Each year, the United Nations climate change negotiations draw more than ten thousand delegates from around the world to the Conference of Parties (COP). But Alana argues that COY isn’t working. Rather, it needs to be the space for making the cohesive and targeted plan that YOUNGO lacks. If we redesign it to be a tool for solidarity, the UN negotiations will truly hear the voices of the youth climate movement when we demand immediate change.
Each year, the United Nations climate change negotiations draw more than ten thousand delegates from around the world to the Conference of Parties (COP). Many of these are young people with deeply vested interests; our futures are at stake, and these talks are critical determinants of global policy. For this reason, many youth NGOS fiercely demand global climate justice. To be effective with our demands, we must come together for training, collaboration, and strategizing. This is where YOUNGO comes in.
YOUNGO, a loose amalgamation of youth NGOs, holds an annual Conference of Youth (COY) prior to the climate negotiations. The intent of COY8 in Doha, Qatar was to educate and organize this year’s delegates. Hundreds of passionate young organizers from around the world attended, including a strong showing from the newly minted Arab Youth Climate Movement. COY aimed to provide space for effective action and policy planning, but fell far short of the mark.
Like the amorphous YOUNGO, COY doesn’t seem to know itself. Is it designed to give first-time delegates a crash course on the negotiations, or is it a strategizing session bringing together seasoned leaders? By trying to do both, it accomplished neither. Veterans of COP sat in the hallways, pounding their laptops, killing time between the brief planned strategy sessions. First-timers hopped from workshop to workshop, learning much, but completely unaware of how they could work towards advancing YOUNGO’s vague demands at COP.
What COY did do, and do it well, was bring together young leaders in the same space and inspire us. It let us to get to know one another, sharing the passion and experiences that brought us from six continents for COP18. It was these personal connections that led to the most effective action and method of the youth movement at COP thus far—but it wasn’t born in a workshop or regional breakout.
By word of mouth and flurries of text messages, an ad-hoc group of nearly a hundred rom the global north and south met in a dim theatre. We all brought hard stories of real, immediate climate impacts we have been seeing, and it was these stories that grew into the ClimateLegacy movement. On the first morning of COP, youth held up signs of the climate injustices impacting their lives to negotiators as they entered as the first of many actions and statements. It was sobering and effective reminder of urgency of the climate crisis.
Without COY, we never would have come together. But this was just one campaign; we could have built so much more in three days. COY needs to re-evaluate its purpose. The youth who come to COP are for the most part trained, experienced, and motivated. Yes, we all benefit from every chance to improve our skills and knowledge, but this is not the place. YOUNGO can (and should) play a role in providing the resources for policy, communication, and action training in the home countries of its members. At COY itself, no more than a day should be taken, and it should be used for sharing specialized skills.
COY needs to be the space for making the cohesive and targeted plan that YOUNGO lacks. With so many national governments lagging or outright obstructing climate negotiations, the influence of young people is critical. We have travelled from all across the world to pursue an ambitious and binding agreement, not to learn interview skills. COY offers an amazing opportunity. If we redesign it to be a tool for solidarity, the UN negotiations will truly hear the voices of the youth climate movement when we demand immediate change.