Three takeaways from my experience at COP28 on why meaningful youth engagement in climate policy matters

Posted in: Climate change, COP28, Culture and policy, Young people

Lucy Plummer works on Youth Engagement for the Soka Gakkai International Office for UN Affairs, an NGO working on advancing peace, culture and education based on Buddhist principles in consultative status at the United Nations. Lucy attended COP26, COP27 and COP28 as a delegate for the SGI with a focus on Youth Engagement. Lucy is also a member of YOUNGO and is involved in the Youth Stocktake Research Team which launched the Youth Stocktake Report at COP28.


Lucy Plummer (centre) and colleagues at the launch event for the Youth Stocktake at COP28.

Last month I had the opportunity to attend COP28 in the UAE as a youth delegate for Soka Gakkai International (SGI). For the first time at a COP, I could engage in interfaith action for the climate in a designated Faith Pavillion hosted by the Muslim Council of Elders in collaboration with the COP28 Presidency, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and a diverse coalition of global partners and over 50 faith organizations. At the Faith, I co-organised a panel discussion and workshop with the Climate Youth Negotiators Academy and the International Federation of Catholic Parochial Youth Movements (FIMCAP) that explored the ways in which young people of faith can demonstrate leadership for climate action, as members of Faith-based Organisations (FBOs) and as Youth Negotiators and Party delegates. I also spoke on a panel about the role of faith in combatting climate anxiety organised by the Bahu Trust as a representative of Faith for the Climate.

As a member of YOUNGO, the children and youth constituency group to the UNFCCC, I also participated in various youth-related events, activities and meetings, including a meeting with the new UN Assistant Secretary-General for Youth Affairs, Dr Felipe Paullier Olivera. Despite being in post for less than a week, Dr Felipe, supported by his team at the UN Youth Office, travelled to Dubai to meet with children and youth from across the world and listen to their stories of how climate change is impacting them and their communities and learn from their experiences of climate action and resilience. As a member of the YOUNGO Youth Stocktake Research team, I was also able to present during the launch of the Youth Stocktake Report and I engaged in consultations with YOUNGO for the Youth Climate Champion (YCC), a COP28 Presidency initiative to help facilitate the engagement of children and youth in the UNFCCC.


Meeting the UN Assistant-Secretary General for Youth Affairs and sharing the Youth Stocktake report.

Taking stock of youth inclusion in climate policy processes

During last year’s SB58, YOUNGO announced it would conduct a ‘Youth Stocktake of UNFCCC Processes’ to analyse youth inclusion in the development of climate policies - a first such initiative in the UNFCCC. A team of YOUNGO researchers was assembled in July and with the support of the COP28 YCC team the stock-taking process began in August and continued until November. The data for the Youth Stocktake (YST) was collected via digital surveys and interviews with Party representatives, past and present youth leaders and other key stakeholders. The researchers utilised regional climate weeks for data collection, hosting workshop consultations with youth delegates, and using the event as an opportunity to spread awareness about the Youth Stocktake and the importance of youth inclusion in climate policies among policy-makers, ministers and other key decision-makers. The YST looked into the development of youth engagement in climate policy processes via YOUNGO initiatives and explored the ways in which Parties to the UNFCCC engage young people in climate policy development, including at the national and international level. The report was launched in Dubai during a flagship youth event on Youth, Children, Education & Skills Day co-organised by YOUNGO and the COP28 YCC team.


The YOUNGO Youth Stocktake Researchers at COP28.

Institutionalising meaningful youth engagement at COP: The Youth Climate Champion

Building on the role of the COP27 Youth Envoy, the COP28 Presidency appointed a Youth Climate Champion, UAE Minister of Community Development, H.E. Shamma Al Mazrui, who led the Presidency’s efforts towards amplifying the work of youth-led and youth-focused organizations within the COP process. With a view for institutionalising the YCC within the COP process, consultations with various stakeholder groups were initiated in the lead up to COP28 and continued during COP28 to gather feedback and suggestions on the Future of YCC. On the final day of COP28 the Presidency announced Parties had agreed that all future COP Presidencies should appoint a Presidency Youth Climate Champion. In the UAE Consensus Negotiations Outcome it states that “this was the first time a Presidency has delivered this type of initiative under the Paris Agreement and will help to ensure that youth have an enhanced, highlevel voice at every future COP.”

In recent years the wheels of meaningful youth engagement at the COPs are starting to turn. COP26 saw the first reference made to youth in a COP cover decision, and COP27 hosted the first Children & Youth Pavillion and included the first Youth Envoy in its Presidency team. These are significant milestones for youth as they imply a greater acceptance of the inclusion of children and young people in the COP space. At this significant time for youth engagement at the COPs, and for the UN more broadly, I welcome this opportunity to share my personal thoughts and reflections on meaningful youth engagement as my three key takeaways on meaningful youth engagement from COP28.


Lucy Plummer with friends at one of the events at the COP28 Faith Pavillion.


1. Meaningful youth engagement for drawing out the innate potential of youth

A stand out moment of COP28 for me happened during a panel discussion I attended on the topic of climate justice for youth from conflict-affected areas organised by Ukranian youth climate initiative, Rozviy. There was a point in the discussion when the youth who was moderating the panel cried out - “Where is this world that policy-makers here are discussing when they talk about climate solutions? Tell me where it exists because I don’t see it!” Her words resonated with all of the youth (and non-Youths!) gathered around. Some even had  tears in their eyes as they listened to the harrowing and heart-wrenching stories and experiences the youth from countries affected by conflict shared.

Contrasting this room of youth to the room I sat in for the YCC consultations with YOUNGO, the atmosphere was radically different. In the consultation room young people were using their passion, vigour and power to engage in the drafting of an official COP agenda item.

Being part of a consultation process that felt meaningful stimulated the energy of the youth present, creating the conditions for an explosive display of young people’s potential to emerge. Witnessing this scene reinforced my belief that young people can achieve remarkable things when they are given opportunities and responsibilities. Tokenising youth’s engagement suppresses youth’s potential. Meaningful engagement ignites it and draws it out.


2. Meaningful youth engagement for fostering climate leaders

During the Youth Stocktake I interviewed Head of Mexico’s delegation to the COPs, Ms Camila Zepeda, and learnt about their inspiring youth training programme Operation COP: Youth Ambassadors for the Climate. The program trains Mexican youth to not just participate in climate negotiations but to lead climate negotiations on behalf of Mexico. Each year the program selects 30-35 youth from across Mexico, with a special focus on individuals hailing from Mexico’s large representation of Indigenous communities, to take part in the training and from this four youth are selected to be part of the Mexican delegation to COP. Previous negotiators who have been through the program have managed to include text in the final COP cover decisions, proving that they are not only constructive for Mexico, but for the international process too.

Creating opportunities for young people to learn about complex global development issues, like climate change, and the intricacies of policy development, like Operation COP is essential for honing their ability for leadership. When young people are empowered with real-world knowledge and skills they can be more effective in directing their energy and commitment to positive transformation, whether that’s in policy-making or policy implementation. Keeping important policy- and decision-making discussions away from young people, such as what is currently happening at the COPs, and making it difficult for them to access information and opportunities to address the issue of climate change is bad news for all of us. Global climate action needs young people to be informed with knowledge about climate change and empowered with skills that will prepare for a world where climate change is an increasingly bigger factor for actions and decisions.


3. Meaningful youth engagement for transforming youth distrust and disenchantment into hope

I returned home from COP26 and COP27 feeling like the COPs are intimidating, complex, frustrating and perplexing and questioning whether attending a COP has any value. However, I felt different after returning from COP28. One of the main reasons for this was being able to engage in the YCC consultations and make a tiny contribution to a COP outcome. Engaging with negotiators for the first time mea helped me to better understand the mechanics of change in the policy process. It may sound silly to say, but the experience helped me to realise that there are actual human beings behind this process. As a human being myself, I know that hearts and minds are not immovable objects and they can be influenced and even transformed by powerful human encounters. In a way the experience gave me hope that change is at least a possibility. Bringing young people into the policy process and meaningfully engaging them in climate discussions empowers them to learn about the international policy process so they can understand how they can influence change. Hope is crucial for young people and knowledge is essential for hope because change is possible when you know how to bring it about!


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.

Posted in: Climate change, COP28, Culture and policy, Young people


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