The conference of the parties, or COP25, has begun. The aim of the event, which was originally due to be held in Chile but was moved to Madrid because of civil unrest, is for political leaders and climate diplomats to step up ambitions so that all countries increase their national commitments to cutting emissions.
With negotiators bogged down by market mechanisms and arguing over technical terms, it falls to the youth to truly take the lead in pressing for urgent action. However, our hope and optimism is often capitalised upon by leaders for political point-scoring or as a PR opportunity.
We desperately need politicians to take the issue seriously and solve the climate crisis – we cannot do it alone. Without them, our message will be drowned out by the voices of huge corporations putting profits over people.
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During every meeting I attend, negotiators invoke the words of Greta Thunberg but fail to live up to her ambition. For this reason, and for our futures, young people are travelling to COP25 to protest and make leaders stand up and listen to their cause.
While demonstrations outside the conference might get press attention, it is unlikely to change much as negotiators scurry from meeting to meeting oblivious of our actions. That’s why we will also be protesting inside the event, despite UN regulations requiring youth groups to apply to do so and give minute details of everything that will happen. Everything is scrutinised – from the wording of the banners to making sure we don’t carry any country’s flag.
Still, there is no guarantee they will listen to us.
The climate strikes, for example, have energised young people, but very little has changed inside the COP. Negotiators continue to ignore the science, continue to delay at every opportunity and continue to allow fossil fuel lobbyists to rub shoulders with key decision-makers.
The COPs were born in 1992 and since then we have had disappointment after disappointment. The last moment of real hope was the Paris Agreement in 2015, but there has not been the same level of enthusiasm from world leaders since. We have fought tooth and nail to bring the climate emergency to the forefront, so why won’t those with the power to help take the baton?
COP25 is our last chance to influence these negotiators before they send revised emissions-reduction pledges to the COP next year. If we want ambition from our leaders, we have to show our ambition from the ground. That’s why we won’t stop attending these events and have a visible presence. These negotiators must look us in the eyes and realise our future is worth fighting for.
Moving forward, however, we must not focus only on this type of direct action. Governments always think in the short term and refuse to break the mould to fight the climate crisis if it could risk their chances of re-election. Therefore, we must also encourage political engagement. We have to fully mobilise the youth vote and make the climate crisis a priority issue before they will listen to us.
We also must learn to harness traditional forms of media that connect better with those in positions of real power across the world.
In pursuing these new methods, we must also continue to pass the mic to the global south and frontline communities affected by the crisis. Many do not have the privilege to campaign in the streets, access traditional media or even vote in a democracy. We must make sure world leaders are aware of these experiences and understand the personal impact these problems will have on them, rather than purely financial.
We are at COP25 to lead these political leaders down the right path. We need them to follow us.
Sarah Dobson is COP25 coordinator for the UK Youth Climate Coalition