COP28's Legacy for Children and Youth in the Climate Struggle

by Joshua Villalobos, COP28 Youth Delegate

20 December 2023
Joshua Villalobos at COP28
Joshua Villalobos
Joshua Villalobos at COP28 in Dubai, UAE

Before the United Nations Climate Summit, formally known as the COP28 or 28th Conference of Parties, even started, there were already reservations and a lot of suspicion from climate advocates on how a climate summit situated in a country producing fossil fuels could deliver the desperately needed decision and action. 

While traveling to Dubai to attend the UN Climate Summit, which gathers governments from 195 countries, I wrote that we cannot just give up on this process and despite all the pessimism surrounding COP, we owe it to children to be hopeful. 

Perhaps because I know I can't give up hope.  

Hope was the currency of our struggle. Hope was the thing that allowed us to dream for a better and livable future. Hope will keep us alive and positive even if the world tells us that there’s nothing we can do.  

How dare I give up hope when children in my country are constantly being displaced due to climate-induced disasters? Their education disrupted, their health and nutrition affected, and their future being stolen in front of our very eyes. 

I went to COP, bringing with me the realities and struggles of children and young people in the Philippines.  

While I was at COP, I was interviewed for a video and I was asked, “Can you close your eyes and imagine a future where the climate crisis is already addressed?” 

As someone who has been involved in the climate movement for years now, this should have been an easy thing to do. But to my own surprise, I also struggled to answer the question. 

As someone who grew up in a country constantly battered by disasters, it is difficult to imagine a future where the climate crisis is already addressed. It is blurry to make a vision of the future when your everyday reality, along with the hundred million of your people, is a life living under the climate crisis.  

But this question motivated me to strive harder in the remaining days of the climate negotiations. 

COP28 was a breakthrough COP for children and young people 

Aside from the overwhelming presence of young people at COP this year - from indigenous communities, rural areas, young people from the Global South, and other marginalized young people. A lot of youth are also at the negotiating tables as young negotiators bringing with them the unique perspective of young people and the vigor to address the climate crisis. 

There was also a significant presence of children with delegates as young as 9 years old.  

Children and young people spoke at various side events and even in main plenary sessions highlighting the need for intergenerational solidarity and in safeguarding our future. 

However, aside from the side events and speaking engagements, this is also the COP that delivered a decision text with the most reference to children. In the Global Stocktake decision alone, children were referenced five times! 

The Expert Dialogue for Children 

One of the things we fought for at COP was the proposed expert dialogue on how children are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. 

Simply, if this proposal is adopted, a group of experts will come up with a report on how children are affected more by the climate crisis, and their report will be used in the succeeding climate summits to inform the policymakers and governments on how to respond to the unique contexts and circumstances of children. 

I worked with the UNICEF negotiations team to lobby negotiators to support our proposal and bring it up in the session so it will be included in the decision text. 

It was definitely a struggle to get the attention of negotiators for this proposal as they have other priorities and they don’t see the expert dialogue for children as something urgent for this COP. 

However, with Norway, Chile, and Mexico, Fiji, among other countries championing for the proposal in the plenary with the support of other countries, the proposal for the expert dialogue was adopted. 

Even though it may seem simple, the fact that it was included in the decision text amidst the many issues that need to be addressed is a huge victory for children and the next generations, as the output of the dialogue can be used as leverage to push for stronger climate action that puts into consideration the contexts and circumstances of children.  

Meanwhile, there were also favorable outcomes for children in the global goal for adaptation and other agenda that were discussed at COP. 

Reflecting on this experience, it becomes evident that more pressure is needed to heighten ambition and action from government leaders. Children and youth, integral to the process, played a vital role in urging government leaders to safeguard our collective future. The need for unity and coming together to address the climate crisis has never been more pressing. As we celebrate victories such as the inclusion of the expert dialogue in the decision text, we must recognize that these are stepping stones toward a sustainable and resilient future. 

Although the final COP28 decision text didn't deliver the language on the phaseout of fossil fuels, the breakthrough and achievements call for inspiration, hope, and a resounding call to action.  

We stand at a critical juncture where the decisions made today will shape the world our children inherit tomorrow. Let the achievements of COP28 fuel our determination to continue pressing for change, fostering a global unity that transcends borders and ideologies. The path ahead is challenging, but with unwavering hope and collective action, we can build a future that truly safeguards the well-being of every child and preserves the beauty of our shared planet. 

 

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Joshua Villalobos is a young queer environment and climate justice activist and organizer from Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. He is the Lead Convenor of the Negrosanon Initiative for Climate and the Environment, and a columnist for Sunstar Bacolod News. 

Media contacts

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Reports Officer
UNICEF Philippines
Tel: +63 920 222 7120

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