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COP26 outcomes: youth say no time for despair but call for stronger action!


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Jan Mayrhofer

When we arrived in Glasgow to participate at COP26, the sun had already set. The glamorous atmosphere of the gigantic site in which the event was organised felt out of touch with the urgency of the situation. Will our governments meet the challenge head on or will they fail to take steps we all know are necessary?

What happened at COP26?

Over the two weeks of the most-watched global climate summit, we had numerous meetings with high-level decision makers such as European Commission Vice President responsible for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans and the EU’s lead negotiator Jacob Werksman. In these meetings we had one goal - to push the EU and European governments to agree on an ambitious climate action that protects young people’s future. We reminded everyone that young people, more than anyone else, would suffer the consequences of inaction today.

In COP26, we pushed for three key demands:

  1. We want the EU to agree on more ambitious climate targets
  2. We want governments to commit to systemic solutions to the climate crisis, not just to address the symptoms of the problem.
  3. We want young people, in particular from the Global South, to be included in decision-making processes.

Over the course of two weeks, We worked together with national youth delegates, European Youth Forum member organisations, indigenous young people and other civil society activists to ensure that these demands were taken into account in the discussions by member states that were happening behind closed doors. Were we successful? Yes and no.

Inside the conference lots of people busy working on laptops and in meetings

Commitments on climate still far from enough

First things first - the commitments made by governments at COP26 are simply not ambitious enough. During annual COP meetings, world leaders meet to negotiate common commitments based on their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (called Nationally Determined Contributions - NDCs), but there is no bar that governments must meet in their pledges - they are entirely voluntary. Despite many new pledges made this year, an assessment of the NDCs put us on a trajectory to 2.4˚C global warming. Far more than the envisioned 1.5˚C in the Paris Agreement and far more than what is needed to address the crisis.

The EU itself is not on track to achieve the 1.5˚C. In its Climate Law adopted last year, the EU governments pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% compared to a 1990 baseline. According to the best science available we need at least 65% emissions reductions by 2030.

Climate activist stands with sign that reads COP26 Act now

A missed chance on addressing the real problem

If we don’t see the problem clearly we will always miss the mark. Countries in the global North are over consuming resources, in particular fossil fuels, in a way that puts all of us in danger.

Many activists and reporters have already commented on the last-minute change to the final agreement reached on the last day of COP26. The final agreement calls upon parties to “[accelerate] efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. This is a watered-down version of the original text, which was introduced at the very last minute.

Governments and industries still prioritise economic growth and profit powered by energy dug up from the ground over our safety, even in the very near future. Extraction of natural resources causes more than 90% of biodiversity loss and 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. In the EU in particular, we consume much more of these resources than nearly any other part of the globe, but the consequences of our overconsumption will be felt the most by people who do not enjoy it. If the entire world were to consume as many resources as the EU, we would need 2.6 planets to sustain it.

A hopeful note on youth participation

Young people have a higher stake in climate action as it is our future on the line. During COP26, we worked with our members, UN youth delegates and young activists to ensure references to the importance of youth participation in decision-making on climate policy. And we were successful!

Thanks to the pressure from young people present at COP26, the final agreement “urges Parties and stakeholders to ensure meaningful youth participation and representation in multilateral, national and local decision-making processes, including under the Paris Agreement”.

This is the first time that youth inclusion in decision-making is mentioned in any outcome of any COP so explicitly and we will continue to fight to ensure a sustainable future for everyone.

The way forward for the (youth) climate movement

While COP26 is now behind us, the fight for climate justice continues. This is not a time for despair, but a call to push even harder for meaningful action.

The opportunities are there. First, the EU is currently finalising the Fit for 55 legislation. The youth climate movement must join forces to make sure the legislation is used to phase out coal, oil and fossil gas. With the possible revision of the EU Climate targets in 2023, there is much work ahead.

Second, we must keep reminding leaders that ultimately climate change is a symptom of a deeper crisis we are facing - overshoot. It is this core problem of overconsumption of natural resources that we are facing in Europe. The objective of the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan is to work “towards keeping its resource consumption within planetary boundaries”. Yet we are missing meaningful and binding targets to do so. The update of the monitoring framework of the legislation by the end of 2021 and its review in 2022 is a chance to correct this error and make sure we keep our consumption within boundaries.

Finally, we must follow up on the commitment made in Glasgow for more meaningful youth participation and include indigenous communities in the negotiations. As young people, we must reach out to our national decision-makers and demand to be included in every process which is designed to fight the climate crisis and its impacts on our lives.

Young people and youth organisations cannot sit back after COP26. It is up to us to continue to hold our governments accountable, push them to take ambitious measures that protect both us and the planet we live on, and tackle the root causes at the heart of the climate crisis.

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