Participation & Governance

A key to the talks or a barrier participation: youth and official delegate status at the climate talks

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Each year, some young people are accredited at the UN climate talks as ‘official delegates’. Amongst other things, the pink badges they wear give them access to closed meetings, making them much desired. But wearers are often limited in their influence and required to tow the ‘party line’ and as such are limited in their ability to participate in the talks and in the youth constituency. One pink badge-wearer asks ‘is it worth it’?

Being a youth environmental activist with a keen interest in international climate policy, I DSC02139have always found myself castigating the climate change negotiators for lacking ambition and commitment to address climate change. But at COP18 in Doha, Qatar, I found myself on the other side of the fence: as an official government delegate. As such, I had a pink badge where most of my colleagues had yellow badges*. Suffice to say, I had to start viewing things in a slightly different context.

During the first day, on the electronic walkway at the entrance of the convention centre for COP18, I passed by a group of fellow youth climate activists holding placards that carried messages bemoaning the dearth of commitment, specifically targeted at the negotiators. At that point in time, I was lost on what to do; do I to pass by and assume I had seen nothing, or do I join my fellow youth activists and also hold a placard.

“What being an ‘official delegate’ mostly did for me, is restrict me. You get pushed into a very small corner, because of all the ‘officialness’… You better not misbehave in any way shape or form, better don’t say anything to radical to any reporter or whatever, etc. etc… As youth, you want to be as free as possible… and the pink badge isn’t actually helping with that I think. For example; I was kind of paranoid to take part in any ‘actions’ at Doha, because if I got into any form of trouble with the security/secretariat, my delegation (head) would be contacted and given someexaggerationof what I did/said, which is something you really want to avoid at all costs.”

- Sam Hamels’ experience as an official delegate

It was then that I realized that we are all trying to solve the same challenges, but with different approaches. The climate change negotiations are complex, and achieving meaningful results is a lengthy and difficult task; this is what I picked up after spending more than eight hours deliberating a draft text, with nothing being agreed at the long run.

For the 18 years or so that the annual climate change negotiations have been taking place, nothing much significant has been achieved, with regard to public expectations. But the castigation, encouragement and critique of the negotiations do have a great impact in pushing the negotiators and governments to take action on climate change.

From this experience, it was apparent that the most effective way of solving climate change is through the numerous projects on the ground solving climate change challenges, especially led by young people. The biggest asset at the disposal of youth engaged in climate change issues is the organizations that make up the international youth climate movement. It is in these groups and networks that we have numerous young people implementing novel projects to address climate change; hence the enormous potential for change.

However, in order for youth to achieve the change they yearn for, they must consolidate activism and project implementation. So far, this integration has been quite fragmented, as these two approaches have been treated as mutually exclusive entities. Perhaps an emerging term, ‘actvocacy’, aptly captures this integration.

International negotiations by themselves will not solve the climate change conundrum, neither will grassroots action by itself. But rather, consolidating and strengthening the international youth movement will unlock the immense potential of the global youth population, hence altering the course of solving the climate change challenge, for the better.

Pink alone will not save the world!

* The UN allocates different coloured badges to different groups of people; non-governmental observers have yellow badges, official country delegates have pink badges, the press get blue etc. This coloured band enables those attending the talks - as well as security - to tell each other apart at a glance, to know what information or closed meetings they are allowed to access etc.