Record youth participation at COP28: Why it matters

Posted in: Climate change, COP28, Education, Global politics

Amy Thompson is the Head of Policy Programmes and Communications at the University of Bath Institute for Policy Research (IPR). She attended COP28 as the Head of Delegation for the University of Bath and to present ActNowFilm: youth climate leaders in conversation with climate experts. ActNowFilm is an international youth voices in climate change project, run by the IPR and Cambridge Zero, that calls for the integration of young people into national climate negotiating teams and global climate decision-making processes. 

Last week I attended COP28, the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference, as the Head of Delegation for the University of Bath, marking the first time the University has attended a COP meeting as an UNFCCC accredited institution. On a personal level it was a transformative experience that offered a firsthand look into the intricate and complicated world of international climate negotiations. Held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the conference brought together over 100,000 world leaders, policymakers, activists, business leaders and the largest representation of young people at any COP meeting to date, collectively striving to address the urgent challenges posed by climate change.

Walking through the enormous Dubai Expo City I was struck by a host of mixed feelings. I was inspired by all the incredible people I crossed paths with – indigenous leaders from the Amazon, climate scientists explaining the clear science of why we need to phase out fossil fuels, and youth climate researchers leading on the inaugural Global Youth Stocktake. But I also felt guilty that I had flown to a COP hosted by a petrostate and presided over by a fossil fuel executive who actively sought to undermine the science and need for a phase-down of fossil fuels.

In my view, this COP marked an underwhelming tilt in the global effort to combat climate change. As the world grapples with the urgent need for decisive action, the outcomes of COP28 hold significant implications for the future of our planet.

The conference concluded the first global stocktake of climate action under the Paris Agreement and adopted a decision calling for accelerated short-term action and an orderly transition away from fossil fuels towards climate-neutral energy systems. While the reference to fossil fuels is highly significant – the first time ever a COP decision explicitly addresses the main cause of climate change – the lack of a clear and urgent call for action is incommensurate with the scale of the climate crisis and is further weakened by loopholes that could delay emissions reductions.

Yet, COP28 also offered some grounds for hope, including the introduction of important new themes, such as health. Food was also a high talking point – of great importance as food production and food waste account for a about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

There was also the announcement of the Loss and Damage Fund, established by COP27 in 2022, which will provide financing to those irreversibly affected by climate change as a result of extreme weather events or slower-moving impacts, such as sea level rise. At COP28, the fund was fully operationalised with $700 million of funding committed to it. While this is far below what is needed – given that the costs of loss and damage in developing countries are already estimated to be in the hundreds of billions – it is a turn in the right direction.

For me, one of the most noteworthy aspects of COP28 was the heightened involvement and influence of young people. Young people have been at the forefront of demanding urgent and meaningful action to address the climate crisis for a long time but often find themselves marginalised in mainstream climate change discussions and decision-making processes. It is therefore highly significant that COP28 witnessed an unprecedented level of youth representation, both in official delegations and as activists pushing for ambitious climate targets.

ActNowFilm panelists at COP28 film premiere


The youth delegates brought fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and a sense of urgency to the discussions at COP. Their passion and commitment serve as a driving force behind the push for more ambitious emissions reduction targets, adaptation measures, and net zero policies. The outcomes of COP28 reflect a growing recognition of the critical role young people play in shaping the future trajectory of global climate action.

I was delighted to meet many youth climate leaders, including those from the COP28 International Youth Climate Delegate Program, contributors to the ActNowFilm and youth researchers from the Global Youth Stocktake, the first extensive assessment of challenges and opportunities for youth inclusion in UNFCCC processes.

A personal highlight of my trip was hosting the COP28 Green Zone premiere of ActNowFilm: youth climate leaders in conversation with climate experts, where I had the privilege of speaking alongside some of the youth contributors and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders. Mary took the time in her heavily packed schedule to attend our event and provide opening remarks as she believes powerful people must step aside to make space for young climate leaders.

Mary Robinson (L) and Amy Thompson (R) at COP28


Mary also played a true leadership role in shaping the discourse at COP28. Known for her strong advocacy for climate justice, Mary emphasised the importance of an inclusive approach that considers the needs of vulnerable communities. Her emphasis on following the science and social justice resonated throughout COP28, reminding the global community that climate action must be equitable and address the disproportionate impacts on marginalized communities.

In conclusion, the active participation of young people and the impactful contributions of true world leaders, like Mary Robinson, were critical to raising ambition at this conference. As we move forward, the challenge remains to translate commitments made into tangible actions, ensuring that the agreements of COP28 act as a catalyst for meaningful change on a global scale.

For me, it is clear that young people from right around the world are capable, ready, and committed to be part of the urgent national and global climate debates and negotiations. As the ActNowFilm shows, young people already provide critical leadership on the climate crisis – but the avenues through which they can influence top-level decision-making on this issue are often limited.

Now is the time to change this, by creating official routes for young people to be an integral part of global climate negotiations and national climate policy design. This should also involve providing robust training and development opportunities for young people seeking to engage in climate advocacy, diplomacy, or policymaking. Ultimately, all young people should be equipped with the knowledge and skills they will need to navigate an increasingly uncertain future – because it is their future that is at stake.

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of the IPR, nor of the University of Bath.

Read more of our blogs on COP28.

Posted in: Climate change, COP28, Education, Global politics


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