Youth in the Lead

The incredible power of the youth climate movement was immediately apparent as I began my experience at COP25.

I was mid-flight while 500,000 people marched through Madrid on Friday evening, an unprecedented mobilization by a broad coalition. I arrived early on Saturday in time to catch the last day of week one.

My walk to IFEMA was quiet, with no wait to register and receive my delegate badge, but upon entering, the hustle and bustle picked up quickly and I heard powerful stories from the previous night’s action as I walked through exhibit halls, meeting rooms, and delegate pavilions, orienting myself to the massive convention center.

I joined our partners at Climate Action Network (CAN) International for a press conference and meeting to get up to speed on negotiations of the previous week. Youth leaders from Fridays for Future joined to share input. Youth from Germany, Russia, and Spain told how they weren’t allowed into these rooms last year, and now have created something even bigger. They see incredible turnout at school strikes and marches across the globe, but have yet to see that translate into action at the policy level. They also warned it was becoming unsustainable to continue striking and need allies to rise and recognize that we can’t rely on young people to carry this burden for us all.

CAN partners from around the world echoed their support, that they are seeing the ripples of youth organizing even through conservative communities, and know that this pressure is beginning to pay off but will take increased collective action and recommitment to center youth in frontline communities around the world.

I moved to the adjacent meeting room to observe the Presidency’s Open Dialogue between Parties and observer organizations. We were seated around a circle of tables as COP25 President Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s Minister of the Environment, heard from observer organizations and country representatives, including representatives for YOUNGO (youth NGOs) and IPO (Indigenous Peoples Organizations) in addition to sectors like farmers and individual countries.

I eagerly moved on to the U.S. Climate Action Center where youth delegates from SustainUS and WWF replaced any traces of jet lag with complete joy and solidarity.

Indigenous youth leaders invited the room to join in song, waving in passersby watching through the window and outside the door, in awe to see an event composed of not sitting and talking, but standing together, stomping and singing. Orion led us in chanting between powerful storytelling from a half dozen youth about their experiences of climate change, the generations of knowledge their ancestors have passed down, and solidarity with Indigenous relatives around the world.

These leaders sang in their native tongues, read poetry, rapped, and shared deep wisdom that belies their young age. Youth whose identities are fragmented by colonial borders and generations of genocide demonstrate the power of Indigenous communities to show the way for all of our survival.

“As we migrate here today by land as our caribou relatives do, by sea as our salmon relatives do, or by air as our bird relatives do, we come together in love to celebrate and fight for our continued survival.”
—Ruth Miller

“Climate change is not the problem it’s a spiritual crisis, we don’t see each other as part of a sacred web of life. We are all one climate catastrophe from being refugees ourselves.”
—Niria Alicia

Youth leadership is clearly changing the game and pushing leaders to raise the stakes.

As one of the goals of this year’s negotiations is for Parties to increase ambition in order to meet our Paris goals, fighting in solidarity with the leadership of youth and frontline communities will undoubtedly bring us to the critical changes to build the future we all need to survive.

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