cop26 youth

Outside of the COP26 echo chamber, what kind of climate action do young people need?

The journalist draws an analogy between the big "chamber" of COP26 where world leaders, youth activists and business representatives gather together, with a Chinese young people's network - 706. 706 is a salon taking place in a living room shared voluntarily by Chinese young people living overseas. From one "chamber" to the "chamber" of our shared space.
The journalist draws an analogy between the big "chamber" of COP26 where world leaders, youth activists and business representatives gather together, with a Chinese young people's network - 706. 706 is a salon taking place in a living room shared voluntarily by Chinese young people living overseas. From one "chamber" to the "chamber" of our shared space.

As the author writes, the climate change conference has gradually transitioned from veteran climate diplomats and politicians dominating the main venue to a stage where young and diverse voices participate together. Yiyao shares her story…

I participated in the 706 Youth Space in Berlin before I came to Glasgow. I  feel that Chinese young people have gone from simply studying abroad to establishing a knowledge-sharing network through which we can  convey Chinese voices overseas. 706 Youth Space begins with a sofa and a living room. A sofa – we reporters discover that this is something hard to find in Glasgow at COP26. But the influence of youth can overcome many obstacles. “We discuss, we adjust, we act” — this slogan was inspired by an event at 706 Youth Space in Berlin. For me, COP26 is a larger salon that accommodates both formal and informal dialogues. Through my reporting on COP26, I hope to enrich  climate stories with wisdom from different “living rooms.”

On October 29th, there was light rain in Glasgow. Despite this typical cold Scottish weather, the whole city was bustling with excitement. At the time of writing this article, I was sitting in a pub near the center of Glasgow. There were only three days left before the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP26). At the dinner table, myself and other young journalists from developing countries were preparing to report on COP26.

The Scottish beer tasted mellow and we were hungry. But we couldn’t even take in the taste of the food in front of us because we were all combing the news so intently. Mails flooded into our inboxes, including letters from the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Team, NGO notifications about the conference’s schedule, and news briefings from various countries.

On November 5th, climate activist Greta Thunberg is set to participate in the climate strike in Glasgow during COP26. “It’s great for her to have this influence at her age, but she can’t represent us,” said my colleague from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Who is the “US” he refers to?

“Us” here refers to indigenous peoples and frontline countries that are deeply affected by climate change, such as Pacific island countries and countries of the global south. “Us”, here is not trying to draw lines of separation across nationality, ethnicity and physicality. It is simply the  most true and powerful cry from young people living in countries on the frontline of the climate crisis.

Countries in the global south share a common aim at COP26: urging developed countries to fulfill their climate funding commitments. Before the Paris Agreement, developed countries pledged to mobilize US$100 billion a year from 2020 to support developing countries in reducing carbon emissions, minimizing the impact of climate change, and adjusting their economies to cope with its impact. Although international support for addressing climate change has increased substantially since 2015, the developed countries collectively failed to reach the US$100 billion goal. According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), only US$79.6 billion was mobilized by 2019.

Alok Sharma, chairman of the COP26 conference, called on leaders of all countries to abide by the Paris Climate Agreement signed in 2015. “In Paris, world leaders demonstrated consensus, ambition, and vision, but that was only the beginning of the journey.”

“The success or failure of COP26 depends on the leaders of each country.” Alok Sharma also called on the Group of Twenty (G20) to “act now to reduce emissions.” COP26 has four goals:

1. Ensure that the world achieves net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, and limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5°C
2. Protect communities and natural habitats
3. Mobilize climate funds
4. Global cooperation.

The conference will see world leaders, delegates, NGOs, and business company representatives gather in the Scottish city of Glasgow to carry out climate negotiations and climate conference agendas. It has been regarded as the deadline for the action plan to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

In Rome, Italy, the G20 summit was held on October 30th and 31st provided a countdown for COP26. Italy, the rotating G20 presidency, stated that the focus of this summit is global economy and health, climate change and the environment, and sustainable development. The G20 group, including Brazil, China, India, Germany, and the United States, accounts for more than 80% of the world’s GDP, and their global greenhouse gas emissions account for about 80% of the world’s total.

The message the G20 countries send on climate issues at this year’s summit is generally considered to pave the way for COP26. China also formally submitted to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change the “New Measures for China to Implement Nationally Determined Contributions and New Targets” on October 28th. The report revealed a new Nationally Determined Contribution Target (NDC): aiming to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality before 2060.

Inside and outside the venue

The climate conference is divided into a blue zone and a green zone. The green zone is open to the public at a fixed time every day. However, an important force driving the COP agenda is a variety of spontaneous activities in full swing, held outside the venue and online. They are run by the COP26 Coalition, a group of civil society organizations headquartered in the United Kingdom to mobilize activities around climate justice during COP26. The members include environmental and development NGOs, trade unions, grassroots community movements, faith groups, youth groups, immigration and racial justice networks, and so on. They believe that “the transformative solutions we need to survive and build a more just and fair world can only be achieved through collective action, solidarity and coordination, from our local communities and at the international level.” 

This climate conference is the “last and best opportunity” to alleviate the climate crisis. The host city is facing a lot of pressure to welcome the conference: hotel prices in Glasgow are soaring. A cruise ship hosting more than 3,000 COP26 attendees in Glasgow will have to run off fossil fuels, even though it is equipped to use clean land-based energy. According to media reports, the port that receives this ship does not have onshore power capacity suitable for medium or large ships, as is typical of most British ports. Some non-governmental organizations like the COP26 Coalition have appealed to qualified Glasgow residents (with a sofa or a living room) to provide guests a place to stay, but it is still not enough to ease the accommodation pressure.

Climate narrative

Because of the COVID19 pandemic, representatives of many countries were unable to attend the conference due to quarantine requirements. As a young journalist reporting from COP26, I keep thinking about the following question:

Who are “WE”? What kind of climate narrative does the younger generation empathize with?

The climate change narrative should include more than lofty goals and obscure reports. At COP26, there is an art exhibition area where artists use real stories and creativity to call attention to climate issues. In China, climate reporters should also think out of the box and help the public to grasp the complexity of climate issues, which is the first step for the gradual transformation of transportation and lifestyle. 

Xiaofang, a young Chinese photographer living in Shanghai, said that she likes domestic environmental organizations and initiatives to explain climate issues, environmental issues and vegetarian lifestyles. She started a vegetarian lifestyle in 2017. “Regardless of whether others are vegetarians or not, I respect their free decision. But I exert influence as much as I can.” In her photography work, Suskita mainly focuses on photography of various environmental organizations and vegetarian activities.

According to China Dialogue, China is the world’s largest source of agricultural greenhouse gases, emitting 830 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent gas in 2014 (the most recent year for which official data is available). This carbon footprint is equivalent to the carbon footprint of all cars, airplanes and ships in the country. More than a quarter of the emissions from Chinese farms come from animals that eat grass, such as cows, goats and sheep. In recent years, the China Green Development Council has actively promoted sustainable diets by establishingf the Good Food Fund, which calls for a healthy diet and reducing excessive meat consumption.

Regardless of whether you are able to attend the conference in person, here is how to participate. Young people can take action  through small steps. The following suggestions are summarized through the author’s interview:

1. In one’s own industry or workplace, exert influence to the best of  your ability. For example, employees in a company can make environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) suggestions. These can range from turning off lights to save energy to suggesting sustainable business models.

2. Not everyone must become a vegetarian, but you can choose to buy food products from companies with good practices based on your own health. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes plant-based diets as a major opportunity to mitigate and adapt to climate change – and includes a policy recommendation to reduce meat consumption.

3. Fighting against climate change does not mean completely avoiding spending or traveling. Instead, try to choose a more environmentally friendly way of traveling, such as trains. Some airlines also have a “carbon offset” compensation plan. Passengers can purchase this plan to offset the greenhouse gases produced directly or indirectly by people’s daily activities through tree planting or other environmental protection projects.

4. Understanding climate science requires investing some time in information processing. If your school or business has relevant education programs, you can learn more yourself, then influence people around you, such as your family, through word of mouth. Inform them that besides high-carbon lifestyles, there are healthier and more sustainable options.

This story was originally published on 706 Youth Space, with the support of Climate Tracker.

Yiyao Yang
Yiyao is a committed young professional with experience in journalism and development. She learned about dislocation and communication barriers through her work in China, Japan, and countries with fragile infrastructures, such as the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, where she witnessed the adverse effects of climate change. Besides climate stories, she covers migration and contemporary art. Yiyao is now studying at Hertie School in Berlin.