Youth4climate: a wake-up call for politicians one month ahead of COP26
by Jacopo Bencini, Policy Advisor and UNFCCC contact point
Those who have had the opportunity, in the last five or ten years, to participate in youth participatory processes at an international level have become accustomed to a perhaps classic, repetitive format: many young people from different nationalities, together in the same place for a few days, to produce a charter or agenda at the end of the process. For those like us of Italian Climate Network who deal with young people these dynamics are well known, as well as the frustration that often accompanies participants a few months after the end of the work, when their asks – perhaps cost hours of sleep between writing, debate, refinement – get blatantly disregarded or ignored by the leaders they are directed to. When, in 2019, we learned of the Italian government’s idea of building such an event on climate change policies embedded in the UNFCCC decision-making flow towards COP26, many of us had a feeling of déjà vu. The risk was objectively high, but things have gone in a totally different way.
In these three days, almost 400 youth delegates, girls and boys from all UNFCCC countries (basically, from all over the world) took part in something different. After months of online calls to discuss the guidelines of what would later become the text to be brought to the Pre-COP26 ministers, delegates were able to leave their countries (for many of them for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic) to get to Milan, meet, discuss, carry on the work on the text.
In full conscience, these young people have rebooted the climate negotiation process themselves – as we cannot count the June 2021 online negotiations as part of the flow. They physically returned to meet in a city. A government took care of the organization, accreditation, Ministry experts followed the different working tables and facilitated the work together with representatives of civil society (such as our Marirosa Iannelli, in the role of Youth Advisor). What might have seemed, on the eve, a sort of negotiation simulation for young people has instead become an almost re-constituting moment of the entire international negotiation process. Girls and boys lived their task with professionalism, perhaps thanks to the emotion and responsibility of this first real restart.
Already from Tuesday (28 September, first day of work, ed) many delegates met on the sidelines of the meeting told us of heartfelt discussions in the working groups, all aimed at providing the proposals with greater ambition and specificity, albeit in a necessarily global context. The feeling of having to concentrate on key topics only, but in an incisive way in order not to be ignored, was very present in the room. Great attention was given to issues of green job creation, divestment of private actors, sustainable tourism, access to climate finance and issue of the debt of the poorest countries. Already on Tuesday, however, rumours were circulating that from Group 3, which dealt with non-state actors, the main and most politically ambitious proposal of all would come out.
That line was there and remained unchanged in the text, until it appeared this morning on the large screen of the plenary hall in the presence of the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, the Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, the Minister of Ecological Transition, Roberto Cingolani , of the European Commissioner for the Green Deal Frans Timmermans, of the special envoy of the United States John Kerry, of the Ministers of the Environment and of the Transition of the 50 Pre-COP26 countries. Through that giant screen and the voice of their representatives, the youth of Youth4climate asked the leaders of the world for a rapid, inclusive ecological transition, attentive to the most vulnerable and to human rights, based – this is the central point – on the completion of a total phase out from fossil fuels by 2030.
For those like us at ICN who actively participate in pressure and advocacy actions, especially at European level – usually by promoting ambitious political goals – hearing young people return to talk about fossil phase out by 2030 is a truly shocking positive surprise. For years, in fact, even in Brussels, as in Rome and the United Nations, there has been a tendency to move forward the deadline of broader objectives due to the alleged technical and political impossibility of pursuing them, “given current conditions”. In the years we passed from 2030 to 2040, then to 2050. The trap of accepting postponements to reach a compromise has spared almost no one. These girls and boys with their determination and sense of responsibility have instead asked us a question, to which the leaders must now answer: “but is it really impossible?”.
The texts presented this morning in plenary do not yet represent a complete and definitive version: the drafts produced in the three days are too dense, the results of the four working groups too misaligned. In the desire to give greater incisiveness to the process – also at the request of many youth delegates – the Italian government has therefore decided to keep the Youth4climate online platform open until next 25 October 2021, to allow delegates to continue working on the texts so that they can then be presented at COP26. With this move, certainly concerted between the Italian and British governments, the initially planned political structure is altered, where Youth4climate should have brought its contents to the Pre-COP26, while the Conference of Youth (COY) as always organized in a bottom-up way by YOUNGO would have brought its considerations to COP26 in Glasgow. With this move the two processes could be realigned and as Italian Climate Network we hope they can find organicity through the collaboration between the youth delegates of Milan and their peers selected through YOUNGO – this exchange has actually already started in Milan, with the two co – YOUNGO spokespersons present at Youth4climate and our volunteer and coordinator of the School Project Giulia Persico in the role of Pre-COP26 YOUNGO observer.
Exactly one month ahead of COP26, the largest youth climate event ever organized by a national government has sounded like a wake-up call for governments themselves, with a simple yet difficult question for those who seem to have all answers but one. An answer that the global youth seem to strongly want today.
You are reading this ICN COP Bulletin article is part of the EC DEAR SPARK project. ICN monitors negotiations and reports what is happening in Italian and English, on our website and on social channels, as part of a pan-European consortium of over 20 non-profit organizations committed to promoting climate awareness with particular attention to the role of young people and issues related to international cooperation and gender policies.