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Dhaka Tribune

COP21: Voices of the Youth

Update : 03 Dec 2015, 08:28 PM

The youth have been making their mark in combating climate change throughout the world. Through various community based and global initiatives, they have been championing the cause of climate justice and emissions reduction.

COP21 – the largest international climate change conference taking place in Paris – brought together some of these exemplary youth yesterday in an event titled “Young and Future Generations Day: Intergenerational Inquiry and results of the Conference of Youth.” 

“Never before have we seen an issue as unifying as climate change,” said 15-year-old Native American climate activist Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, founder of Earth Guardians, an organisation with a mission of growing a resilient movement with youth at the forefront by empowering them as leaders and amplifying their impact.

“Every generation that comes will be affected by the decisions that are made today. Each and everyone of us are stakeholders in the way in which we will pass on this planet to the future generations,” Martinez said.

“The future of energy is not in the ground but up in the sky... and we are looking to our leaders to accurately represent the kind of world we will be part of.”

Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC executive secretary, presided over this event labeled COP21 as the COP of the generation. 

“I may be three or four generations ahead of you, but we are all alive at this moment so we all share a responsibility,” she remarked addressing the hundreds of international youth climate activists and enthusiasts, inviting them to not wait until 2020 for carbon and climate neutrality but rather act now.

“You are witnessing the most fundamental intentional shift ever created,” FIgueres said, stressing that this transformation is not market-driven. “It is being driven by very intentional decisions because we know we have a job to do, not because we are being taken by the market forces,” she said.

A turning point has been reached as it is no longer acceptable to act irresponsibly with natural resources, she added. “Be very proud of yourselves because you will be able to tell the next generations that you played a part in building a better future,” she concluded.

Ahmad Alendawi, UN secretary general’s envoy on youth, said it was crucial that the climate agreement reached at COP was truly transformative, and young people have an important role to play in reaching that goal.

“Many young people think I am too little and this issue is too big. But what we need to realise is that nobody can do everything but everybody can do something and have a compounded impact,” he said. “Let’s use our power as voters, mobilisers, innovators to make sure sustainability is the future.”

Young climate activist Anjali Appadurai, who has taken part in five COPs so far, had some grievances to share regarding the fact that the spaces where youth can contribute at conferences such as COP are being co-opted by narratives of business as usual.

“Our interventions are down to two minutes, our space is very sanitised. We are put on a panel and told to congratulate ourselves but the platform is taken away when what we have to say becomes inconvenient,” she said.

“In order for youth to really come together, we need spaces that can sometimes cause discomfort for the leaders,” Appadurai said. “If not given the space to organise and build collective power, we will grow up to be the same bureaucrats who are talking their time away over the last 20 years in these halls of power.”

At the conclusion, audience member Yacine Belhaj-Bouabdallah from Morocco – which will host next year’s COP – said the next COP will feature an increased involvement of youth and a gallery of creative solutions to transition to a more sustainable future.

”We hope that Paris will provide us with an effective agreement which we can begin to implement at the next COP in Marrakech,” he said. 

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