Thousands of delegates gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt for the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) last month. Delegates worked day and night given that there were only two weeks to negotiate terms and reach a feasible outcome that would set the precedent of global climate action for the year to come. This is the story of Nikka and Garid, two youth delegates from the East Asia and Pacific region, who rose to the occasion to highlight the importance of youth participation in climate change decision-making processes.
Prior to COP27, 1100+ young people from 140+ countries gathered for the 17th Conference of Youth (COY17) in Sharm el-Sheikh. The annual conference is organized by local youth and YOUNGO, the official Children and Youth constituency of the UNFCCC, building on the potential of young leaders in climate negotiation and policymaking. This year, I was nominated as the COY17 Country Lead for the Philippines. Hailing from a climate-vulnerable country, it was an honour and privilege to be representing my country in the largest and most substantial youth conference related to multilateral UN climate processes.
Days before I traveled to Egypt, I was once again reminded why I am in this fight. A “state of calamity” had been declared in several provinces in the country when a disastrous typhoon (Nalgae) caused widespread damage across the Philippines, causing hundreds of fatalities and displacing thousands of families. Climate-related disasters are a regular occurrence across East Asia and the Pacific: young climate activists are taking it upon themselves to raise awareness on this reality and be at the forefront of climate discussions. It is our fundamental right to be included in conversations relating to our futures.
Throughout COY17, young people were able to shape and lead the conversation. The conference featured several activities like workshops and panel discussions, equipping young people with the knowledge and skills to help us navigate the climate space (Garid and I filmed some clips to show you all what COY17 looked like inside, which you can see below). A highlight of my participation was being able to connect with inspiring youth leaders from around the world and helping to draft COY17’s key output - the Global Youth Statement. This policy document synthesizes the collective demands of young people around the world and contributes them to the COP27 decision-making.
Overall, attending COY17 was a transformative learning experience for me, strengthening my foundation in climate advocacy. Being surrounded by passionate young people and hearing about the impact they have created in their local communities not only inspired me, but also challenged me to do the same. For years, I have been actively involved with international organizations such that I often neglect issues happening at the local level. Now, I want to engage more with local projects and the most marginalized young people to explore ways to build more climate-resilient communities. Young people are effective drivers of change when empowered and given the right opportunities.
Now, I want to engage more with local projects and the most marginalized young people to explore ways to build more climate-resilient communities.
Youth conferences like COYs are training grounds to help young people foster active citizenship, empowering them to contribute to community development and nation building. However, financial and logistical obligations have been a challenge for many young people attending COYs. Hence, I will urge local government units in my province to support the participation of youth delegates to COYs, alongside encouraging them to facilitate more local consultations for inputs into the Global Youth Statements.
We have to recognize that climate action should start at the local level. Hence, we should leverage the potentials of our local stakeholders including youths in delivering effective and equitable solutions.
Attending COP27 as part of the Mongolia country delegation meant that I was responsible for advocating for the rights of climate-vulnerable children in my country. In my case, this meant advocating from within. When I met with policymakers who were responsible for the climate change policies in Mongolia, I urged for children’s rights to be prioritized at every step. We need to protect children from air pollution in Ulaanbaatar city and those children in rural communities who suffer from the harsh winter environments.
COP27 was my first climate change conference. Meeting thousands of others who had personally experienced climate change impacts opened my eyes to the bigger picture. From those who were concerned about the destruction of fresh water sources in Tibet to the delegates from Ukraine who didn’t stop advocating for climate action despite conflict at home, I had found my community of like-minded individuals.
Thankfully, the efforts of youth delegates didn’t go unnoticed. The Global Youth Statement was handed over to key decision-makers, and in the final Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, the importance of children and youth’s meaningful participation was highlighted in multiple clauses, encouraging countries to (continue to) include us as key stakeholders in future climate decision-making.
COP27 has equipped me with the necessary skills and networks to continue fighting for children’s environmental rights. Now, I hope to disseminate the same value to other young people in my country. Leveraging on the organization that I lead, the Mongolian Children’s Council, I want to raise awareness about the crisis and bring more youth to join in the climate movement. This means working with local eco-clubs that teach green lifestyles, supporting student-led grassroots projects with microfunding, and providing a safe space for children to explore climate change on their own. I also hope to use TikToks and social media posts to help young people feel more connected to the topic -- I was inspired by how other young people at COP were making the negotiations relatable to their youth communities in their countries, by effectively building connections between complex climate change policies and the day-to-day lives of young people.
COP27 has equipped me with the necessary skills and networks to continue fighting for children’s environmental rights. Now, I hope to disseminate the same value to other young people in my country.
The young people at COP27 were effective lobbyers and negotiators. They stepped in for interventions, bilateral meetings, protests and interviews to ensure that their concerns were heard in all relevant channels. This is another lesson I took home, where I hope to lobby in the Government’s National Council for Children - the highest state body for approving child-related concerns - to push for more bold climate actions by the Government and call to prioritize children’s rights and best interests at the heart of implementation agendas.
Nikka and Garid
We are among the 37 young leaders from our region selected to be part of the UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Young People’s Action Team (YPAT), which aims to support systematic meaningful engagement of young people at the regional and international level. Over the next year, we will tackle pressing issues in the region, particularly in combating climate change.
On our last meeting with YPAT, we debriefed the whole team on COP27, noting its highlights and significant outcomes. We conducted a brainstorming activity with the members, where we discussed how young people can collaborate with different stakeholders. There was a lot of interest on this topic, so, together, we will lead the YPAT Climate Action Working Group and hope to impart our knowledge to our team. In the wake of COP27, this working group will be a great opportunity to build momentum for youth engagement at COP28 by initiating campaigns and projects in the region.
Both COY17 and COP27 were valuable learning experiences for us that built our capacity to take forward our own projects and advocacy back in our own countries. With a promising recognition for young people at COP27, we cannot wait to see more progress on youth inclusion across all climate action processes - hopefully, we see more appreciation with intergenerational dialogues in the coming years.