On the Youth Voice at COP21


It is undeniable that today’s youth will suffer the negative impacts of climate change. They do not have a “seat at the table” in climate negotiations, and most rely on leaders and delegates they have never met to negotiate on their behalf. And yet, there were many creative ways that youth were able to make their voices heard at COP21.

On December 11th, Laura and Vidya attended a side event on the Benefits of Youth Participation within the UNFCCC, hosted at the Netherlands pavilion. There was music, laughter, a bit of wine, and there were young people. A delegate from the Netherlands, accompanied by her young son, spoke about the first time she brought her son to le Bourget. Assuming that he did not have accreditation, security tried to direct them to the Climate Generations area which was open to the general public. On the second day, the young man confidently showed security his badge, announcing “I am supposed to be here”.

As university students attending the negotiations, we were often the youngest in the room, especially nearing the end of the second week. I believe it is exceptionally important for young people to be seen and heard at these kinds of events, if only to serve as a reminder of who will be inheriting the future.

Aside from youth attending the formal negotiations, we saw many creative examples of how young people can be engaged in the issue of climate change.

A digital mapping project called Act Now for Tomorrow recently launched by UNICEF is helping youth around the world to identify climate issues in their communities.

Every year there is a gathering of young people for three days before the climate conference, called the Conference of Youth. COY is a space for exchanging ideas and experiences, and to facilitate the mobilization of young people.

We have also seen some really impressive videos with messages for world leaders at COP21, like this one from Students on Ice:

And this message from a young Marshallese woman about her concerns of her nation’s future, delivered at the closing plenary of COP21 after the adoption of the Paris Agreement:

And, of course, we can’t forget our friends from the University of Waterloo delegation, who attended COP21 and have been blogging stories of their experiences and perspectives on the negotiations!

If you have any more examples of how youth made their voices heard at COP21, please leave a comment down below!


Laura Maxwell is a first year Master of Development Practice candidate at the University of Waterloo and will be attending COP21 as part of the delegation of Kiribati, a small island nation located in the Pacific Ocean.  Her special interests include climate change, restoration and marine ecology, human health and the environment, and conservation biology.


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