“The youth is our future. You will be at the table to decide how your future will be.”
When Adnan Z. Amin, a United Nations Director said this ten years ago, it was unforeseen that a time would come when we have to again discuss which group of youth will have access to the table and be meaningfully regarded as a part of the table.
For the first time in history, the UK will host this all-important UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. This is very significant for the UK government considering that this will be the biggest diplomatic meeting on UK soil since the second world war, and the biggest UK-hosted public event since the 2012 Olympics. With the Covid-19 pandemic pushing it by a year further from 9-19 November 2020, to 1-12 November 2021 which is now just six weeks away.
Young people from the Global South are now pressing for deliberate inclusivity in COP26. This is because there seems to be a significant shrinkage in youth representation at this very youth-focused global negotiation. The big question now is: what direction would world leaders take to act on climate change if young people are exempted from the consultations? It has become sadly important that we shine the spotlight on how inclusive COP26 will be – particularly for young people for the global south? And going by the various pre-COP processes, this is something to be worried about and not a mere speculation.
Covid-19 has been one of the contributing factors for the delay in climate talks due to the global impacts of the pandemic affecting especially the most vulnerable people and countries. With vaccine access inequality, it still slows effective climate action and reflects lopsidedness in the attainment of climate justice.
The UK government as the COP26 host has pledged to provide Covid-19 vaccines to participants and delegates at the upcoming COP26 to be held in Glasgow in November 2021. This has created doubts amongst participants as the fear for inclusivity, especially from the global south as the most vulnerable to the climate crises. With the cost for quarantine and other expenses for the participation of delegates from the global south, there are uncertainties surrounding how inclusive COP26 will be. Even when climate talks happened during ‘normal’ circumstances, global south participants especially civil society organisations, youth and women had challenges to finance their participation during climate negotiations and with the pandemic, things might be worse. However, how well the UK government will ensure inclusivity for the most affected countries to partake in climate talks remains clearly unanswered.
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Moreover, moving the COP26 negotiations online/virtual will still pose severe challenges to delegates from the global south due to internet connectivity challenges, infrastructural limitations, differences in time- zone, amongst other factors hindering the participation of global south. A delay in the effective participation from global south in the climate talks in November, will be a delay for climate action in the face of the growing climate emergency.
In an interview with a youth climate activist from Africa about COP26 inclusivity, Elizabeth Gululu, Zimbabwe from the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change expressed concerns over the accreditation of youth participants, funding and visa process. Sharing that “the challenges of youth from the global south to be accredited might limit their participation at COP26 because governments are not accrediting youths and the COP26 Presidency has reduced party and observer badges, making things so complicated. I don’t have a badge yet the same with other global south youths I know and have been working with.” She added that, “funding has always been a problem too which is not new to youth from the global south because it is never easy to access funding to participate in these events, likewise in obtaining visas.”
Young people are not only meant to be engaged in climate advocacy and publicity of government’s ‘commitments’ or ‘pledges’ to climate action. As far back as 2009 during COP15 in Copenhagen, when about 1500 young people participated as representatives of Parties, NGOs and the media, young people – with no exception to those from the global south – have proved to be instrumental to the success of the UNFCC’s COP. From documenting COP processes, to analyzing policy developments, staging creative awareness-raising activities, organizing capacity-building training, and hosting meaningful side events.
With an understanding that the annual COP is a process, whatever justification presented for the exclusion of young people from this process, will only add up to a futile result. As Yvo De Boer, former Executive Secretary, of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change put it after the fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen (COP15), “an inclusive and pragmatic way forward needs to be found at meetings of the UNFCCC, with a view to effectively responding to climate change and safeguarding the livelihoods of future generations.”