Intergenerational equity (Inteq) was one of the few good news stories coming out of YOUNGO, and out of the recent UNFCCC COP19 negotiations more widely. Youth Policy Labs’ Chef Campaigner Ellie caught up with Luke Kemp, a member of the Inteq Working Group at COP and a regular writer for Youth Policy Labs, to find out more about Inteq, what happened at the talks in Warsaw and how, and what’s next for the Inteq working group.

First off, what is Inteq?

First and foremost it is short for “Intergenerational Equity”.  The principle of Inteq is simply that the Earth should be handed on to future generations in a state that is in balance – no worse than it was received. This means that future generations should have the same access to resources and ecological services that current generations’ enjoy.  It is quite a common-sense position and one that is at the heart of all environmental problems.

As a working group our aim is to have the principle codified and made operational in the 2015 climate agreement.  There has been a growing body of international law on Inteq, but this would be the first time the principle will have been explicitly recognised and operationalised in an international agreement.

How was COP19 for you and the Inteq Working Group?

Quite smashing actually.  Our group experienced a degree of success that has become rather rare within the youth constituency.  The Inteq group managed to have a reference to protecting “future generations” inserted into the text for the ADP (2015 climate agreement) negotiations. It is the first time since the creation of the convention in 1992 that there has been any recognition of the temporal moral dimension of climate change. Additionally we managed to have over 70 countries, represented by ministers and heads of state, sign the “Warsaw Declaration on Intergenerational Equity and Climate Change”.  We had some struggles and it was a long and difficult path to these outcomes, but overall I think we can see COP19 as a moderate success.

Credit: Ralien Bekkers
Credit: Ralien Bekkers

Great! How did the group go about achieving this?

The accomplishments of the Inteq Group were built upon a few key cornerstones- unity, organisation and strategy.  Unity was first and foremost about trust in the message and group.  Critical thinking and disagreement were constants in the group, but it was used to strengthen and refine our strategy rather than fragment us[1].

Secondly, we were organised.  We had already planned out initial actions, passed our policy points through YOUNGO and mapped out key lobbying targets before the COP began.  When the COP did start we had a collated spreadsheet with each country and constituency to be lobbied and we continuously updated this to keep track of who we had spoken to and their initial reactions.  We broke up into gender balanced lobbying pairs and had countries allocated on the basis of language skills and citizenship.  We also ensured that tasks fitted the skills and opportunities of each member.  For example our pink-badges (official youth representatives) had access to closed negotiating sessions and often tracked and lobbied during these sessions while others who didn’t have access provided technical support or organised actions.

While we may have been a collection of NGO and official youth representatives, our approach looked very much like a military operation.  But negotiations are very much like a battlefield after all.

Would you say this is typical of the way YOUNGO works?

The Inteq Working Group at COP19
The Inteq Working Group at COP19

Unfortunately not at all.  It was once, to some extent, but it’s pretty clear that our group is quite unique within YOUNGO currently.  We appeared to be basically the only group that had prepared and worked throughout the year, and not just at COP, and who had a concrete strategy and goals.  While some of the other working groups such as Loss and Damages and Mitigation were active once they formed, they never had a hope of influencing the process because they started too late.  If you only start your working group at COP and have no leadership or plan for lobbying then there is simply no chance of creating change in the negotiations.   The working group becomes useful as a learning experience, but not much beyond that; it lacks a higher purpose.

It’s worth adding that the only other group I can think of which has worked in a similar fashion to Inteq within YOUNGO was capacity building/Article 6, which had had the WAGGs group as a driving force and inspired some of our own work.  So, we are more of the exception within YOUNGO rather than norm.

What do the outcomes of COP19 in intergenerational equity really mean?

Ultimately the accomplishments of our group are both vast and yet shockingly minor at the same time.  The two words we had placed in text mean nothing by themselves.  Their simple presence hides the staggering amount of work which went into placing them there.   Yet those two words could signify so much more. Our negotiator friend from Chile who put our text forward aptly described them as a ‘hook’, a basis for further work towards our endgame in 2015.

Yet the words themselves are perhaps not the most important outcome.  The most significant outcome was the least visible one.  It was that we seemed to change the discourse of negotiations.

After many years of negotiations I had rarely heard any negotiator utter the words “Intergenerational”.  Yet by the end of COP the phrase was everywhere from ministerial speeches to negotiator interventions.  The abbreviation of “Inteq” was even picked up by many negotiating teams.  It is a vital shift since one of the ideas of Inteq as a principle is to promote a new ethos and focus within the negotiations which goes beyond the traditional foils of pathological distrust and the developed-developing country firewall

Where next for Inteq?

First of all we need to work on improving our own team internally.  We had some missed opportunities at COP19 but having more structured and consistent work throughout the year will ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. COP20 should provide an opportunity to develop our diversity, particularly by including Latin American youth.  Overall we need to strike a balance between effectiveness and inclusivity (especially for those youth only coming to the second week), which appeared to sometimes be in tension at COP19.

Sadly enough another barrier lies in how we navigate the politics of YOUNGO.  There was a running joke in our group that we were having less trouble with getting Inteq into the actual negotiations than getting it agreed through YOUNGO.  Unfortunately the joke had a kernel of truth to it and the implications are no laughing matter.

Are you excited about the future of Inteq?

Indeed I am.  I need to elaborate?  Well then, despite the barriers that exist I am quietly confident that we will be successful in at least getting the principle recognised, if not operationalized in the 2015 agreement.

We have a promising beginning, yet it is nonetheless a beginning.  The real test begins in Peru next year where we will seek to get Inteq into the outcome text and have parties put forward our ideas on operationalising Inteq.   But I’m actually more excited for what Inteq has to offer the wider youth movement; a leverage point in negotiations which youth can rally to and a new path forward on how youth engage with the realm of international politics.


[1] It’s worth noting that while our group works by voting, we never had to resort to a vote.  It’s a minor addition to a growing body of international evidence which shows that voting is a better consensus builder than consensus is.

Featured Image Credit: Mateusz Włodarczyk

Written by Ellie Hopkins

Ellie Hopkins

Ellie is a multi-award winning campaigner on issues ranging from education to mental health and nuclear disarmament. In recent years Ellie has focused on climate change, working with young people as a trainer, campaigner and as Director of the UK Youth Climate Coalition. With an academic background in international development, Ellie is the Youth Policy Labs' chief campaigner.