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Conference of the Parties: The Youth Strikes Back

We all know Greta Thunberg, the girl who rose to fame at 15 for sitting outside the Swedish Parliament with a sign saying, “School strike for climate”. This movement grew to the worldwide strikes by school children known as ‘Fridays For Future’, whilst she rose to fame for her address to the UN Climate action summit and three consecutive nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize (2019, 2020 and 2021).

However, there is a quieter youth revolution occurring, one which is now in its 16th year and although not receiving the media attention of strikes such as those organised by Greta et al, this one is dubbed the most significant youth gathering for its capacity to directly forward the official youth position in the UN Climate Negotiations.

Conference Of Youth 16 or COY16 is the lesser-known child of the Conference of the Parties. It was established in 2005 at the Montreal COP11. By 2009 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and all member states at the convention officially recognised youth as its own constituency observer.

By 2011 the constituency was given its own status and title, YOUNGO. There it was also given a significant role and voice allowing YOUNGO to be formally heard by the UNFCCC in all discussions.

Now it brings together thousands of young changemakers from over 140 countries in the week before the COP.

Not only does it give them leadership advice and policy training so they can successfully prepare for their participation at COP. They are immersed in event management including how to mobilise people by engaging around different impacts in different sectors through to gaining scholarships and internships in areas of Climate Change and influence.

However impressive for the individuals, this isn’t the main purpose of the gathering. It is there to produce a policy document which is presented at the COP the following week to ensure the youth are represented at the UN Climate Negotiations. The Statement to be presented this year at COP26 can be found here . But to sum up the document they are asking for a seat at the table. This is as they say theirs to inherit and as well informed voices they don’t want to be ignored or given empty promises, they want leaders to commit to change and stand by their word. They are asking for specific recommendations to be taken on board and these are well articulated and well presented arguments to do so.

How much they succeed and what impact they have is unknown, but they are gaining momentum and as the leaders of the future it will create a step change in politics whether the old guard want it or not.