Earlier this month, just before the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) kicked off in Bonn, Research Postgraduate Luciana Miu attended the 13th Conference of Youth (COY). Organised by YOUNGO, the official youth-constituency to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), COY has taken place before every COP since 2005. Representing the Alumni Association of Climate-KIC, the EU’s largest climate innovation initiative, Luciana was on a panel discussing the role of entrepreneurship in solving climate challenges, and how young people can take part.
This year’s Conference of Youth, the 13th of its kind, brought together the ambition and enthusiasm of 1,300 young people from 114 different countries. The huge school that acted as the event venue , a large open space, was ideally suited to notion of “talanoa” (sharing stories, actively listening) – the Fijian mantra of this year’s COP. Filled with welcome events, exhibitions, art installations and conversation spaces, for 3 days it was buzzing with topical talk, ranging from indigenous people’s rights to climate entrepreneurship.
The variety of activities and events was only enhanced by the diversity of the participants: from advocates and lobbyists to entrepreneurs and researchers, from students to young professionals, from Germany to Samoa. However, they all had three characteristics in common – traits that make the youth voice incredibly valuable to tackling climate change:
- Creativity for developing global solutions
The huge creative potential of young people is inspiring. The ideas and entrepreneurship of COY attendees showed that, by thinking outside the box, tackling the challenges of climate change can bring a wealth of opportunity – such as the development of new business models, data platforms and reporting frameworks.
Organisations like Climate-KIC, which provides training in entrepreneurship and innovation to young people, are one way to enhance the potential of youth creativity. However, huge value also comes from peer-to-peer learning and the exchange of ideas – which is why forums like the Conference of Youth are so important. Opening the eyes of young people to the possibilities, opportunities and ideas of their peers is key to maximising creativity and helping ensure it has an impact.
- Challenging the status quo
Young people fighting climate change are, intrinsically, critical thinkers with a desire to create change. They question the status quo, and stand up to the problems that plague the planet. This package of critical thinking and practical action is important. For one, it brings new ideas to the fore. By directly questioning the effectiveness of current climate policies and agreements, young people open up avenues for alternative approaches to climate change action, and breathe dynamism into the implementation of the Paris Agreement. They guide decision-makers by speaking up for their future, and hold them to account to the wider implications of their decisions.
- Determination to make a change for the better
Young people believe that change is possible, and are determined to achieve it. With the future holding many unknowns, it is vitally important to believe that we can, and will, solve the climate change challenge. The enthusiasm and dedication of young people around the world fighting against climate change is a powerful tool, which can help create viable solutions and set us on the path to a sustainable, resilient world.
The present might be inconvenient, but it is the key to a fair future
Creative flair, critical thinking, determination and motivation – these are the key characteristics that make the youth voice so valuable, and help ensure that climate change is not forgotten as we navigate the practicalities of economic and humanitarian advancement.
Young people are the catalysts for change that must accompany high-level decision-making and negotiations. At times, the tough questions and bold voices of our youth have been called inconvenient. But the Paris Agreement was never going to be convenient, or comfortable, to everyone all the time. However inconvenient the questions and voices might be, they should not be ignored, but rather received with thanks. As the mayor of Bonn, Ashok-Alexander Sridharan, aptly put it in his closing remarks to the 13th Conference of Youth, “Thank you [young people] for being inconvenient… Thank you for being our future”.