Young climate activists need a seat at the decision-making table – on and offline

Written by on June 3, 2021


Nkosilathi Nyathi is an 18-year-old climate activist from Zimbabwe. 

When I stood in the registration queue at COP25, the 25th UN climate talks in Madrid in 2019, I was really inspired to see people not only from diverse cultures in their native cultural dress, but also so many young people.

At 16 years old, I was able to meet with decision-makers face-to-face and tell them exactly what my generation wanted. Participating at the summit gave me hope and confidence that my message was aired on an international stage that promised tangible action.

And I wasn’t the only one. More than 26,700 people registered to attend COP25, from government representatives and business leaders to researchers, journalists and campaigners. There were also youth climate activists much younger than myself.

This year, many of us won’t have the same kind of platform.

Though 30,000 people are expected to attend November’s COP26, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the interim climate talks on May 31-June 17 will be held online for the first time.

This decision has raised concerns about whether all countries will be able to fully participate, calling into question how diverse the negotiations will be.

I know that those in developing countries may have less reliable internet access, and seasonal weather in different countries could cause technical glitches, plus the different timezones will mean many participants would be forced to work in the middle of the night.

On the other hand, holding virtual talks also creates opportunities.

Not everyone would be able to attend these meetings even if the global health situation were to stabilise soon. Much of the world is still unvaccinated and many cannot afford two-week hotel quarantines at their own expense. Plus, obtaining internet access is a lot cheaper and less polluting than travelling across the world.

Still, the event must cater to the different locations and time zones if we want the climate talks to include diverse voices.

The strength of this diversity is that it ensures we are best prepared to tackle the climate crisis, as having people from different locations and backgrounds at the decision-making table breeds fresh and innovative ideas to fight the crisis.

This means young people, too, must be included at the heart of all decision-making climate policies.

People say we are the leaders of tomorrow, but we are already leaders today. The youth climate movement has proven this.

Age shouldn’t be a factor in determining who gets to currently sit at the decision-making table. Personally I started advocating for climate justice and calling for youth inclusion at the age of ten.

I now want to sit among presidents, ministers and ambassadors and tell them what my generation wants and how we think things should be solved.

I don’t yet know if I’ll be attending COP26. But even if I don’t, I’m confident that other young people will represent our generation.

And once I see that what we talked about at these events is finally implemented, I can safely resign as a climate activist.

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