Hope. Determination. Eye-opening. Disheartening. Learning. Thirsty for more. Worth the effort. Together or nothing.
These are the words and phrases that Sustainable Ocean Alliance Young Ocean Leaders have used to describe their experience at COP27 this year.
SOA Youth from around the world came together at the recent UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – also known as COP27 – in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt to ensure the youth voice received proper representation.
UNFCCC is the biggest climate change event of the year, and it is imperative that young people have the opportunity to not just observe – but to participate – in these critical conversations with world leaders and decision-makers.
Historically, UNFCCC has consisted of and is led by older generations, but as SOA’s founder & CEO Daniela V. Fernandez has so boldly called out, we need youth representation and leadership to solve the climate crisis.
For our youth, COP27 was full of highs and lows. Read more as SOA interviews our Youth Delegation on their perspectives about what it was like to be at COP27 firsthand, the challenges they experienced, and what left them feeling hopeful for their future.
Janice Márquez de la Plata Molina, President of SOA Ecuador
This year had the most youth participation and monitoring of the negotiation processes in the history of the COPs. This was also where, for the first time, there was an agreement among the more than 190 countries of the United Nations that created a Loss and Damage Fund for developing nations hit hard by climate disasters. It was also the first time the UN General Assembly mentioned the “right to a healthy environment” as a human right.
Denisse Ortiz, Wildlife Veterinarian and Member of SOA Costa Rica
There was a strong youth presence, and it was very valuable to have this exchange of ideas and perspectives. I also appreciated seeing how women are increasingly taking an important role in environmental issues and social justice. We had the opportunity to meet with other people to discuss problems and find solutions.
Carlos Silva, Climate Change Director of SOA Peru
The participation of the youth with the creation of the Children and Youth Pavilion, and the awesome participation of ocean leaders in the new Ocean Pavilion.
Dana Ahmed, SOA Youth Policy Advisory Council and Youth Representative of Egypt
I had the opportunity to reunite with many of my friends in the climate field, as well as meet the people who have inspired me but I had only ever interacted with online.
One of the most groundbreaking accomplishments at this COP was the integration of youth in over 50 decision-making processes. This was further aided by having our first-ever Children and Youth Pavilion and first-ever COP Youth Envoy, Dr. Omnia El Omrani, who ensured we had direct communication with heads of state, policymakers, and executives during the conference of our concerns, ideas, and struggles.
Ela Gokcigdem, SOA Youth Policy Advisory Council and Youth Representative of Turkey:
I had the honor to present my organization, MENA-ECO, alongside Dana Ahmed & Moemen Sobh at COP27. During my speech, I mentioned how youth and indigenous knowledge is expert knowledge. You don’t need a Ph.D. to know your house is going underwater.
Ailars David, Marine Scientist and Hub Leader of SOA Tanzania:
COP27 left me amazed by the historical agreements, commitments, and changes it has made which were never once seen in any of the previous COPs. In a historic decision, after 30 years of delay, the Parties decided to establish new funding arrangements for assisting developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. We cheered for what was agreed upon as it sounds really promising, but what we are truly looking forward to are the implementations of those commitments that were made as that is the only meaning of success this COP.
They also made a unique record for having an Ocean Pavilion which could showcase the role of our ocean in fighting climate change. It was so energizing to see countries like Chile supporting the fight against deep seabed mining and different entities supporting the restoration of our blue carbon ecosystem.
Agustin Ocaña, Chair of SOA Manabí, Ecuador
For me, it was really inspiring to see the way that Africa organized this COP. Even though there are so many countries with different cultures and languages, they have managed to create this powerful coalition inside COP and the negotiations. Everyone was able to feel how we were all seeking the same objective.
Betty Jahateh, SOA Youth Representative of the Gambia
It was so empowering to see Dana and Ela launch their MENAECO initiative at COP27. There also was a huge amount of youth representation. I loved meeting other SOA Young Ocean Leaders and learning about their incredible work to promote ocean health. I especially enjoyed attending a talk at the Ocean Pavilion about Women’s Leadership in Ocean Science. It was very inspirational and refreshing to see women from different parts of the world holding major leadership roles in Ocean Science. It was a great first experience for me. Seeing various people from different parts of the world come together for one purpose is quite beautiful and lays more emphasis on the urgent need to take action.
More than 600 lobbyists from companies related to fossil fuels attended this year. This was my first COP, but in talking to those who had more COPs in their experience, the lobbyists increased by 27% compared to COP26. It is extremely worrying that in the history of the 27 COPs, there is still no agreement for the progressive reduction of these fossil fuels since there is no talk of the elimination of fossil fuels in its literal word, but of "gradual elimination of coal" without leaving clear dates, neither reduction nor mitigation rates.
I think the biggest challenge will be going from discussions to landing on realistic implementation to create meaningful change. While the future of the planet was being discussed in the negotiating rooms, I was at a panel on the empowerment of women farmers. I began to think about the community that I work for and represent, and how much I would like people from local communities to have the opportunity to be part of these processes since they are the ones who really suffer the consequences of climate change.
I think it was challenging for people to attend COP because of issues finding accommodations, getting visa approval, and securing financial support for travel. These are three aspects that I heard about the most from many people, especially young delegates that went to COP and also from ones who couldn’t attend because of these issues. It is very sad and frustrating to think that this could be an impediment for someone to lose this important and amazing opportunity.
For the event itself, the logistics felt unorganized and it was easy to get lost. There needed to be more access to safe internet and data connections, and there were instances of sexual harassment that need to be addressed. These are all things that I heard from different people during this COP and that I saw myself.
This was not only my first COP but it was also held in my home country. There were various different identity challenges I faced, including learning how to communicate my criticisms of my own country to my own people or with Egyptian heads of state and executives. Additionally, I had to make sure I represented my community well and spoke the truth about their struggles.
The term “Loss and Damage” has been in my mind ever since I stepped foot out of the COP27 venue. Excitement, anger, and frustration all merge into one as I try to assess whether or not this is a step in the right direction or another buzzword to add to the climate bucket of inaction. I would consider my home in Avsa, Turkey as a member of this new “lost and damaged” label.
Rather than funding, I would have preferred for the world leaders to simultaneously focus on reparation AND decreased carbon emissions – but it seems that the focus is more on “Loss and Damage.” We are on track to hit 2.7ºC, after all.
When looking at climate history, any policies that pass usually fail due to (1) lack of accountability (2) lack of definition, and (3) lack of funding. When listening to the negotiations, these three pillars were absent. Negotiators also highlighted that countries cannot be held legally liable for not contributing to the Loss and Damage fund. On top of this, there is no framework for this fund – that has been pushed to COP28.
How many other homes, ecosystems, and lives will be damaged by the time world leaders actually impose this fund? If the fund is passed, who will it go to? Who will make sure the funding goes to the people? To the ecosystem? Developing countries pitched the idea of Loss and Damage with good intentions, but I believe it has been skewed into a performative fund that will face many obstacles before reaching any level of success.
I felt thirsty for climate justice, thirsty for youth involvement, thirsty for ocean health and sustainability, and generally thirsty for climate actions to save our planet. COP27 started with a lot of negativity and was projected to be a chaotic event when it was announced that one of the world’s greatest plastic polluters, COCA COLA, would be among the sponsors of the conference. The whole conference was, for many other reasons, visualized as a greenwashing event and many climate activists even step forward to decline from attending.
For small island developing states and developing countries like Tanzania and Seychelles, we suffer from the impacts of climate change the most while contributing the least to it. During COP27, the agenda of Loss and Damage was one of our greatest hopes for developing countries impacted by climate change.
However, as climate change has already damaged most of our lives, it’s still meaningful to help countries and our planet at large to recover and become resilient.
As it was an African COP, we expected more events and actions to specifically showcase the status and position of Africa in the fight against climate change. I was also expecting African Youth to have more seats at the table to raise their voices and amplify their actions to the world in their fight against climate change to create the planet we need for future generations.
My perspective of COP is not possible to put into simple words. Weeks after the conference, I am still trying to meditate on whether it was worth it to travel to Egypt to participate in the Conference of Parties. The round-trip emissions per passenger from my native Ecuador to Egypt were equivalent to 4.3 metric tons of CO2. Avoiding this trip would have been as climate-friendly as being vegetarian for 8 years or doing carpooling for 4.2 years – at least this is what the climate calculator I found on the internet estimated. My personal justification for this is that even if you are able to connect yourself to the online version, the chances of making an impact through a screen in this special scenario are really hard.
To anyone reading this, I want you to know that I tried to maximize every second I had inside COP27 to make my participation and everything that allowed me to be there worth it.
Ecuador is a small country. There are 18 million Ecuadorians on the planet in contrast to Egypt’s population of 104 million people. This is also felt also during the negotiations. I was shocked to find the Ecuadorian negotiator Ana Belen by herself in one of the negotiation meetings. Comparing this to other delegations and teams from bigger countries is an unfair battle. On one hand, you have developed countries with their teams fully equipped and organized, ready for any challenge. On the other hand, you have teams like Ecuador, a small country, with not that many hands to help during the negotiation rounds.
For a first-timer at COP, it was quite hard to understand the negotiation process. I would have liked to hear more from marginalized groups when it comes to the climate crisis. It is good to have world leaders together, but vulnerable groups need to be given more space at gatherings like these.
I believe that the symbolic actions taken by young people at COP were not widely disseminated, and very few young people knew that there was a bureaucratic process they had to go through in advance to request to do these activations.
On the positive side (and for the most part), there were many people trusting our fresh and innovative ideas as young people and giving the necessary value to our voices to create a truly inclusive process. The participation of young people in these negotiation processes is imperative because this COP only takes place once a year. It is essential that we know what was decided, the petitions, demands, and commitments of our countries so we can follow up on them locally.
For me, it was encouraging to see so many young speakers in meetings and in peaceful protests. I realized that the world is paying a lot of attention to what we are doing, so youth have a great responsibility.
From what I’ve heard, there were a lot more young people at this COP than ever before – and I think the youth were more valued and heard. I felt very welcome by everyone. I think the creation of the UN Youth Office and the Children and Youth Pavilion had a lot to do with this. This is something very special because in my country this is completely uncommon. Sometimes people in power think that you shouldn’t say something or participate because you don’t have a certain degree, title, or position – even if you have experience in the subject. Sadly this is something that needs to change, but the good thing is that this is starting to change for good. The Children and Youth Pavilion gave this space and voice to youth from all over the world.
I believe the youth had a space at COP27 that allowed them to have a presence at several decision-making panels, processes, and activities. However, there were many youths from different communities that have yet to be heard, even by their own people.
Therefore, we must ensure that as we grow to host more of these global conferences, the intergenerational inclusive climate movement is stressed further and allows for youth to have a voice – no matter wherever they are from and regardless of their backgrounds.
Many pictures were taken of my generation at COP27, yet we were still unable to attend the negotiations or be in the room where the action takes place. We came from all over the world to break through closed doors – just to encounter another closed door. We need to have a structure that doesn’t sideline youth or any marginalized community at this conference. I believe these conferences have potential – we just need to ensure that there is structure and accountability.
To me, the idea of the Youth and Children Pavilion felt like they were separating youth and children into a room where they can debate what they want for the planet rather than increasing their seats in important decision-making rooms for world leaders to hear their voices.
Maximum youth engagement was limited at COP27 in an environment where most youth had no funding to attend COP nor enough funding to support their actions. We can’t speak of the future of our planet without thinking of the role of youth (who will ideally live in the future we speak of). We need high-capacity building, accessibility to the decision-making process, and funding for our participation and actions.
Global Youth needs to organize themselves as ONE. We are the ones that will be living on this planet when the height of climate chaos will take place. We are still seeing life from a capitalist way of enjoying it. Each day we lose more of our connection to mother earth and nature. I want to invite you to stop thinking about the future with the eyes of money and capital. Stop planning a life of richness and unuseful material possessions. Go out, hike that mountain, dive into that ocean, and dream of nature's green and blue future. One full of love, peace, and joy.
I was glad to see young people were given the space to have dialogues and come up with climate action plans. I also think the voices of young people are being more elevated and taken seriously at these conferences. I am hopeful that this will only keep getting better.
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