Youth representation at COP27 – the official United Nations climate conference being held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt – appears to be greater than in many years past. However, say delegates of all ages, young people are still not as prevalent and prominent as they should be at the conference, particularly given the consequences to their future should leaders fail to act with sufficient urgency and courage.
With an estimated 45,000 people in attendance at the two-week conference, there are a few thousand young people from all over the world who have access to the grounds. Such access has been difficult to come by, as passes are allocated to national delegations, accredited NGOs, and well-connected companies. The high cost of travel, lodging, and food add even more barriers to youth participation.
Many of those who have overcome all of these hurdles to make it into the official “Blue Zone” at COP27 are doing important and innovative work.
One such young person is Ezekiel Nyanfor, age 24, a student at the University of Liberia studying Public Health. Ezekiel cares deeply about addressing and solving the climate crisis, and his nonstop activity in support of these goals is year-round, not just for two weeks during the UN conference.
In Liberia, Ezekiel founded a non-governmental organization called Liberian Youth for Climate Actions (LYCA), where he serves as Executive Director. At COP27, Ezekiel is accompanied by his LYCA colleagues Peace M. Karnkeh and Yundeh A. Butler. Ezekiel has a responsibility as part of the official delegation of Liberia to monitor the negotiations relating to Action for Climate Empowerment.
Another initiative has brought 55 young people to COP27 as official negotiators on the delegations of 27 countries. The Climate Youth Negotiators Programme (CYNP) works with countries to have them agree to take on youth as official members of their climate negotiating teams. The programme trains participants over the course of six months, increasing their knowledge and skills while creating a strong community of support among participants.
These young people are not the “next generation” of leaders, as youth are often called. As one CYNP member who is part of the delegation of Fiji said, they view themselves as negotiators, not as youth participants in the negotiations.