How do today’s youth feel about global climate summits, such as the recently concluded United Nations Climate Change Conference, that seem to delay action instead of elevating immediate solutions to injustice and the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss?
Rainforest Partnership’s Gen Z for the Trees co-lead Rosie Khan interviewed Natalia Alvarez De Jesús, who attended last November’s COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt as a delegate. Here, they reflect on the importance of including the youth voice in critical conversations about climate action and comprehensive solutions.
Rosie: The COP27 ended two months ago with mixed results, and I have found it difficult to feel like the decision on Loss and Damages is a true win. As Ayisha Siddiqa said at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF), a pledge for this type of finance is very different from prevention, mitigation, or adaptation. Loss and damage funds are the last resort after disaster has happened. Digging deeper than the headline topic, Natalia, can you share your experience and perspective from attending the conference?
Natalia: I was a first-time delegate at COP27, representing Rainforest Partnership and Gen Z for the Trees. It was an exciting opportunity to engage with subject matter experts, government representatives, activists, and global citizens in the climate space. Additionally, as someone who dedicated their degrees to studying international relations, I had researched past COPs extensively, making my attendance at this conference a personal full-circle moment.
COP27 was an amazing experience for networking, and I made it a point to connect with people my age as actions today will shape the world my generation inherits. However, while the youth were the most enthusiastic group I interacted with throughout the conference, young voices were missing in many panels and negotiations. Ironically, we get labeled as “the leaders of the future” but often get excluded from vital conversations where we can contribute our perspective and experience for an important exchange of knowledge.
One of the most powerful statements I heard at COP27 was from a young Indigenous woman explaining how one must learn the “language of the colonizer” to participate and be heard in these types of spaces. English being my second language, I resonated with that statement as many opportunities I’ve experienced are connected to the privilege of being bilingual and having to code-switch to be heard in the spaces I wish to be a part of. Being able to listen to Indigenous leaders and youth was one of my biggest COP highlights because they have been the protectors of nature for centuries, and they are the example to follow when it comes to climate action. Indigenous peoples are often oppressed in these climate conversations as their protection of the environment interferes with capitalism and profits.
Rosie: I had a similar question while watching programming from GLF—how much support reaches fully non-English speaking communities? One of my few substantive, positive takeaways was a discussion of incentives for farmers in a part of Brazil to not deforest or deplete the land. It sounded like Costa Rica’s system of payments for environmental services, which I wrote about in a past blog—Lessons from Costa Rica: How to Protect Forests with Better Bureaucracy. Did you learn about any ongoing climate solutions at COP27?
Natalia: I have studied the COPs, and now, having attended one, I understand why we have had 27 COPs and will continue to plan for future conferences. Most of the conversations and panels I attended focused extensively on the problem and did not discuss solutions in detail. For example, one of the panels I attended at the Brazil Climate Hub was titled “Land use in Brazil: villain, victim or hero of the climate crisis?” It is common knowledge that destroying the Amazon is horrible for our collective future. Nevertheless, the problem is all they talked about, in addition to how their organizations track the destruction of the Amazon. When talking about solutions, the panel was very vague and touched upon strategies like “further enforcing laws and armed forces to prevent illegal slash-and-burns.” There were no use cases or detailed strategies to implement the solutions presented.
Rosie: Politicians and financiers seem to miss the point, even in discussing the problem, that their assumptions about economic growth—and not valuing food and water security and ecological balance—are at the core of the problem. The delaying of action at such high-level conferences is also a problem.
Natalia: People have talked enough, and I find it questionable how 27 COPs later, we have not implemented the severe changes humanity must make to have a sustainable future. Thousands of attendees understand the urgency we face, but we all know actions speak louder than words.
I am grateful to have had the privilege of attending COP27, talking to like-minded individuals who are as passionate about climate issues, and seeing where the efforts of different organizations align. However, youth need to be part of the high-level conversations, and tangible and accessible solutions need to be at the forefront of all discussions.
Gen Z for the Trees is Rainforest Partnership’s global youth movement designed to educate young climate and rainforest advocates on the drivers of deforestation, inspire them with stories of hope, and empower them to affect change to achieve the bold vision of zero deforestation by 2030. Learn more about their work here.