History of Youth at COP

Many people probably don’t know that youth have been involved in UN climate change negotiations since their beginning. During the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, young people stepped up and brought the talks back down to the basics – reminding people that we have a moral imperative to take action on environmental problems. At the time of the summit the world was dealing with a hole in the ozone layer created by using too many chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) compounds from refrigerants.

Severn Suzuki, then 12 years old from Canada and member of the Environmental Children’s Organization, addressed the negotiators giving an emotionally powerful and compelling speech. Her words captured well what it means to be a young person at the negotiations – we truly are advocating for our future. The speech, eloquently titled “The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes,” drew on the responsibility we have as world citizens to take collaborative action on global climate change. Since this time youth have be a continuous positive force at all following negotiations.

In 2005 youth delegates hosted their first Conference of Youth (COY1) and this weekend Expedition Copenhagen delegates are participating in COY5. The goals of the conference are “to build trust and solidarity among youth who will be attending COP15, and to share ideas, thoughts, successes and skills with each other. [Lastly] to build a truly global movement to stop the climate crisis.” What is unique about this year’s COY is that youth have recently obtained constituency status as YOUNGO at the negotiations. A constituency plays a key role at the negotiations and helps similar organizations to effectively participate and communicate their messages at the talks. Previously, youth have already been working similar to a constituency but without the official status.

Now that the YOUNGO constituency has been created we have certain rights including an invitation to some workshops, the ability to speak at high level segments, an office space and opportunities for bilateral meetings with negotiators. This status will allow us to be a more solidified force at COP15 and following negotiations. It is a real victory to have achieved this status because it demonstrates the important role that we play as youth and the recognition we have received for being so effective in the past.

Achieving constituency status as YOUNGOs allows us to continue our work, but at a higher caliber. While previous work has been impressive, this year we are planning on really stepping it up with creative actions, strong demands for negotiators and a groundswell of youth at the negotiations. Severn Suzuki was not the first youth activist – but she is definitely one of the first young people to receive such international attention. Her work, and the work of the youth here at COP15, represents a long history of youth demanding from leaders what is most important to us – a clean, just and healthy future.

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