by Chiara Fiorino
The consequences of climate change will disproportionately impact the youth of today. It is thus important to include young people in decision-making processes. It may be argued that the world leaders are lagging behind in driving ambitious climate action, and children and young people are instead leading the fight against climate change. To evaluate this further this article will present and reflect on the outcomes of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) as they relate to youth engagement.
Expectations for COP26
Many youth climate summits took place in the lead-up to COP26. Between 28th and 30th September 2021, nearly 400 young people aged 15 to 29 from 186 countries met in Milan, Italy, to exchange ideas and discuss climate solutions . The consultations held at the “Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition” event in Milan, organized by the joint UK-Italy presidency of COP26, resulted in a Youth4Climate Manifesto. This synthesis document centered around youth engagement in climate negotiations, energy transition, education, nature-based solutions and loss and damage (click here to read the full Manifesto) .
A month later, the 16th UN Climate Change Conference of the Youth (COY16) took place in Glasgow, UK. The youth-led summit organized by YOUNGO saw over 500 youth delegates from 140 countries undergo a series of plenary sessions on a wide range of climate-related topics, and capacity-building workshops . The most substantial output of COY16 was the Global Youth Statement, a policy document drafted by young participants and signed by over 44,000 young people . The document proposes several action points to combat climate change with a holistic approach (click here to read the full Statement). For further insight into what happened at COY16 check out ClimaTalk’s interview with Robin Fontaine, a youth representative for Monaco.
Young people had high expectations for COP26 to deliver on their demands and needs. Broadly, young people expected world leaders to:
- ensure meaningful participation of young generations not only as observers, but as part of national delegations;
- step up and speed up efforts against climate change;
- and most of all, to integrate the youth-led proposals mentioned above into the final COP26 outcome  (see ClimaTalk’s article on COP26 Week 1 for further in depth analysis of youth inclusion here).
COP26 started off on the wrong foot
In a previous article, ClimaTalk explained why younger generations may not have been able to attend COP26 for financial reasons. Additionally, the majority of young people who could reach Glasgow had an observer badge. In fact, it is very uncommon for Parties to bring young people into their delegations (and thus provide Party badges), where governments are much more often represented by senior politicians and climate experts. This makes it difficult for young people to play an active role in negotiation processes. Indeed, the observer status grants people access to plenary sessions and negotiations, unless Parties object to it. In general, observers do not have the right to vote when attending sessions.
A few outstanding examples are Panama, who sent its youngest delegation ever (the average age was 29 years old); México, who included many young women in its delegation; and the first Mohawk Community young delegation to participate at a COP . However, the average age in the meeting rooms of COP26 was 60 years old , which confirms that including young people in Parties’ delegations is rather the exception than the norm. Therefore, COP26 failed to ensure substantial participation of young people, in general and in decision-making spaces.
Did COP26 deliver?
On November 5th, 2021, “Youth and public empowerment” was the main theme at COP26. Several youth-centered events followed one another to facilitate a dialogue between youth climate ambassadors and global leaders. During two separate events of the day, young people had the opportunity to present both the Youth4Climate Manifesto and the Global Youth Statement to the president of COP26, and the Executive Secretary of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and to several policy-makers.
After decades of young people elevating their voices through environmental movements and climate strikes, the COP presidency listened. The biggest success young people took home from the two-week summit was the inclusion of youth engagement in the final version of the Glasgow Climate Pact (GCP). Beside appreciating the outcomes of COY16 and the Youth4Climate event (art. 63 of GCP), the final document “Urges Parties and stakeholders to ensure meaningful youth participation and representation in multilateral, national and local decision-making processes, including under the Convention and the Paris Agreement” (art. 64 of GCP) . It is the first time youth inclusion in decision-making spaces is referred to so explicitly in a COP agreement .
Another achievement is represented by the first-ever ministerial event on education and climate change to be hosted at a COP. During this event, education ministers and young people met to discuss the importance of introducing climate change studies into all levels of education. As a result, 23 education ministers representing countries all over the world (among others, Finland, Spain, Cameroon, Sri Lanka and the Republic of Korea) pledged to shift to “net-zero schools” and “putting climate at the heart of national curricula” .
A missed chance to enhance youth inclusion in COP
While these successes are a major step in the right direction, many of the youth demands were disregarded. Particularly, both the Youth4Climate Manifesto and the COY16 Statement requested a phase out of fossil fuel subsidies to solve the climate crisis [10, 11]. However, on the very last day world leaders substituted “phase out coal” for “phase down coal” in the GCP document, which will only lead to the slowing down of coal use rather than the acceleration of climate action . Additionally, COP26 failed to reach an agreement on a loss and damage fund, another request strongly put forward by young people [10, 11].
Looking towards COP27
During COP26, on the “Youth and public empowerment” day, the Italian Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani announced that the Youth4Climate event will become a permanent youth climate summit to occur every year before COP, and it will be called “Forever Youth4Climate” or Forever Y4C .
The decision was taken to facilitate the participation of young people in international processes and actions aimed at combating climate change. However, if governments don’t start including young people into their countries’ delegations on a continuous basis (allowing them greater access and engagement in the negotiations), youth participation in climate summits will simply become a form of tokenism. There is a risk that young people will keep being seen only as victims of future climate change, when yet again they proved to be capable decision-makers.
For more information, be sure to check out ClimaTalk’s discussion on Youth during COP26 here.
References: UK COP26, 2021. Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition. Retrieved from: https://ukcop26.org/pre-cop/youth4climate-2021/ (Accessed 12th January 2022).
 Amy Wilson and Robin Fontaine, 2021. Robin Fontaine’s Reflections on COY16 and the Global Youth Statement. Retrieved from: https://climatalk.org/2021/11/02/robin-fontaines-reflections-on-coy16-and-the-global-youth-statement/ (Accessed 14th January 2022).
 COY16, 2021. Global Youth Statement process. Retrieved from: https://ukcoy16.org/global-youth-statement (Accessed 14th January 2022).
 Francesco Bassetti, 2021. From Youth4Climate to COP26: Ambition sets youth and leaders apart. Climate Foresight. Retrieved from: https://www.climateforesight.eu/future-earth/y4c-manifesto-ambition-sets-youth-and-global-leaders-apart/ (Accessed 12th January 2022).
 Ka’nhehsí:io Deer, 2021. Kahnawake’s 1st youth delegation heading to COP26 climate conference. CBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/kahnawake-youth-cop26-delegates-1.6226017 (Accessed 18th January 2022).
 BBC News, 2021. COP26: Voice of youth has its say – inside and outside summit. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-59132639 (Accessed 12th January 2022).
 UNFCCC, 2021. Glasgow Climate Pact, Decision CP/26. 1-8 Retrieved from: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/cop26_auv_2f_cover_decision.pdf (Accessed 12th January 2022).
 Jan Mayrhofer, 2021. COP26 outcomes: youth say no time for despair but call for stronger action. Youth forum. Retrieved from: https://www.youthforum.org/news/cop26-outcomes-youth-say-no-time-for-despair-but-call-for-stronger-action (Accessed 12th January 2022).
 UNFCCC Press Release on behalf of UK COP26 Presidency, 2021. Young People Demand Action To Protect Their Futures at COP26. Retrieved from: https://unfccc.int/news/young-people-demand-action-to-protect-their-futures-at-cop26 (Accessed 16th January 2022).
 UK COP26, 2021. Youth4Climate Manifesto. 1-44. Retrieved from: https://ukcop26.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Youth4Climate-Manifesto.pdf (Accessed 14th January 2022)
 COY16, 2021. Global Youth Statement. 1-11. Retrieved from: https://ukcoy16.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Global-Youth-Statement.pdf (Accessed 14th January 2022).
 Andrea Barolini, 2021. Last-minute change to COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact hands a lifeline to coal. Lifegate. Retrieved from: https://www.lifegate.com/cop26-glasgow-climate-pact (Accessed 18th January 2022).
 Ministero della Transizione Ecologica (MiTE), 2022. Clima: il MiTE organizza “Forever Y4C”. Retrieved from: https://www.mite.gov.it/pagina/clima-il-mite-organizza-forever-y4c (Accessed 20th January 2022).