these human connections that change happens.

I remember personally, at the UNSG Youth Climate Summit, we made our mark by asking questions that held decision makers to account. The opportunities for this are limited in a zoom call, where a host can mute you or not allow you to speak. Closed door meetings held virtually will limit our ability to intervene and make ourselves heard and seen. 

Sadie deCoste, Co-Director, Loss & Damage Youth Coalition 🇬🇧 🇨🇦


A photograph of Sadie deCoste, a young climate change leader

What is the current position of climate finance for loss and damage? What progress do you want to see at the US Leaders Summit and ahead of COP?

Despite having its own article in the Paris Agreement, and its own mechanism in the UNFCCC, loss and damage still does not have its own dedicated stream of climate finance. Developed countries, who fuelled the climate crisis through decades of willful negligence and inaction, have done very little to help the billions of people in developing countries who suffer the effects of loss and damage. They continue to block finance on loss and damage and lump it in with adaptation & resilience.

We are asking for developed countries around the world to step up and open a new window of finance for loss and damage. We ask that they provide finance that is aligned with the scale of the need, which is likely to reach the hundreds of billions of dollars annually by 2030. Ahead of the Biden summit, we have written an open letter to the US government to ask that they take action and spearhead progress on addressing loss and damage.

The current extent of climate change impacts result from the past climate injustice that the world designed. A result of vulnerable countries being powerless in ensuring inclusive participation on the decision-making table. We are a generation that doesn’t want only to blame; we want to influence concrete change on the political, community and society level. It is not a secret that the USA can play a substantial role in bringing hope to the world. We want that this time it will be youth-inclusive and take the frontline vulnerable community seriously.”

Ineza Umuhoza Grace, Co-director of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition

How do we ensure fair and inclusive participation in loss and damage decision-making at COP26? Particularly if COP becomes near or part virtual as rumoured.

Youth and other marginalized groups already have very little say in decision-making processes that affect our future at an existential level. A virtual COP would further marginalize the voices of people who aren’t represented or listened to in global climate policy.

Obviously it’s important to keep everyone safe from COVID19, so if the conference ends up being online, governments and the COP26 presidency should use the opportunity to deeply engage with citizens. For example, they could hold an online global citizens’ climate assembly, where the people decide what needs to happen and governments are bound to listen to them. On loss and damage specifically, they could bring together a group of youth and others who actually experience climate impacts, and listen to their needs, formulating that into a set of policy recommendations. But honestly, the asks of developing countries are clear enough on loss and damage: Adequate, consistent, readily-available finance. Plus capacity support and technology.

We have outlined these issues in our open letter too. Fair and inclusive decision-making also requires actually listening to our demands, not just having us speak at some side event. So far our ‘world leaders’ have totally failed on that front.

Feature Photo by Paddy O Sullivan via Unsplash

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Climate Change Responsibility and Representation: Young Climate Leaders discuss

by wearerestless Reading time: 7 min
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