By Casey Roepke
With a first day packed full of plenary sessions, networking opportunities and climate change discussions, the UN Climate Change Conference of Youth (COY16) officially began on 28 October. Hundreds of youth delegates from around the world participated in the first day of the conference, each bringing unique experiences and reasons for taking action for climate justice.
The Conference began with a welcome and orientation session led by several facilitators from YOUNGO, the Official Youth Constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Speakers shared the history of COY16, which was founded in 2005 as an addition to the official Montreal COP11.
The Vice President of Community at Strath Union, Ru Wallace, then gave a welcome speech on behalf of the Union. He welcomed the global delegates to Glasgow and cracked jokes about the weather. “I’m sure Glasgow’s soul will shine through,” he said, “even if the sun doesn’t.” Wallace also emphasized the Union’s commitment to climate justice, highlighting efforts to call for University divestment from fossil fuels and advocating for a decarbonized curriculum.
“There’s one thing that brings us all together,” Wallace said. “We’re living and facing the biggest challenge that humans have ever faced. We’re aware that, as young people, we’re in the best place to make changes and try to mitigate the effects of climate change and reverse the damage done already, and we’re here to influence policy and get our voices heard.”
After the welcome and orientation session concluded, the day began with an assortment of activities for participants. The main session on the conference’s first day was the COY16 Global Youth Statement Briefing, where delegates made recommendations for what to add to the Global Youth Statement. The completed statement will be presented at the UN Climate Negotiations to provide an official youth representation at COP26.
Event facilitators provided an overview of the process of drafting the Global Youth Statement, which involved gathering recommendations from youth across the world. At Day 1, participants also joined a demands workshop to make recommendations for the statement, which YOUNGO organizers will compile and finalize in their official document.
After breaking for lunch, delegates joined a variety of other sessions, including a panel led by Climate Fresk on empowering youth voices with climate education, a simulation workshop facilitated by UNESCO, a Green Jobs fair and a networking space.
For Sara Nyberg, a delegate from Stockholm, Sweden, COY16 was an opportunity to connect with other climate activists and grow as an activist herself. “I wanted to participate [in COY16] to get useful skills and knowledge, get to know other young people and share my knowledge from my previous participation in the UN climate conferences.” She hoped that the conference would provide “inspiration and motivation to keep being engaged” in climate activism.
Behind the scenes, the COY16 working groups were planning to make sure the event went smoothly. Jan Kairel Guillermo, the Global Affairs Unit coordinator from YOUNGO, said organizing the conference in a pandemic was a challenge. “It’s like crossing a river with crocodiles,” he said. “Crossing the river is fine, looking at the crocodiles is fine, but together it’s a difficult combination. The U.K. has very stringent visas, and travel policies are really very strict. It gave us a multi-layer of challenges in terms of admission into the country.”
Still, he stressed the importance of the conference has made all of the COVID-19 logistics worth the struggle. “I want [COY16 participants] to continue the movement, to amplify the movement,” he said.
COY16’s first day concluded with the official Opening Ceremony, which was also broadcast live for virtual attendees. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the delegates to Glasgow and delivered a speech in support of the youth climate movement.
“There is a question that all of the leaders of my generation must ask ourselves,” Sturgeon said. “And it is a measure of the success or otherwise of COP26. Can we, in this generation, look your generation in the eye and say that we are doing enough for the future of the planet? And the answer right now is no.”
COY16 continued until Sunday with plenary sessions, activism workshops and the delivery of the Global Youth Statement to the COP26 leaders. The COP26 conference is ongoing and will finish in November.