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Global Youth Climate Inquiry Report – Panel Event at COP26

Posted on 12 November 2021

We see the Amazon get burned down… we see droughts becoming more intense and more frequent, we have seasons becoming more intense, colder winters and hotter summers, we see storms getting more intense, new storms of dust… I won’t lie, climate change is [one of the top two] reasons for mental distress in my [age] group (together with politicians).– Paula Sleiman, Brazil

On Monday the Mishcon Purpose team presented the findings of the Global Youth Climate Inquiry during a live panel event at COP26.

The Inquiry ran from early September until late October this year. Conducted by Mishcon de Reya, in partnership with the Democracy and Culture Foundation and One Young World, the Inquiry took written and oral evidence from 22 global youth leaders, from 19 different countries, working in the climate space. Importantly, the Inquiry sought to draw out what obstacles to inclusion in decision-making around climate action young people face and which initiatives, implemented at a local, national, or global level have been most successful in enabling them to participate.

The importance of engaging youth in decision-making and providing them with a platform has been brought to the fore by the climate crisis. There is a sense of frustration amongst young people that, despite the fact that the greatest effects of the climate crisis will be felt by their generation, and the generations after them, they continue to be excluded from the conversation and decision-making forums.

The Inquiry provided a platform for young people to make themselves heard. As such, it was fitting that its findings were presented in the midst of the action in Glasgow, during what was described by the Scottish Government as "the people's COP".

The Panel Event at COP26

The Inquiry's live panel event was hosted by One Young World at its Extreme Hangout, a ferry, bobbing on the Clyde, just outside the COP26 Blue Zone. The panel was chaired by Alexandra Agnew and comprised: John Elkington, a world renowned author and expert on corporate responsibility and sustainable investment, Sophie Cowen, founder of SwitchIt.green and part of the XR media team, Kehkashan Basu, founder of the Green Hope Foundation and a One Young World ambassador, and Mishcon de Reyas Maria Patsalos, who heads up the Climate Migration Project.

The panellists were asked to identify the initiative or finding that they had found most striking during the Inquiry:

  • Kehkashan Basu spoke of the importance of localised action and education, working with communities on the ground to "engage, educate and empower" young people to implement change in local communities. Kehkashan is particularly concerned about the effects on climate change on education. She noted the current trend in the global north of climate striking to miss school and argued that media narratives should be about building climate resilience and education instead. In this regard, Kehkashan praised the Inquiry for bringing the voices of global youth to the fore, for highlighting "the actions taken on the ground by young people", and for its recognition that "what works in Europe, or the US, or Canada is not going to work in the global south."
  • Sophie Cowen highlighted the intrinsic value of youth enfranchisement. She explained that although young people are often dismissed because they are perceived to be "newer to the world and less experienced", in her view, they are less experienced in "business as usual" and more in touch with the "world as it should be, as it could be, and as it needs to be in order to support life." She went on to note that the climate conversations at the moment are about changing the way we do things, for example changing the financial system and food system, and so we need "a revolution in imagination. "In her view, young people "can breathe this imagination into discussions". Sophie's comments reflect the evidence of Jonah Messinger, one of the Inquiry's contributors, who testified that, "in general, paradigm-shifting ideas, technologies and initiatives are brought to the fore by new entrants and fresh perspectives."
  • John Elkington reminded the audience of the continued importance of inter-generational cooperation and engagement. Although he affirmed the importance of listening to the youth voice, he cautioned that if older people are not brought on board then they "have the power to get in the way." In this regard, it is interesting to note that among the initiatives identified as successful during the Inquiry are those that inspire and engage entire communities, for example the Ten Billion Trees Tsunami Initiative in Pakistan.
  • Contributors to the Inquiry repeatedly identified internal displacement due to climate change as one of the greatest threats they faced. Climate migration is an issue that Mishcon de Reya has been drawing attention to for some time (please see the article here and podcast here). Maria Patsalos spoke about the lack of recognition this issue has received from global decision-makers at COP26.

Next steps

Mishcon de Reya and its partner organisations regard the Inquiry as phase one in an ongoing project of global youth enfranchisement.

John Elkington spoke of his concern (also expressed by contributors) that the climate conversation is conducted in English and emphasised a need, not just to "broadcast" these conversations in local languages, but to "develop the capacity to listen." Although this Inquiry was conducted predominantly in English, we hope that it is a step in the right direction –  towards providing young people from around the world with a platform to express their views and ideas.

Whilst it is evident that there is no "magic wand", a number of interesting and important initiatives were identified by the contributors, which have the potential to provide a framework to create models for youth enfranchisement at local, national and global levels. The Inquiry's partner organisations intend to take these findings forward in a second phase of work.

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