“Our – that is, YOUNGO’s – first key challenge is a lack of a clear function at the international climate change negotiations. Our current approach does not suit these vital talks; we don’t play to our strengths, build on our past victories or make the most of our rights as a recognised constituency within the UNFCCC” In the first in his series on reforming the youth constituency at the climate talks, Luke looks at the function of YOUNGO itself.

Our – that is, YOUNGO’s – first key challenge is a lack of a clear function at the international climate change negotiations. Our current approach does not suit these vital talks; we don’t play to our strengths, build on our past victories or make the most of our rights as a recognised constituency within the UNFCCC[1].

As youth we do have some unique and important leverage points that we could and should use as the starting point for determining our function.

Firstly, many of us are university students, or even researchers in our own right.  We have specialised knowledge that is often greater than that of negotiators – many of whom are lawyers or professional negotiators ill-rehearsed in the subjects they are negotiating on.   This is an important resource. Research has shown that expertise is one of the greatest weapons NGOs have.  This is leverage that we should prize and use.

Second, if we want to reach our potential then we need to look to what rights we have been given as a constituency within the UNFCCC, and we need to use those rights to the full.   We have access to workshops, we can speak at plenaries and high level segments and we have improved access to bilateral discussions with negotiators and chairs of official contact, expert and negotiating groups.   Most importantly, by being recognised as key stakeholders in the process and its outcomes, we have gained the power and authority to act as the voice of youth.

Linked to this is our third leverage point. For many diplomats, the voice of the youth movement is one that can be trusted to be unbiased by corporate or political interests, and as such they are often keen to meet with representatives of YOUNGO on a regular basis.  We aren’t seen as a threat or regarded suspiciously as many other groups are and we probably have the strongest moral voice of any constituency.  These attributes all provide us with important advantages when it comes to establishing and using networks and proposing text or ideas within negotiations.

Our strengths, successes and our rights as a constituency all suggest that we should act primarily as an organisation for youth to influence negotiations.  We have the moral (and often intellectual) authority and the access to negotiators needed to seriously and effectively lobby for the interests of youth and the unborn.

We may be an international movement, but we should match our approach to our arena.  Within the UNFCCC we should aim to guide the outcomes.  We should seek to produce the best results for youth and future generations.

This is not to say capacity building, networking for the movement or protests in general should be ignored; there is a valid and important place for these.  But they should not be the domineering, central priorities that they have been previously – they should support and bolster the rest of our work.    The best way for us to be effective and influence negotiations is to instead direct our energies towards a different path, a path of tracking and persuading.  Building the movement and capacity will come naturally as we work together towards this common goal.

As representatives of future generations we have certain responsibilities.  We have a duty to be as effective as possible within our domain of the UNFCCC.  We do not have the luxury to have our function determined by history or ideology.  We have a responsibility to focus on what works and that requires change from all of us, but it is a change for the better.


This blog is part of a series authored by Luke Kemp for /environment looking at how the youth constituency to the UN climate talks should reform itself. You can read his other articles here.


[1] The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty with the objective of “[stabilizing] greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” More here.

Written by Luke Kemp

Luke Kemp

Luke is a PhD Candidate at the Australian National University and Research Fellow with the Earth System Governance Project. His current research focuses upon institutional reform of international environmental governance.When not criticizing consensus or writing his thesis he enjoys meditation and plotting world domination.