In a few years, today’s youth will be the majority of parents, neighbors, teachers, farmers, politicians, academics, scientists, experts, investors, CEOs. The last generations have failed to bring about global development without leaving anyone behind – not people, not the planet. Bringing with them the importance of the intergenerational, democratic and scientific debate, the youth have been occupying spaces to promote climate and social justice in all its dimensions.
By Pedro Tufic Silveira Bouchabki | YPA Brazil
For a long time, the youth never participated in the decision-making processes about the direction of the next generations. In fact, these spaces and processes have always been characterized by the hegemony of men, old, white. When it comes to global geopolitics, unfair competition and the imposition of the Global North have always been present.
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm 1972) was the first time that the United Nations brought together heads of state and other representatives of society to discuss alternatives for reconciling global development and the use of natural resources. This meeting paved the way for, 20 years later, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) to take place. In it, the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was deliberated, which would start to organize the Conferences of the Parties. Three years later, the first COP took place in Berlin, Germany, to foster discussions and development solutions from the perspective of global warming and climate change.
It is important to highlight the maturing of the debate on this topic: from the understanding of the “Human Environment” to “Climate Change”. It may seem superfluous, but it says a lot about how humanity has been understanding anthropic impacts and the relationship of human beings with the planet.
In 2005 the first Youth Conference (COY) took place, co-organized by the UNFCCC and YOUNGO (UNFCCC Youth Constituency). Since then, year after year, the youth gather at COY (which, traditionally, takes place days before and ends at the beginning of the COP), discuss, deliberate, and take their considerations to the COP. This process begins with Local Conferences (LCOYs), followed by Regional Conferences (RCOYs) and always culminating in COY, which aims to compile everything that has been discussed and raised by young people at national and continental levels and constitute a Global Youth Declaration , a baseline document for climate negotiations.
In 2021, the youth experience something completely new. Last year, for the first time in history, Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, implemented the Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change (YAG), composed of 7 young people from all regions, with a mandate of 2 years. The objective of this group is to organize the young people’s demands and advise Guterres on the paths and measures to be taken.
In 2021, also for the first time, the COP had a day set aside for the topic of “ the youth”, within the presidency’s agenda. At the global level, there is also talk about the possibility of creating the UN Youth, an important achievement of the youth in finally having a UN organizational structure to think about young people in a transversal way towards sustainable development and climate justice.
In relation to Brazil, the country that has always been a reference on the environmental agenda and recognized as an unlocker of major stuck negotiations, is also experiencing a unique situation. Paloma Costa, 29, a lawyer from Brasilia, is one of the 7 people at YAG, and has been operating a quantitative and qualitative consultation in Latin America and the Caribbean. At the beginning of COP26, the only Brazilian person to speak was Txai Surui, 24, activist and indigenous of the Suruí people, who was the first to speak at the opening ceremony. Also in 2021, the first LCOY Brasil in history took place, with the joint executive secretary of Fridays for Future Brasil and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network – Youth/Amazonia.
There is also an expressive movement of organized civil society, led by young people, to think about activism, advocacy, formulation of public policies, dialogue with academia and science, training and climate education, to accelerate the youth’s representation and empowerment. In this sense, in addition to Engajamundo (an organization with 11 years of operation and a vast history of contributions), Fridays for Future, The Climate Reality Project, Youth Climate Leaders, NOSSAS/Muvuca, Instituto Ayika, Favela ODS, Perifa Sustentável , and many others. In public administration, it is also worth highlighting the emergence of youth councils and forums, which until now, like the YAG, have only a consultative character.
As in Brazil, this movement can be seen in countless other countries in the Global South, most of them characterized by the emergence of Fridays For Future and its cores, with capillarity and incredible mobilization power. Barack Obama, former president of the United States, at the COP26 presidential plenary on the eighth day of the conference, set aside more than a third of his speech to deliver a message to young people and emphasize the importance of their activism and action.
What this signals is that the youth are starting to occupy spaces. This brings representativeness and inclusion in the processes of raising demands that will support decision-making. However, this is not enough: it is necessary that young people start to occupy these places and decision-making processes so that, in fact, interventions incorporate the raised demands.
The youth still bring with it perhaps its greatest power: the understanding that climate justice is inseparable from social justice, which includes racial justice/repair of environmental racism, gender justice and LGBTQIA+ groups, justice for traditional peoples, quilombolas, riverside and peripheral, of justice for all marginalized groups; of a conception of development that “leaves no one behind”.
The last generations have failed – and fail – in an attempt to change the concept of development and a new paradigm. Now, more than ever, the presence of young people is providential and brings with it the awareness of the intergenerational and democratic debate so that we can co-create solutions consistent with the challenges we are facing – at the speed that humanity needs.