Young people are doing things their own way: view from Sudan

“Young people are determined in their own actions and doing things their own way” when it comes to climate ambition – stated Nisreen Elsaim, the Chair of the Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, at a public event on the future of the Paris Agreement, last week.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres launched the Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change with the aim “to amplify youth voices and to engage young people in an open and transparent dialogue as the UN gears up to raise ambition and accelerate action to tackle the climate emergency.”

Ms Elsaim, the outspoken young Sudanese woman at the group’s helm, has used her new-found platform to engage with older political leaders on the climate diplomacy scene. But she is also one of many activists taking matters into their own hands and participating in the youth-led ‘Mock COP’ this month.

‘COP’ stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’ and the ‘Mock COP’ will take place around the approximate time that the original 26th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP26, was due to convene in Glasgow, UK. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, COP26 is now postponed until November 2021.

The Mock COP will be a wholly online, youth-led forum, which aims to “show the world what would happen if young people were the decision-makers.” Through keynote speeches from youth activist leaders, breakout sessions and regional caucuses, the Mock COP will come up with a plan for how to restore adequate ambition by all countries to tackle the planet’s climate emergency.

“Young people are more focused on the goals than ever,” Ms Elsaim said at last week’s event. Young people’s expectations of the [mainstream] COP are “sky high – higher than ever”, after the COVID-related delay, she said.

The Mock COP will:

  • Unite climate activists from around the world
  • Raise ambition by generating a conference statement to world leaders ‘from the youth of the world, raising ambition for COP26’
  • Continue supporting young people on the journey to COP26, to engage with their domestic politicians.

It takes place from 19 November until 1 December 2020, and registration is open on the Mock COP website.

Chair of the Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, Nisreen Elsaim. Credit: UN.

First hand experience

Ms Elsaim welcomed moves by a handful of countries to set net zero targets for their carbon emissions or for all their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, she was critical of the long-recognised gap in international financing for climate change adaptation.  For both bilateral and multilateral climate finance from developed to developing countries, about two-thirds is mitigation finance and one third adaptation finance (OECD report on climate finance from developed to developing countries, 2018).

Ms Elsaim, a student at the University of Khartoum, recalled how her native Sudan suffered ‘devastating’ floods in September; “for us, [action by] 2050 seems very far away.”

Immediate action on adaptation and resilience as well as on mitigation is very important – she said, but good intentions are meaningless without finance.

At present, only a handful of countries have submitted their updated Nationally Determined Contributions – national climate plans – to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and, as described by Patricia Espinosa in this related article, international climate finance contributions from the richer countries to the poorer ones, are still to reach the magnitude required.

Green wave is spreading

Despite disruptions to the UN climate talks this year, young people are at the forefront of caring for the environment and taking actions to restore the climate and environment, said Ms Elsaim:

“In a continent like Africa where more than 60% of population is [young], schools play a huge role. This generation will grow up to be the voters and politicians of the future.” The United Nations’ World Population Prospects reported in 2019 that 715 million of Africa’s 1.18 trillion people are under the age of 25.

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement is about how to make public awareness part of the momentum for climate action, she noted. “The more civil society is involved, the more we get results.”

Mindsets are changing, too. Already young people are learning to be ‘productive people’ – recycling plastic, stopping plastic use, planting trees, and halting deforestation – and not mere consumers of the Earth’s resources, she said.

Ms Elsaim predicted: “we will have a young generation that is very much more mature than previous generations” and will take environmental stewardship much more to its heart.

– Reporting by Mairi Dupar, CASA

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