Climate Talks, Youth Empowerment

Youth and the COP negotiations: How can young people challenge climate change?

This article is written by Pierre Manenti.

Youth involvement in the UN decision-making process has a strong and quite long history, back to the 1980s when the UN General Assembly and its Secretary General Kurt Waldheim (1972-1981) asked national governments to include youth delegates in their delegations. Regarding the issue of climate change, young people had early stood up for a sustainable transformation of our societies toward greener and low-carbon models. Indeed, since 1999 and the Bonn COP5, following the reinforcement of the role of civil societies in the international climate negotiations, youth has insured its position as a inevitable interlocutor of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Photo: Nicolas Pinceloup.
Photo: Nicolas Pinceloup.


Yet, young people are not only delivering a unique and monolithic speech but are on the contrary developing different positions regarding their own national and regional interests so it took several years to find a common position.  In 2005, during Montreal COP11, young people from all around the world gathered for the first time to set up preparatory meetings called “Conferences of Youth” (COY) in order to strengthen their participation to the climate negotiations. Four years later, in 2009, during the Copenhagen COP15, the UNFCCC secretariat officially granted a provisional constituency status to the youth non-governmental organizations under the name of YOUNGO. For the first time ever, worldwide youth challenged climate change with one single voice.

As the citizens of tomorrow, young people have a moral responsibility to participate to international climate negotiations for demanding actions regarding mitigation and adaptation to climate change. The regular participation of young people to the sessions and intersessions of COPs, as NGO’s observers, and the institutionalization of the COYs increased their role and their ability to lobby national negotiators. For instance, during the 2015 Bonn intersessions (1st-11th June 2015), YOUNGO actively took part to the re-branding of Article 6 of the UNFCCC on education, training and public awareness under the name of Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE).

A leading part of youth in civil society

Achieving an ambitious, legally-binding and universal agreement next December, in Paris, during the COP21 negotiations, will suppose to direct all the public and private forces in the same direction. This can only be by including youth directly to climate talks. The multiplication of civil societies’ initiatives for weighing on the climate negotiations, including Marseille’s MEDCOP21 summit (June 2015) and Lyon’s World summit on Climate and Territories (July 2015), is a real opportunity to make youth’s demands being heard. The November 2015 COY11 will be the last major step on this road and we can fairly hope that political leaders and negotiators will join the rendezvous to listen and discuss the youth call for commonly shaping a better future for all of us.


About the author: Pierre Manenti is Research Director at CliMates. In 2014, he was the French delegate at the Y20 negotiations for sustainable development and chaired the Sustainable Development in the Cities WG of the Young European Council. In June 2015, he led CliMates’ delegation during the second week of the Bonn climate negotiations.

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