COP26: Youth and Public Empowerment

The day that was: Energy Day

  • On day four of COP26, Energy Day, the message was meant to be loud and clear: “consign coal to the history books”.
  • Coal combustion is currently responsible for almost 50 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, making it one of the most harmful and polluting factors contributing to climate change.
  • Despite this, around a third of global electricity is still generated by coal.
  • However, the deal announced yesterday committed only 40 countries to phasing out coal, and did not include the major emitters China, India and the USA.
  • The head of the International Energy Agency warned that the deal in its current form puts the goals of the Paris Agreement at ‘close to zero’ chance of success.


Today’s theme: youth and public empowerment

Today, COP26 looks to the younger generation and explores the vital importance of empowering, educating and training young people, and the public more broadly, to drive climate change action forward. Today’s headline events will address how we can give young activists a platform to engage with world leaders, businesses and industry experts, to share learnings and ramp up climate action.

Kicking off with an address from YOUNGO, the Official Children’s and Youth constituency of the UNFCCC, the Local, Virtual and Global Conferences of Youth, will share their climate change stories and the actions they want to see global leaders making at COP26.

The climate change crisis has never been more at the forefront of public consciousness, and increasingly young people across the world are leading the charge on sustainability campaigning and holding governments accountable for climate change inaction. A global study led by Bath University found that nearly 60 per cent of young people aged between 16 and 25 are “very worried or extremely worried” about the climate crisis, with many expressing fear about what the future holds.

UNICEF is speaking at COP26 to ensure that climate change is recognised as a crisis for children and their rights, with UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, commenting:

“Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing this generation, with 1 billion children at extremely high risk. Yet, while the outlook is dire, world leaders at COP26 have a significant, time-sensitive opportunity to redirect the terrible path we are on. They can do so by committing to strengthening the resilience of services that children depend upon, and by cutting emissions faster and deeper. The futures of billions of children depend on it.”

While this week has seen some positive commitments from world leaders, it remains clear that tougher, more immediate action is still required from a majority of countries, in order to join forces and effect change.


A seat at the table

The power of young people to drive meaningful change and galvanise public support for climate inaction is not to be underestimated. In 2018, a 15-year-old girl made headlines when she skipped school to protest for action on carbon emission targets outside of the Swedish parliament. This young girl, Greta Thunberg, quickly became a global icon for environmental youth activism, inspiring thousands of other school children and young people to protest for policy changes around climate change. Indeed, the youth-led movement inspired by Greta’s work, Fridays for Future Scotland, is holding a strike today in Glasgow to raise awareness and call on world leaders to deliver climate justice.

Other young campaigners include Dr. Mya-Rose Craig, a 19 year old British-Bangladeshi ornithologist and environmental activist, and Ella and Caitlin Mcewan, sisters aged 10 and eight who started a petition against plastic toys in Burger King and McDonalds. The sisters were inspired to start the petition after learning about the environment and ocean waste at school. Whether it’s activism on the global stage or making small everyday changes at a local level, it’s critical that we are encouraging and supporting young people who engage with the world around them.

If there is one thing that COP26 has demonstrated this week, it’s the importance of working together to spark change. In one of today’s headline events, Intergenerational inquiry: youth stepping up climate action, we will see the current generation of environmental speakers joining with industry experts to share their experiences and stories around change. Through giving young people a seat at the table and encouraging them to voice their concerns and solutions to the climate crisis, this can only have a positive outcome. Elevating the youth voice will inspire and empower their peers to choose sustainable alternatives and play their part in reducing our environmental footprint, to help safeguard the planet for future generations.

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