The irreversible impacts of climate change are being felt globally, but developing countries, which bear the least responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions, are the most vulnerable and affected. Young people, who are particularly vulnerable to climate change, will be more impacted in the long run by the decisions made today regarding their future. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has emphasized that the time is now for the world to commit to preventing the most catastrophic impacts of climate change in the future. There should be no further delay in preventing global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius. The world is consistently reaching thresholds, with 2022 recorded as the sixth warmest year since global records began in 1880.
It is at this moment in time that COP 28 took place in Dubai, UAE, from November 30 to December 13. It was crucial for COP 28 not to be just another gathering of "climate diplomats" but to serve as a critical moment to establish a comprehensive framework that advances actionable climate solutions, especially for the most vulnerable.
At COP 28, we witnessed the first assessment of progress towards achieving the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement with the Global Stocktake (GST). The expectation was that it would highlight the immediate implementable actions needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals and scale up climate action to limit irreversible climate change impacts in the future.
COP 28 was an opportunity to acknowledge intergenerational equity and justice in safeguarding a sustainable and livable future for all, especially for the younger generations. The importance of actively engaging the youth in decision-making processes and acknowledging their contributions and views as implementers of decisions to drive ambitious climate action was highlighted more than ever before at COP 28. One of the key outcomes of COP 28 was the establishment of youth champions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This follows the outcome of COP 26, the Glasgow Pact, which underscored the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action and recognized the importance of including young people in addressing climate change. It also called on governments to ensure meaningful participation of young people in national, regional, and global climate policy decision-making processes, including the Paris Agreement.
For young people to feel confidently engaged and actively involved in climate policy processes at all levels, there is a need for capacity building, mentoring, and technical skills. This will enable them to better amplify the voices of vulnerable communities and share their perspectives on decisions to be made. Thus, it will put the youth at the forefront of developing sustainable and innovative climate solutions that shape a sustainable future for all. This is the raison d’être of the New Generation Program, a joint initiative between the Climate Leadership Initiative and the Loss and Damage Collaboration (L&DC), which empowers young people from vulnerable developing countries in the Global South to actively participate in the UNFCCC negotiations process, presenting their countries' priorities on the negotiating table and amplifying their voices for vulnerable communities.
The program immerses young climate negotiators who also collaborate with youth-led and youth-focused civil society organizations (CSOs) to help them gain both technical and soft skills, such as leadership and personal development, as well as tools to enhance mental health and overall well-being. Through workshops, coaching, and mentorship conducted throughout the year with diverse experts in the climate change sector, participants gain an understanding of the negotiation process and the capacity and confidence to engage effectively. The program is inclusive, and to date, it has empowered twelve young people from the first cohort who follow a variety of thematic issues in the UNFCCC negotiations, including Loss and Damage, Article 6, agriculture, climate finance, action for climate empowerment, and transparency. In late 2023, we began working with six fellows from the second cohort, all of whom focus on Loss and Damage. These incredible individuals include Ana Nicolle Javier (Dominican Republic), Hamira Kobusingye (Uganda), Filimone Tuivanualevu (Fiji), Bruno Sirote (Argentina), Farhana Shukor (Malaysia), and Malek Romdhane (Tunisia).
Since COP 26 in 2021 in Glasgow, fellows from the first cohort have attended the negotiations. In 2023, they were joined by the new cohort at COP 28 in Dubai with a clear and ambitious plan: to actively engage in the negotiations and amplify their voices as part of their countries' delegation. Throughout COP 28 in Dubai, New Generation fellows were actively engaged in the entire process of negotiations, from preparatory meetings of their negotiating group during the pre-sessional week to the final closing plenary.
With a collaborative spirit, the first cohort serves as peer mentors to the second cohort, guiding those newer to the process on how to navigate the negotiations and helping them overcome challenges that new participants may face, including understanding the language, terminology, and acronyms used in negotiation rooms. Additionally, all fellows had the opportunity to be guided and receive mentorship from senior negotiators during COP 28.
The engagement of the New Generation at COP 28 extended beyond negotiation rooms. In addition to participating in various negotiations relevant to Loss and Damage, the fellows met and interacted bilaterally with decision-makers and lead negotiators, to ask about their experiences, career trajectories, and lessons learned. They also interacted with a broader ecosystem of like-minded people to explore how to strengthen the engagement of young people in the decision-making process. Several also attended and spoke at side events, organizing events to connect less experienced youth participants with more experienced policy experts and activists. The New Generation team also held several meet-up sessions to discuss challenges faced by everyone, especially those new to the process, and exchanged ideas on finding solutions together, inspiring one another to ensure everyone's greater participation.
Several members were assigned tasks inside the negotiation room, such as supporting lead negotiators within the thematic issues they follow, taking notes during small group sessions, and being invited to speak at events alongside negotiations, sharing their experiences and proposing solutions to addressing climate change as key actors in ensuring a resilient future for all. Another highlight of New Generation Engagement at COP 28 was an event organized by L&DC and CLI in partnership with the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group Pavilion, where young people interacted with some of the LDC and G77+China negotiators on loss and damage, the progress of negotiations on loss and damage, and what's next for Loss and Damage discussions after COP 28.
From this point, the New Generation's aspiration remains the same: to continue learning to become well-informed in the negotiation process, effectively amplifying the voices of their countries' priorities and the needs of vulnerable communities while contributing to decisions that aim to shape the future.
The engagement doesn't limit itself to COP 28; back home, different members will participate in the COP 28 debrief at national and regional events to share their experiences and raise awareness of the outcomes of COP 28, producing briefs and other knowledge products. The New Generation aspires to empower a large number of young people from the Global South to ensure they make a positive impact and contribute to the decision-making process with confidence and capacity to amplify their voices for what their countries need. They also aim to offer innovative solutions locally, nationally, and globally as driven young climate leaders. The program is grateful for those who trust its vision of becoming more effective negotiators and support them in various ways to be present at COP and run the program.
Honorine Isingizwe is a climate leader and actively involved in the climate negotiations since 2021. She is a 2021 climate ambassador of Global Youth Climate Network; an Initiative of the World Bank Group’s Youth2Youth community. Honorine is a member of the first cohort of the New Generation and a co-coordinator of the second cohort. She is very driven and her commitment to finding and offering solutions to communities’ problems with a focus on environmental sustainability and youth empowerment.
We express our gratitude to Oxfam Great Britain and Bread for the World for their support of the New Generation program. Additionally, we extend our thanks to Heinrich Boell Stiftung, Washington DC, and the Commonwealth Foundation for their assistance in facilitating the participation of some of the fellows at COP 28.
This article was generously supported by the Commonwealth Foundation.