24-year-old Gambian climate activist Fatou Jeng is passionate about tackling the problems born of Climate change in The Gambia. Like Fatou Jeng, founder of the environmental organization Clean Earth Gambia, young people from the Global South are pushing for participation in the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow. That’s because representation in these negotiations, which are crucial for young people, seems to be shrinking.
Covid-19 has contributed to the delay in climate negotiations, and the global impact of the pandemic is hitting the most vulnerable countries and people the hardest. In addition, unequal access to vaccines slows down effective climate action and reflects the imbalance in achieving climate justice.
In The Gambia, the corona pandemic has forced the Gambian government to make a further move away from environmental protection. Instead, in the crisis, it wants to create new jobs in the industry with the help of foreign investors.
“We have a progressive climate protection policy, better than the West, but we are lagging behind in terms of implementation,” says Jeng. When it comes down to it, the government usually has other priorities. For example, it wants to develop oil fields off the coast to make itself independent of imports.
The UK government, as host of COP26, has pledged to provide Covid-19 vaccines to participants and delegates. However, skepticism is excellent, especially among participants from the global South, which is suffering most from the climate crisis. Moreover, given the cost of quarantine and other expenses, it is uncertain how inclusive COP26 will be.
The big question is: what steps would leaders take to combat climate change if young people were excluded from the consultations?
Even during the climate negotiations under “normal” circumstances, the Global South participants, particularly civil society organizations, young people, and women, had problems financing their participation in the climate negotiations. With the pandemic, things could get even worse. The question of how the UK government will ensure the involvement of the most affected countries in the climate negotiations remains unanswered.
In addition, moving the COP26 negotiations to the virtual realm poses significant challenges for delegates from the Global South, such as internet connection problems, limited infrastructure, and differences in the time zone that make it challenging to participate. But suppose the effective participation of the Global South in the climate negotiations is not guaranteed. In that case, this also means a delay in climate action in the face of an accelerating climate crisis.
In an interview, Zimbabwean climate activist Elizabeth Gulugulu of the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change raised concerns about accreditation, funding for participation, and visa procedures. She said that “the difficulties of young people from the Global South in becoming accredited could limit their participation in COP26, as governments do not accredit youth and the COP26 presidency has reduced the number of party and observer badges, making things very complicated.”
Young people are not only there to promote “commitments” or “pledges” from governments for more climate protection. In various COP meetings, they have observed and documented the negotiations, analyzed political strategies, and raised awareness of the climate crisis with creative actions. In addition, they have contributed with training, building competencies, and organized important “side events” at the COP.
Whatever is used to justify excluding young people from the COP is irrelevant because that would not lead to a good result. Yvo de Boer, former Secretary-General of the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), put it this way after COP15 in Copenhagen: At the meetings of the UNFCC, an “inclusive and pragmatic way forward must be found to respond effectively to climate change and secure the livelihoods of future generations“.