Climate Justice & Sustainability

Bad Intentions? Influencing the New International Climate Agreement

Published on

The upcoming international climate agreement has been on the radar of the environmental governance discourse recently, with momentum building towards reaching an ambitious agreement at the COP21 negotiations in Paris in December 2015. This inherently offers young people an opportunity to shape this climate agreement. How, you may ask?


This year’s international climate agreement will be based on intentions. Parties to the UNFCCC (countries) will be submitting their national commitments detailing how they will deal with climate change, at the national level. These commitments have been termed as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). This bottom-up approach is a stark departure from the top-down approach upon which the Kyoto Protocol was premised upon, as well as the infamous COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009, which has been termed as a spectacular failure. Thus, this time round, countries will be submitting their intentions for the anticipated international climate regime in the form of INDCs. These INDCs will be in essence the ‘heart’ of the new international climate agreement.

Shaping Intentions

Thus far, only seven INDCs have been submitted, with more anticipated before October this year. All INDCs that have been submitted by October will be assessed by the UNFCCC to find out whether the aggregate impact of the commitments is on course to avoid a global temperature rise of 2 degrees. While there are those who are sceptical of the adequacy of these actions, the importance of INDCs can nonetheless be understated.

While the decision in COP20 in 2014 did not obligate countries to submit their INDCs - it encouraged those ready to do so - a number of countries will be submitting their national commitments. The good news is that this bottom-up approach provides an invaluable opportunity for wider society to contribute to the development of INDCs. Of course different countries have different configurations for engaging those outside of government, but nevertheless many actors - such as civil society - will get an opportunity to influence the development of the INDCs. The youth constituency, especially at the national level, has the potential to significantly influence the development of INDCs.

Global Synergy & Local Action

Youth have been at the forefront of calling for effective action to address climate change, from the local to the international level. This constituency of motivated young people, who consider themselves as the moral voice and representatives of future generations, could significantly influence the outcome of the Paris negotiations later this year.

While precedence has shown that it can be quite a challenge to influence climate negotiations at the international level (UNFCCC) - although not impossible - influencing climate action at the national and local levels is much more feasible. But linking both ends of the spectrum will be critical.

In essence, the success of youth interventions in influencing the international climate agreement this year will largely depend on how the youth constituency plans to do so. While quite a number of youth organisations are currently engaged in these efforts at the national and international levels, the crucial link will be how these efforts are synergised. The youth constituency has thus far shown international solidarity, and it is from this solidarity that young people should engage and support each other by having a common global strategy on how to influence the development of INDCS, and subsequently fan out to implement it at the national levels - while paying attention to the different national contexts and circumstances.

A Delicate Balancing Act

Truth be told, achieving the global-national balance in the youth constituency will not be easy, but is feasible. YOUNGO - the youth constituency - offers an excellent platform to coordinate such a strategy, since it is the preeminent platform for youth to engage in the UNFCCC process. Just like countries are adopting a bottom-up approach, the youth constituency can borrow a leaf and focus on strengthening the capacity of youth networks at the national level to influence the development of INDCs. This will be the crucial ‘heavy-lifting’ that will undoubtedly give much needed impetus to efforts by YOUNGO at the international negotiations.

The recent ecumenical by the Pope, on climate change has sharpened the focus on the climate change dilemma by characterising it as a moral issue of intergenerational dimensions. This is a seismic development in the push towards greater action on climate change, given that the Catholic community numbers about 1.2 billion, with a global reach.

It is not too late to tweak tact at the moment; this is a generational opportunity which when clearly grasped by youth, stands to significantly influence the climate governance regime at all levels - for better!

Written by Kennedy Liti Mbeva and edited by Alex Farrow.

Featured image from UKYCC Flickr, CC-License(by-nc-sa).