Listen Up: Including Youth Voices in International Ocean-Climate Negotiations

By Student Delegate Heidi Johnson

In the months leading up to COP26, youth leaders shared concerns relating to the climate change crisis. These youth received support from leaders who recognize that youth should play a crucial role in climate negotiations because youth will face the consequences of climate inaction. Supportive leaders vowed to address youth climate change concerns at the COP26 summit. But these promises fall short, as youth should have an opportunity to participate in negotiations directly.

The U.K., charged with hosting COP26, provided an opportunity for youth to propose ideas and concrete actions to address climate change. Youth responded with the “Youth4Climate Manifesto,” created in late September 2021 by nearly 400 youth from around the world, to address climate action’s central urgencies and priorities. While this manifesto was being produced, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi pledged that world leaders would listen to youth demands ahead of the COP26 summit, including a transparent climate finance system, sustainable and responsible tourism, and eliminating fossil fuels by 2030. Youth asked that the COP26 agenda cover these key objectives.

COP26 negotiators appear to have taken youth’s request to heart and discussed these concerns during informal consultations on the periodic review of the long-term global goal. The Blue Zone also highlighted these concerns in side-events, such as in an event on aligning export finance with the Paris Agreement. The Green Zone too addressed these concerns, opening COP26 Finance Day with an event discussing the scorecard on insurance, fossil fuels, and climate change. During COP26, leaders and activists continue to stress the need for long-term thinking that considers climate change’s effects on future generations.

Still, some leaders contend that more can be done. Vermont Law School’s COP26 Delegation hosted a kick-off event, housed by the Virtual Ocean Pavilion and promoted by Nausicaá, providing youth the opportunity to meet a climate negotiator and ocean champion. Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT) CEO Angelique Pouponneau offered invaluable insight into the intriguing world of climate negotiations. Pouponneau, as a lawyer and advocate, discussed the need for youth involvement in ocean-climate negotiations, noting that there remains a need to include all voices.

Pouponneau discussed youth opportunities in climate change action, emphasizing that youth need not wait for COP to influence change because the action starts at home. Pouponneau began her journey in ocean advocacy as a youth, helping with SIDS Youth AIMS Hub (SYAH), a youth-led organization seeking to implement youth-led sustainable development in Small Island Developing States (SIDS). She recommends that youth take a similar step by joining organizations such as the Youth Nongovernmental Organization (YOUNGO), which seeks to ensure that young perspectives are considered in multilateral UNFCCC decision-making processes. She also encourages youth to participate by writing a letter or publishing a blog because “we need to make sure that young people’s voices are being heard.”

Nonetheless, Pouponneau believes youth also have a role to play at COP and identifies young people as the “moral conscience not just of the negotiations and delegations, but of the decisions they will automatically inherit in the coming years.” As an established negotiator, Pouponneau shared her top 5 tips for young COP negotiators, including: 1) Come prepared to COP negotiations with your three strongest asks because negotiators’ time is limited; 2) Consider important aspects of your asks, such as, why is this important? What are the connectivity issues? Why should we stop working in silos?; 3) Take time to educate others because they may not share your knowledge; 4) Maintain your confidence; and 5) “Go for it!”

Youth should directly participate in the ocean-climate decision-making process because youth have a unique interest in protecting our global ocean. Considering this interest, the Youth4Ocean Forum seeks to engage young ocean change-makers with a common goal of ensuring a future healthy ocean that will continue to sustain life on earth. This youth forum provides youth with opportunities to speak up, share ideas, present projects, and connect with like-minded people and experts. Nausicaá supports the Youth4Ocean Forum by facilitating calls for youth marine project submissions for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of marine ecosystems.

Should ocean-climate negotiations fail to prevent irreparable harm, youth and future generations will bear the burden of enduring ensuing consequences. Hence, youth would do well to heed Pouponneau’s advice, and go for it!





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