COP26: Reflections of a Youth Delegate
19 November 2021
In November 2021, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, officially known as Conference of the Parties (COP26), was held in Glasgow, United Kingdom. In this article, I share my experience serving as a YOUNGO delegate and the Co-Lead of the COP26 Global Youth Statement
About the Global Youth Statement
The Global Youth Statement represents the collective climate policy demands of young people to COP26. It was formed from a consultation with more than 40,000 young people from more than 135 countries and presented at the 16th UN Climate Change Conference of Youth (COY16). It comprises key policy demands across 15 themes, ranging from climate finance and energy to climate justice and sustainable cities. Our unifying demand is that youth must be meaningfully included in decision‑making and our demands integrated into global climate agendas, actions and commitments. In addition, we also call for an inclusive approach in climate governance which acknowledges the disproportionate impact the climate crisis has on some communities and constituencies and the need for systemic and radical action.
Youth Headline Event
On 5th of November 2021, designated as the Youth and Public Empowerment Day by COP26, my team and I delivered the Global Youth Statement to high-level guests, including COP26 President Alok Sharma, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, High Level Champion UK Nigel Topping, and UK Lead Negotiator Archie Young.
During the event, we each focused on a different priority area that was encapsulated by the Global Youth Statement, namely finance, energy, adaptation & loss and damage, climate justice & under-represented groups, and cities & local action. In my speech on the final topic, I proposed ambitious and innovative urban solutions in a world where a majority of the population will live in cities and on the climate frontlines. Furthermore, I also underscored the importance of a just transition, ensuring that these solutions take into account prevailing national and sub-national conditions and leave no one behind. Finally, I ended the youth segment with a call-to-action for world leaders to listen to and actively engage with the voices of young people in Glasgow and around the world.
In response to our speeches, the high-level guests acknowledged the constructive contributions of young people in climate policy-making, and delivered their commitment to bring the Global Youth Statement to the COP26 negotiations. Many world leaders, including United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, United States Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport Michael Matheson, and Scottish Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform Màiri Louise McAllan, also expressed their keen support of the statement.
As many youth delegates at COP26 recognised, it is easy to be content with having a high-level, potentially tokenistic, youth event, without decision-makers and negotiators actually taking into account youth perspectives and policy demands in a meaningful way. As such, after the Youth Headline Event, my YOUNGO/COY16 policy team started to connect with media outlets and lobby national delegations in order to maximise the impact of the Global Youth Statement. In this sense, the end of the event marks the beginning of a much longer, more challenging journey of pressuring parties to consider and implement these policy demands and holding their promises to account.
Reassuringly, after a concerted effort by many youth delegates, the latest draft Decision 1/CP.26 text, specifically in Clauses 66, 67, and 68, urged parties and stakeholders to ensure meaningful youth participation and representation in multilateral, national and local decision-making processes, and invited future COP Presidencies to facilitate the organization of a youth-led climate forum for dialogue between Parties and youth, in collaboration with the UNFCCC children and youth constituency and other youth organizations.
Ultimately, I believe that the youth climate movement is gradually but definitely picking up momentum around the world. Through sustained and dedicated efforts, young people around the world are making their voices and policy demands heard and recognised. In a space often grappling with eco-anxiety, youth climate advocacy represents a beacon of hope and inspiration that continues to keep the Paris Agreement, and in so doing the global aspiration to secure the planet for future generations, alive.
Xuan Zi Han is a climate advocate with YOUNGO, the youth constituency of the UNFCCC. In addition, he serves as Executive Director of UCL Climate Action Society and is a member of the UNEP Youth Task Force of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). Zi Han was part of the Raffles Institution Humanities Programme and graduated in 2019.