We are ready: Reflections from Youth4Climate (Part I)

October 5, 2021

Youth delegates and ministers convene for a plenary session on the final day of the Youth4Climate conference in Milan, Italy. Photo by John Leo Algo

There is no one else who has more at stake in the era of the climate emergency than the youth. For other sectors, their livelihoods, homes, or entire ways of life could fully disappear. For the youth, they are being robbed of a chance to even build any of these in the future. 

It is the right of the youth to be included and involved in decision-making processes in addressing the climate crisis. But what exactly should meaningful participation be? 

The “Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition” event in Milan, Italy is the latest attempt to answer this question. This is part of activities in preparation for the 2021 UN climate summit or COP26 in Glasgow, United Kingdom, where world leaders will resume negotiating the terms of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the climate crisis. 

THE GOOD 

Youth4Climate was a three-day conference where 400 youth delegates from 189 nations convened to formulate a unified statement for climate action. It was a historic occasion, as this marks the first massive gathering of this nature since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Representing the Philippines, I worked with the other delegates to make demands to governments and corporations based on four themes: driving ambition; sustainable recovery; non-state actors’ engagement; and climate-conscious society. 

Among the key calls made include the following: total phaseout of fossil fuels by 2030; urgent just transition to renewable energy; transparent and accountable climate finance systems; capacity-building and finance for youth involvement in climate policymaking; and climate change integration into the education curriculum. 

Truth be told, these are the same demands that the youth and other vulnerable sectors have been screaming to global leaders for decades. The urgency of responding to these demands, however, is rapidly growing by the day as inadequate action remains the norm. This is perfectly captured by the most recent findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The message is clear: without drastic pollution reductions worldwide, global warming would easily surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. No matter how much corporations want you to believe fossil fuels can still be a part of the future, the era of dirty energy must come to an end as soon as possible. 

Renewable energy may be virtually limitless, but our time to act is not. For us delegates, we embodied this urgency by showing but passion, commitment, and energy during the entire event. We negotiated among ourselves their main demands. We took advantage of the chance to directly ask ministers attending the conference about their concrete pledges and actions against the climate crisis. 

Ten Youth4Climate delegates from six continents took part in a tree-planting ceremony on the outskirts of Milan, Italy. Photo supplied by Allegra Pagella

It is important to show this commitment to climate action not just through words, but actions as well. I was one of ten delegates to participate in a tree-planting event on the outskirts of Milan, joining local students and other groups. This was part of a large-scale effort by the Lombardy government to clean the polluted area and restore its environmental health, including planting tree species native to the region. 

One key takeaway from Youth4Climate is the strength of the global youth climate movement. New partnerships and collaborations were fostered among the delegates. In many ways, it was a good experience reminiscent of the climate negotiations, which were experienced by some for the first time. 

More importantly, it provides a renewed sense of hope that even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the youth are ready to step up and show the world that we are ready to face this crisis. It is proof that there could still be a bright, sustainable future for us to look forward to. It is a spirit that is embodied by no one else better than the youth. 

It is the same kind of passion and compassion that we hope to see more young Filipinos embrace in caring for our common home. For a country that is and will be one of the most vulnerable to the climate crisis, it needs a current and future generation of ecologically conscious leaders that are capable of avoiding false solutions and implementing genuine ones for the benefit of the nation. 

Being environmentally responsible may not yet be as ‘culturalized’ as it should be in the modern Philippines, but the seeds have already been planted. I carried with me the voices of hundreds of young Filipinos who participated in the 2021 Local Conference of Youth, which trained them to become climate and environment advocates and developed a national youth statement for climate action. 

Yet as to be expected, the Youth4Climate event was not without its flaws, some of which are reflective of the realities of climate governance in the Philippines and elsewhere. If we cannot resolve these issues, our efforts would be undermined and only lead to a world of loss and damage, suffering, and louder cries of the earth and the poor. What are these flaws?

John Leo is one of the two Philippine representatives to the “Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition” pre-COP event in Milan, Italy. He will represent Philippine civil society at the 2021 UN climate negotiations (COP26) this November in Glasgow, United Kingdom.

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