Since 2008 a UK Youth Delegation has been going to the UN Climate Talks. Contrary to what you may have thought, youth delegations are not all about attending an event as a representative of your home country. Rather, delegates are young campaigners, organisers and advocates who come together to share their knowledge and skills with others to form an ever-strengthening International Youth Climate Movement.
With a new head negotiator for the UK one of our focuses for our delegation was to build up a good working relationship with the new UK negotiating team. We had a couple of productive meetings, where we found out about their plans for the UK emissions reduction, which partly led to an invitation to a youth roundtable to discuss it (see blog for more details). We had run a Messages to Marrakesh campaign before we went, and so took lots of messages to the UK delegation, which they actually pinned up inside their office 🙂
We ran a side event in collaboration with two other international youth organisations on ‘How engaging youth actions are integral to implementing the Paris Agreement and climate justice’, which was an amazing exchange of ideas and plans.
And we helped organise some really fun and punchy actions (no actual punching involved). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ut38hClsgwI
Paris, France 2015 (COP21)
COP21 in Paris was the one everyone had been waiting for. For years politicians and the UN had been promising to reach a global agreement to tackle climate change in Paris in 2015. The media were watching and there was a feeling of excitement and fear that this was our best, and possibly our last, chance to come to an agreement between all countries to tackle climate change. In the months before COP21 hundreds of thousands of people across the world – from Melbourne to Mexico City – marched to show how much we needed strong action in Paris.
With such an important COP just on our doorstep, over 20 UKYCCers went to Paris, joining thousands of other climate activists from around the world calling for an ambitious treaty to tackle climate change.
We marched, we protested, we held banners, we spoke to UN officials and UK delegates, we wrote articles and tweeted our hearts out. Many of us attended the Paris Conference of Youth where we ran workshops, met young people and wrote our own Youth Manifesto.
The COP itself was very tense – everyone was desperate for a deal to be struck, yet fearful that the deal would be too weak to protect the planet. Thanks to the international pressure, high expectations and guidance of the French Presidency a deal was finally reached. Much has since been said about the treaty (see our blogs page for some of our perspectives) and it seems certain that it won’t limit global warming to an acceptable level. But it can’t be denied that COP21 was a historic moment in fighting climate change and international scrutiny is now upon all countries to fulfill their pledges. Our role as youth climate campaigners is now more important than ever in holding governments to their promises and putting into practice real climate justice in our countries and communities.
Lima, Peru 2014 (COP20)
In 2014, two UKYCC delegates headed to Lima, Peru, to participate in COP20. Meanwhile, we also had a delegate attend the event “Lima in Brussels”, organised by European youth. The purpose was to track the negotiations while building a network of young climate activists across Europe and campaigning against the fossil fuel industry.
COP20 was largely seen as preparation for COP21 in Paris the following year. As such, it aimed to tackle some of the pressing issues in the negotiation of the climate deal, as well as produce a draft text. While COP20 was taking place, the Philippines was struck by a super-typhoon highlighting the consequences of climate change and the importance of urgent action. Youth and civil society showed their support for vulnerable countries through a silent action requesting “solidarity not just sympathy” and urged negotiators to increase ambitions in order to prevent more natural disasters.
Although the conference was scheduled to end on Friday afternoon, it went on until the early hours of Sunday due to disagreements between countries. While negotiators were meeting behind closed doors to prepare the final draft text, youth decided to write a little song for them.
The final result of the conference was the Lima Call for Climate Action, a framework for countries to submit their national pledges to cut emissions (formally known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions). It has been criticised for containing weak language and for not obliging countries to provide information concerning the implementation of their pledges.
Warsaw, Poland 2013 (COP19)
Twelve UKYCC delegates attended COP19 in Warsaw. Things started badly when the coal-loving hosts announced the array of corporate polluters who were sponsoring the conference. It was the first of many ‘dumb ways to fry the planet’ which were on display during the two weeks:
The second week of the negotiations was also marred by back-sliding by rich countries – lowering their emissions pledges and reducing climate finance pledges. It culminated in civil society staging a walk-out for the first time in the negotiations history. We chanted, ‘Polluters Talk, We Walk’ and handed in our accreditation badges two days early.
Despite the bad taste left by the negotiations, UKYCC was stronger than ever and proud to bear witness with the rest of the International Youth Climate Movement, and in particular the newly founded Polish Youth Climate Network. For more information about the delegation’s antics and their reflections on the talks, check out the COP19 Hotspot.
Doha, Qatar 2012 (COP18)
COP18 was paradoxically located in Doha, Qatar – the nation with the highest carbon emissions per person in the world, and where petrol is cheaper than water. Seven UKYCC youth delegates were undeterred by this curious backdrop and launched themselves into the experience, supported by a UK based team. Simultaneously, UKYCC were at “Qatar in Brussels” – a meeting of European youth in Belgium to track the talks, stage actions and share skills.
It was a technical and “transitional” COP, one more step on the long and winding road to 2015, where the real deal making is supposed to happen. The conference heralded a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol – but a limp and lifeless version of a climate deal. The parties also closed one negotiating track, the LCA or Long-term Cooperative Action, and moved onto the ADP, or Durban Platform. Amongst all the jargon, they failed to pledge finance for developing countries and failed to set emissions reductions targets.
Civil society was depleted at COP18. However, YOUNGO was still a force to be reckoned with and, spurred on by the Arab Youth Climate Movement, did some amazing work at the conference. In the final hours, young people chanted, “Developing nations – we stand behind your red lines. If not justice – nothing.” As the negotiators filed out of the building, patting themselves on the back, young people yelled, “Climate justice, not here, not now. We condemn this deal.”
At the conference, the international team also built long-term connections with youth activists from around the world, gave workshops and had the experience of a lifetime. They returned home exhausted, but ready to plan for 2013 and COP19. In fact, Jamie was elected as a “focal point” for YOUNGO for COP19, helping the youth constituency to liaise with UN staff.
Bonn Intersessional, May 2012
Camilla, Louisa, Paul, Jamie, Raj, Lucy and Danny worked with the European Youth Climate Movement at the Bonn intercessional meeting in May 2012. As the first opportunity for countries to discuss the new negotiating track, which covers a 2020 global deal, equity was a major theme – and one of our most powerful actions was showing negotiators that a thorough discussion of equity is the pathway to greater ambition. During the two week conference, youth also staged actions to highlight the influence of the dirty industry lobby in the talks and called for developed countries to commit to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol rather than backing out quietly!
Youth campaigners demand equitable, ambitious action at climate talks
Durban, South Africa 2011 (COP17)
Firstly at COY7, not only did UKYCC get involved with all the workshops and create some truly international friendships and actions we also made everyone dance to Shakira…
Then at COP17 we got serious on the Kyoto Protocol (A binding treaty from the 1997 COP (effective from 2005) to do with industrialised countries reducing they greenhouse gas emissions. At this COP it was now up for renewal.)
By the end, COP17 was so full of talk it ran over by 2 days behind closed doors. Leaving young people and others civil society members so frustrated and annoyed that they ran a flash-mob within the conference center plus a special YOUNGO press conference with international journalists.
The final outcomes of COP17 were – Kyoto Protocol gaining a second commitment period, but no actually commitments were made and a few loopholes were left opened; the Green Climate Fund was created, plus a new treaty was decided to be made, with a working group being created.
Bonn Intersessional, May 2011
At this Bonn meeting the UK youth delegation gave praise to the countries that were moving forward on climate change action (Ray of the Day), and booed those that weren’t (at one point, negotiations about a bit of text to do with loss and damage went round in circles for 3 days!).
The delegation also dressed up for communities Vs carbon markets and danced for ‘Raise Ambition, Reduce Emissions’.
Cancun, Mexico 2010 (COP16)
Every year, before the COP gets underway, youth gather together to hold their own Conference of Youth (COY). At COY6, UKYCC took a step forward in coordinating the event, plus learning from other young people from around the world and getting ready for the two weeks ahead.
Cancun delegation had a memorable time in Cancun calling on Chris Huhne stay in Cancun for the duration of the talks, pushing for the Green Climate Fund to be established and for the protection of carbon sinks and then there was Article 6 – a big win for youth:
“Basically, we wrote the text. This was a BIG win. For the first time we can point to actual paragraphs of the text and say ‘young people did that.’ One of the UN chairs said this was unprecedented and he’d never seen such a well-written, well-thought out brief before. We got a decision passed on climate education when at the beginning of the conference we wouldn’t have thought it possible in our wildest dreams. It’s now UN policy that there should be climate change education both in school and out of school and that young people should be involved in decision-making on climate change. Plus, we changed World Bank policy and increased funding for participation and education!”
Bonn Intersessional, May 2010
Having firmly cemented our place at the COP meetings in the previous two years, and with a year-round team now dedicated to UN engagement, we decided it was high time we put in an appearance at as many of the ‘in between’ meetings as possible. Most of the intersessional meetings are held in Bonn (with just one at the end of the year held elsewhere), so there really was no excuse not to go.
At this one, youth found themselves focusing on two issues – one was Article 6, which is to do with Education and by the end of the intersessional, we found ourselves influencing negotiations and the text itself. The other was a loophole within the LULUCF (land use, land use change and forestry) allowing countries to hide their carbon emissions. Thus we held a circus filled Loophole Land action.
Copenhagen, Denmark 2009 (COP15)
2009 is best known in the climate change world for the COP15 meeting in Copenhagen. The snow-bound conference was supposed to be the end-point of the Bali Roadmap and the point at which an international agreement was reached about what the global community would do about climate change when the Kyoto Protocol ran out in 2012.
Many will know that Copenhagen was widely regarded as a failure by the climate movement and by society more generally. But it’s easy to overlook the successes and wins that Copenhagen brought about.
Chief amongst these was the massive delegation (23 officially, plus half of the UKYCC team ended up there too) we sent to Copenhagen, bringing people together from all over the UK to take our voice to the UN, joining it with the voices of our peers to create a huge youth presence both inside and outside of the negotiations.
During their time there the delegation called on friends and family to ring Gordon Brown to tell him they wanted a deal on climate change (in the process shutting down the No. 10 switchboard!), partied with the Kenyan delegation, gave Yvo (the Executive Secretary of the talks) a hug, and took part in the hundreds of actions that took place, from recreating the sounds of the forest to staging a sit-in. Moreover, the delegation talked to people, made friends and shared stories. And then they shared those experiences with us – blogging, tweeting, photographing and videoing their way through the two weeks.
Bonn Intersessional, May 2009
Following on from the successes of the delegation in Poznan and the kick-starting of the European Youth Climate Movement, a group of young Europeans decided to go to one of the smaller ‘intersessional’ meetings (i.e. the meetings in between each of the big annual COP meetings) in Bonn, Germany.
Whilst there, they decided to launch the “Think 2050″ campaign – asking delegates, negotiators and the UN staff how old they would be in 2050. The group was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to make an ‘intervention’ (essentially a speech) to the plenary group (i.e. everyone!) and our very own Kirsty did a fantastic job. Below is a recording of that intervention.
Since the launch of the “Think 2050″ campaign the message has been taken up by young people worldwide and has proved to be a hugely important tool in creating the perspective and vision that we need negotiators to have.
Poznan, Poland 2008 (COP14)
Once upon a time it was 2008 and there was a big UN meeting coming up in Poznan, Poland. In the UK the first parts of the UKYCC were coming together, and the beady-eyed team spotted this COP14 meeting as a chance to really engage young people in climate change decision making. So with the help of the Otesha Project, and having received top-class training from the likes of People and Planet and WWF, 10 young people headed out to the chilly east of Europe.
Whilst there, the first ever UK Youth Delegation joined a 500 strong youth presence and joined forces with the plethora of European Youth to send letters to all the EU Environment Ministers who met in the first week. This also saw the birth of the European Youth Climate Movement (EYCM). During their time in Poznan the delegation were also involved in the two youth interventions and a speech during the negotiations, making sure the youth voice was loud and prominent, and they took a leading role in the Youth Pledge which was included as part of the official outcome report of the negotiations. Finally, the delegation got the chance to meet our (then) minister for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Milliband – a meeting which turned out to be the first of many!