Youth Engagement in Climate Governance

Different parts of the world continue to feel the weight of climate change with different intensities. Young people across the globe are rallying up against climate injustice calling world leaders to action. They make up over half of the world’s population hence it is crucial to have them included in decision making centered on climate change because this resolve distinctly affects the livelihoods of the youth and future generations. They are formally recognized as a key stakeholder in international decision-making processes by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development since 1992.In the recently concluded COP26,the youth took lead in activism for climate justice both physically and online. On the 5th and 6th of November, they organized a youth-led strike that drew crowds upwards of 100,000 people and a good number of powerful interventions in various events happening at the COP. Elizabeth Wanjiru, a climate activist in Kenya gave a moving speech during the World Leaders Summit calling the leaders to open up their hearts and act because the decisions they make will determine whether children in the Northern part of Kenya will have food and water.

According to UNDP, Meaningful youth engagement can be defined through various ways; it can be a consultative participation where young people have a certain mandate, and their voices can be heard through advocacy work. It can also be a collaborative participation where the youth are regularly involved in political decision-making processes as voters, political parties or advocacy groups and it can be youth-led participation that guarantees young people direct impact in decision making processes within their communities.Of importance to note is; the UN Secretary General – Antonio Guterres launched the Youth Advisory group on Climate Change to amplify youth voices and to engage young people in an open and transparent dialogue in the bid to raise ambitions towards tackling climate change.In addition,the Youth 4 Climate event that happened before COP26 saw the Youth 4 Climate Manifesto document as an outcome which is also a big win for young people and we have the opportunity to capitalize on that in order to influence change.

Youth engagement in the climate space has largely revolved around non-deliberative proceedings such as peaceful demonstrations, social media campaigns, and protests where influence in decision making is not direct. Nonetheless, we cannot fail to recognize that activism contributes to solidarity building among them making their voices stronger. It also adds moral weight to the deliberating proceedings and garners media attention for lobbying. These proceedings on climate change are political thus the youth through activism are able to influence politics outside of the meeting rooms.

Youth at COP26

In as much as the youth are making progress in finding their place in the climate space, they still face great obstacles.They still lack seats at the decision makers table because of inexperience and the complicated technical language at the COP. Their great innovative stories are untold hence the chance at getting support is minimal. There is also little to no mentorship which makes efforts to bridge the gap futile. Finally, their strategies on campaigns and advocacy work on climate change may be insufficient to bring properly influence policy makers owing to the lack of mentorship.

The reality is that the youth are seen as activists who are not organized, are violent, rowdy and their actions are driven by misguided emotions. With this, the only action they get is over the fences and have very little to do with decision making in those closed-door rooms. Their actions stop at congratulations and tales of how inspirational they are to the generations that have preceded them and those that are yet to come. Contrary to how they are viewed, the youth keep pushing for a seat at the table. They want the ability to make decisions that affect their future and those that will come after them and everyone is well aware that their participation is crucial.

Young people are for a fact innovative, energetic, creative and passionate. Their participation and involvement in decision-making processes promotes active citizenship where they give their time and energy through volunteer programs to bring change within their communities. The youth also promise enhanced outreach because of their energy and passion playing a crucial role in creating awareness within their communities. They also bring intergenerational viewpoints which ensures the needs of everyone are catered for. In addition to their intellectual contribution and their ability to mobilize support, they bring unique perspectives that need to be taken into account.

Everyone passionate about climate change looks forward to experiencing the Conference of Parties by the UNFCCC.It can be overwhelming due to the fact that so many things are happening concurrently. For most it is a great opportunity for learning and networking. However, only a number of people are directly involved in the decision-making process. For the youth, it is even more difficult to find footing and understanding what tracks to follow and knowing how to engage meaningfully in this process. As the youth continue to demand a seat at the table, a few things can be done differently to ensure their engagement is meaningful as follows.

Training and capacity building of the youth at the forefront of climate activism to ensure they understand the COP process and the language used is key to guarantee adequate engagement in those meeting rooms and not have decisions made on their behalf. In addition, most of the youth from the global south who attended the COP came through private sponsorships and international organizations. Their local governments have failed in offering them support both financially and in equipping them with technical knowledge which would have helped amplify their voices in those meeting rooms. It is crucial that this is considered by their respective governments. 

Nevertheless, there was a huge problem with accessing most of the meeting rooms. This could possibly have happened due to the covid risks and venues with limited capacity. In future, it is important to consider inclusivity in this process in order for the youth to have access and get firsthand experience of the process which is the best way to learn. Finally, the media is an important tool for information sharing. Youth from the global south have had their opinions misinterpreted and relayed differently from what they intended to say and used as clickbait. It is therefore crucial for the media from the global south to come together and ensure that the voices of the youth from the global south are not painted in bad light which will go a long way in warranting effective activism.

By Abigael Kima

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