Youth Day – Emotion and Courage of Youth at COP28

 Youth Day – Emotion and Courage of Youth at COP28

The participation of youth has always been a challenge during Climate Conferences; however, this group has been increasingly active here and calls for more space at the negotiation tables.

By Daniele Savietto

I could start this article with data, explaining that young people started participating in the conference mainly from 2005, at COP11, with the establishment of the “International Youth Climate Movement,” and that only in 2011 was the movement formalized, confirming YOUNGO as the voice of Children and Youth in UNFCCC processes. Or I could objectively report event by event that happened yesterday. And there were many.

But no, it wouldn’t be fair to reduce this to data. Youth goes beyond objectivity, bringing humanity to numbers and agreements, showing that the future of billions is not just a matter of complex articles and diplomatic consensus.

Not after sitting beside young activists during the “ACT Now – COP28 – Climate Strike” action organized by Fridays For Future, and seeing up close how their hands trembled while they spoke. Sitting on the floor, I could even see the hands holding a cell phone, probably with the topics they didn’t want to forget, trembling. They all trembled. A lot. And that is courage.

Because courage is facing fear. It’s feeling your hands tremble and your heart race but staying put. Facing it because you really know what needs to be done. Some voices stumbled over each other, at first, but not later. Afterward, their hearts spoke, and they gained the strength to bring strong, sincere, and real accounts into the conference.

That’s how I heard Jamal Balosh, from Balochistan, a region occupied by Pakistan, talk about fossil fuel extraction and how his land has been devastated. 

Or Zakira Bakhshi, from Afghanistan, who shared what it’s like to be part of a country where girls are still prohibited from going to school, a place suffering from the climate crisis but receiving little global media attention.

The voice of Dalal Shalash, from Jerusalem, and the fear that her land and culture will disappear, and how this year, her Christmas will be overshadowed by the blood of the children who died in Gaza in the past two months.

Speeches that, besides talking about numbers – because it’s obvious that young people know the statistics by heart – were unique, personal, individual, just like people are.

After hearing reports from young people from different parts of the world and reflecting on the fact that climate change knows no geographical boundaries, the young participants held a silent march toward the plenary where the negotiations were taking place.

I also attended a meeting with Brazilian youth, discussing thorny issues like financing. Besides addressing the need for resources, they talked about the harsh realities of being a climate activist in Brazil.

These young people were not just talking about money but about lives, struggles, and stifled dreams. Their words were a testament to the harsh reality of being a climate activist in the second country that kills the most environmental defenders in the world.

The plenaries, which often seem like a sterile and distant atmosphere to me, contrast sharply with the liveliness of these meetings. The youth remind us what it means to be human amidst a sea of bureaucracy and protocols.

Emotion, far from being a weakness, is the engine of humanity. Emotion unites us and drives us to act. Youth understand this. They live it with their hopes, dreams, and trembling hands. This seems to me the right way to fight for the future we all deserve.

Perhaps, negotiators and global leaders lack sitting on the ground a little more to listen to other voices. They lack seeing the trembling hands. Yes, there are young people occupying plenaries today and rehearsing an important speech as well. But there are many other voices that have mobilized resources from all imaginable places and arrived here without even knowing how, and they also need to be heard.

These young people deserve, no, demand more space at the negotiation tables. COP28, in its current structure, calls for transformation, and who better to catalyze this change than youth, with their innate ability to bring emotion and urgency to discussions?

To the young people reading these words: thank you. Thank you for believing, for dreaming, for daring. Thank you for reminding me why we are here, why this fight is so essential. May youth continue to be the transformative spark in future COPs, bringing their transgression, courage, and unique voices to the center stage.

If in his famous play Sartre says, “Hell is other people,” I prefer to go with Valter Hugo Mãe and affirm that paradise is other people. It’s worth fighting for people when we look at them this way, as individuals, with dreams, hope, and trembling hands.

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