Photo: UN-REDD Programme Image Bank, Flickr

Young people react to COP28

Our youth delegates reflect on successes and shortcomings in Dubai

To learn more, revisit our full coverage from COP28 here.

Last month’s COP28 climate summit saw a historic agreement to “transition away” from fossil fuels, as well as a plan to finance the Loss and Damage Fund.

But the final agreement has also been roundly criticized for stopping short of phasing out or even phasing down fossil fuels, as well as its numerous loopholes.

As the dust clears, what legacy will COP28 leave for the young people inheriting a world facing total climate collapse? We sent five GLF-funded youth delegates from Global South countries to observe the proceedings in Dubai. Here, they reflect on what they witnessed on the ground.

Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

Chrispus

Chrispus Ongom, International Forestry Students’ Association (IFSA), Uganda

Reaching COP28 felt like an impossible dream come true after failed attempts to attend COP26 and COP27. With funding from the GLF, my COP28 dream came true, and I finally joined my first COP event as an observer, representing IFSA.

My experience at COP28 was a transformative journey, and certain agreements struck a powerful chord within me. These weren’t just milestones – they were testaments to collective action.

One landmark achievement was an agreement on how to finance the Loss and Damage Fund that had been proposed at COP27. While pledges are still inadequate and the journey far from over, it represents a significant step towards addressing climate injustice.

Equally, countries’ agreement to transition away from fossil fuels resonated deeply. While the word “transition” remains ambiguous, it’s a historic first step towards acknowledging the root cause of our crisis. However, the lack of concrete plans for phasing out fossil fuels and the vague stance on carbon capture technologies left activists with a bittersweet taste of victory.

There was a notable increase in youth participation at COP28 compared to prior COPs. As important as this is, youth participation needs to be made meaningful – we must share the power to steer the process and outcomes.  

The first Global Stocktake revealed a stark reality: current nationally determined contributions (NDCs) fall far short of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We urgently need more ambitious NDCs before COP30.

Another key agreement reached was to triple global renewable energy. To achieve this ambitious goal, we will need unwavering commitment not just from governments but from all stakeholders.

Beyond the official agreements, COP28 was a transformative experience. It was a platform to connect with passionate young leaders from around the world, each contributing their unique talents to the climate movement. This network of like-minded individuals was an invaluable source of inspiration and collaboration.

I also had the privilege of interacting with leaders I could only dream of meeting back home in Uganda. It was both humbling and empowering to share the concerns and aspirations of youth with them.

But the experience wasn’t without its challenges. As an observer, I lacked access to the negotiation rooms. This barrier, one faced by many young people, highlights the need for greater transparency and inclusivity in the decision-making process. The underrepresentation of youth in negotiation rooms further underscores the need for dedicated pathways for their meaningful participation.

COP28 was a whirlwind of emotions: cautious optimism fueled by progress, frustration at the slow pace of change, and ultimately, a renewed sense of hope. It served as a stark reminder that the path to a sustainable future demands a multifaceted approach, with youth at the forefront.

We, young people across the globe, must act locally, demand inclusivity in the decision-making process and push for ambitious, action-oriented solutions.

Alejandra

Alejandra Nohora Quiguantar, Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN), Colombia

This was my second time attending a UN Climate Change Conference. Our role as young people is crucial to keep a close eye on human rights, the protection of territories and the conservation of biodiversity.

However, it is a challenge as a young Indigenous person to constantly monitor the negotiations over the course of two weeks. One of my topics of interest was the action plan on gender and the participation of Indigenous Peoples.

The gender issue did not advance in the first week, and countries such as Egypt and Russia did not allow the document to be consolidated. The parties are expected to adopt a more solid position at COP29.

The participation of Indigenous Peoples, and especially of Indigenous youth, was decisive in aspects of the climate discussions, such as carbon markets, financing and a just transition, to safeguard Indigenous rights and prevent negative impacts on their territories.

COP28 placed restrictions on demonstrations on the current situation between Palestine and Israel. The final agreement was also compromised by pushback from OPEC against phasing out fossil fuels.

What is clear now is that we must follow up on the work that governments are doing to safeguard the life of the planet. As young people, we must be at the forefront of asking crucial questions about what is being discussed at the global level.

Christopher

Christopher Adjei, IFSA, Ghana

As I stepped into the beautiful city of Dubai to experience my maiden climate conference, I found myself immersed in a transformative journey, prompted by the urgency and intricacy of the global climate discussions. COP28 brought a vibrant array of diverse perspectives, impassioned exchanges and a tangible sense of urgency.

As I got off the train at Expo City and approached the formidable gates of COP28, I was nervous from the sight of the robust security services and stringent checkpoints. As I finally obtained my entry badge and ventured into the Blue Zone, I was amazed by the crowd, lively discussions and media teams everywhere. The energy was electric, carrying with it meaningful engagements and profound insights.

I visited the Ghana Pavillion, where I felt at home among fellow Ghanaians, communicating in our native language. I chanced on a session on the restoration of mining landscapes in Ghana, which shared insights on the intersection of environmental conservation, sustainable mining and land resilience. This intricate balance and innovative approaches are essential for sustainability and climate resilience.

That evening, I joined a networking event for youth, and I took the opportunity to socialize with a few new faces and asked them about their experiences and what inspired them to attend COP28. Their stories added a layer of profound understanding and enriched my own experience.

On Day 3, I spoke at a session at the Nordic Pavilion, sharing a youth perspective on coastal management, sustainable fisheries and responsible aquaculture practices for food security. This invitation to represent youth underscored the value placed on nuanced and holistic approaches to sustainable practices.

On the final day of COP28, a group of protesters gathered outside the Blue Zone entrance to call for a complete and fair end to the use of fossil fuels. I sat down and listened to one of the protesters expressing her frustration that past COP events had become too political and self-interested. Their chants for a fossil fuel-free future echoed throughout, expressing a deep desire for change and the protection of human rights.

Their message was clear: they wanted a better future – one without fossil fuels and its lasting impacts on humans and nature. Inside, negotiations continued on the subject of fossil fuels and carbon capture and storage, but access was restricted, preventing me from engaging directly. Nevertheless, it was a powerful reminder of the complicated and challenging decisions made at conferences like these for the youth.

Leaving the venue, I carried with me enduring lessons and cherished memories, a testament to the lasting influence of gatherings like COP28. As a young individual passionate about making impacts and contributing to climate action and decisions, my experience at COP28 has fueled my decision to understand, contribute to and shape the narrative of global climate action.

Jenice

Jenice Achieng, YPARD, Kenya

Attending COP28 in Dubai was an eye-opening experience. The experience was a roller-coaster of emotions, from the excitement of speaking at a side event on ‘culture, values, and spiritual perspectives’ to the frustration of juggling concurrent sessions.

The networking opportunities and connections with influential figures brought a sense of inspiration and hope for impactful change. However, the desert heat served as a reminder of the tangible impacts of climate change.

The historic agreement at COP28 to “transition away” from fossil fuels represents a significant milestone after 28 years of international climate negotiations. However, the lack of a clear call for a fossil fuel phase-out this decade, as well as possible loopholes, raise questions over its effectiveness. As young people, it is crucial that we critically analyze the agreement and advocate for more ambitious and concrete measures.

Activists also shared concerns over their right to protest in Dubai, which highlighted the broader issue of ensuring inclusivity and freedom of expression in global climate discussions. While there were assurances of “peaceful assembly” and “freedom of expression,” the limitations on protests underscore the ongoing challenges activists face in advocating for climate action.

The Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, signed by over 130 parties, represents a great step forward. This agreement commits countries to integrating agriculture and food systems into national plans before COP30 and is a promising move. However, its real impact will depend on governments following through and being held accountable.

Lastly, the outcomes and agreements reached at the conference signal progress, but there is a pressing need for continued scrutiny, advocacy, and collaborative action to ensure that these commitments translate into meaningful change on the ground.

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