The UK hosted the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland from 31 October to 12 November 2021, and the YMCA was there in force.
A team of 18 YMCA Ambassadors – inspiring young leaders from around the world – brought their stories of climate action and leadership to COP26. They observed negotiations, told their stories, advocated for greater investment in youth-led solutions, met with policymakers and Government Ministers, and made media waves. YMCA was invited to launch its documentary-short film showcasing six stories of climate action; and it chose that film premiere as the occasion to announce additional funding for its Youth-Led Solutions Initiative. Scroll down for all this and more.
Why we went to COP26?
To promote the diversification and mobilisation of the climate action movement, in order to elevate the voices of young people and the marginalised.
To develop and deepen partnerships and collaborations that invest in youth-led climate solutions.
To strengthen climate action cooperation between the private sector, social business and NGOs.
Channelling young people’s commitment to climate justice and sustainability is a key pillar of YMCA activity, and ‘A Sustainable Planet’ is one of the four pillars of its Vision 2030.
YMCA has had consultative status with the United Nations since 1947. It has previously attended six COP events, including the landmark COP 21 in Paris where it ran ‘Camp Climate’ for young people attending the Summit to convene and share. Each time, it offers delegations of young people an opportunity to learn and engage.
Of YMCA’s 120 member countries, 70 are currently running more than 2,400 community programmes on environment-related issues, involving and impacting over 230,000 people. In the 12 months to October 2020, it estimates that its Youth-Led Solutions climate initiatives had impacted more than 36,000 people worldwide.
YMCA and the Environment
Looking back at COP26
Inside The Green Zone: Film Premiere, hosted by YMCA Scotland
Friday 12 November 2021
YMCA premiered its short film, commissioned exclusively for COP26, documenting the story of how young leaders on each continent are innovating local solutions to the climate crisis.
Watch the film now … and hear from young people installing vermicomposting and tackling electronic waste in Hawaii; see their work in Peru where addressing poor sanitisation and inorganic waste has led to addressing income inequity; witness a cross-cultural collaboration between young people in Albay, Philippines and Michigan, USA to train a new generation of eco-leaders; learn about community-led reforestation in the Western Balkan forests of Kosovo; watch as young people create micro-green spaces across Ramallah, Palestine; and discover how curriculum-based climate art projects are utilising up-cycled waste in schools in Zambia.
Hear too from Scottish Minister for Children and Young People Clare Haughey, and World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Sanvee announcing more funding for YMCA Youth Led Solutions on Climate Action. Then follow a lively debate, with YMCA Scotland CEO Kerry Reilly in conversation with our YMCA climate ambassadors Rodrigo (Peru), Rebecca (Zambia), Diana (USA), Ylli (Kosovo).
YMCA at The Extreme Hangout
Alongside Extreme International, YMCA partnered with One Young World in its programme of events which took place at The Ferry, situated on the River Clyde and at the heart of COP26 (between the Green and the Blue Zones). The Extreme Hangout was an exciting youth-focused hub: a platform for active participation, and a space for inspiration, engagement, education, and entertainment. YMCA Ambassadors led a number of the conversations:
‘Moral Courage: Climate Justice and Human Rights’
Kumi Naidoo (Africans Rising for Justice), Mair Kelly (YMCA Ambassador, Ireland), Ylli Alija (YMCA Ambassador, Kosovo), Diana Lopera (YMCA Ambassador, Hawaii, USA)
‘The Power of Investing Youth-Led Solutions’
Rebecca Nkunde (YMCA Ambassador, Zambia), Rodrigo Puntriano Mendoza (YMCA Ambassador, Peru), Shakil Karim (YMCA Ambassador, San Francisco, USA)
YMCA COP26 documentary film preview with Rhys Lewis performance
After the screening of YMCA’s “Creating Youth-Led Solutions” documentary-style film, singer-songwriter Rhys Lewis joined in the conversation alongside YMCA Ambassadors from across the world who had featured in the documentary. He then gave a special COP26 live performance.
Moral Courage: Climate Justice and Human Rights
The Power of Investing Youth-Led Solutions
Other side events
A COP26 Special event
Saturday 6 November 2021
On the middle weekend of COP26, UMA Entertainment hosted a day of live music, DJ sets and talks focusing on the intersection of culture and climate, exploring how music and entertainment can play a role in the fight against climate change. The event formed part of the ‘Beyond the Green Fringe Festival‘ at the same venue for the weekend.
YMCA Ambassador Rodrigo Puntriano Mendoza, from Peru, joined the panel conversation “Climate Action Now… What Are You(th) Doing?” alongside Clover Hogan (Force of Nature), Deon Shekuza (Youth Advocate) and Sophia Mother (Citizens’ Climate Lobby).
Hosted at the New York Times Climate Hub on Sunday 6 November, YMCA Ambassador Rachel Nixseaman, Scotland, joined a panel of youth voices from across the country to understand what role young people are playing in the climate conversation. So, what is the young Scottish generation doing that leaders at COP26 might be overlooking? What can their local approaches bring to the global policy tables?
‘Vital Signs of the Planet’, a climate concert
Tuesday 2 November
Young global leaders and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland were united for an epic climate concert, live in Glasgow at the Royal Concert Hall. The power of music, combined with dramatic new footage from NASA and National Geographic, brought to life the impact on Planet Earth of climate change over the last 20 years. Against a backdrop of volcanoes fuming, hurricanes flooding and wildfires sweeping across the landscape, young musicians, leaders and champions of the environmental movement told their stories of climate change.
As part of the concert, YMCA Ambassador Cedric Dzelu, from Ghana, delivered a message on behalf of young people from across Africa and young leaders everywhere.
Watch the address of Cedric Dzelu
Live from COP26 – YMCA briefing webinar
Wednesday 10 November 2021
Meet our YMCA Climate Ambassadors
Watch more video interviews
- Watch YMCA Ambassadors featured on the UK’s Channel 5 News, reflecting on their time at COP26
- Watch Cedric Dzelu address the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall at the Vital Signs of the Planet event that took place on Tuesday 2 November
- YMCA Ambassadors Mair Kelly and Alicia O’Sullivan, from Ireland, helped to create this piece of spoken word highlighting some of the fears and hopes of and for young people in a world that should be focused on a Just Transition
- Alicia O’ Sullivan was interviewed by RTÉ Ireland to share her work and hopes at #COP26 on 2 November 2021.
Each day, YMCA Ambassadors featured in the Scottish Youth Film Foundation’s broadcast from COP26 as part of its feature ‘Out of the Blue’. They shared their experiences of the negotiations that were taking place.
- Watch Mary-Jane (Scotland) and Rodrigo (Peru)
- Watch Mair (Ireland) and Rebecca (Zambia)
- Watch Diana (Hawai’i, USA) and Alicia (Ireland)
- Watch Magda (Philippines) and Silke (Germany)
- A video piece featuring Mair and other Irish advocates for climate justice.
Featured YMCA stories at COP26
Team Trees – Kosovo
In Kosovo, the Global Forest Watch reports that tree cover has declined annually 4.3% since 2000, due to illegal wood cutting, tree diseases and the poor quality of the Western Balkan forests (American University of Kosovo report). #TeamTrees is a project that is focused on tackling deforestation and raising awareness about the climate crisis, with more than 100 young people learning about deforestation. As part of the initiative, Kosovo’s first glass tree nursery was built, with a target of planting more than 5,000 trees over the next 10 years.
Y Climate Arts – Ndola, Zambia
Y Climate Arts utilises the arts curriculum in secondary schools to educate students, parents and communities about the impact of the climate crisis and what they can do about it. The initiative teaches learners about the dangers of paper and plastic waste by creating art pieces, ornaments and models from recycled waste, demonstrating how to reuse, recycle and repurpose waste in creative ways, to earn a living and contribute to educating the community. Using artists, community members and teachers, the project aims to reach 2,000 people in its first year, with plans to evolve into a business that will employ young people over the next year while educating Zambian communities about the actions they can take.
Reducing community carbon footprint – Hawaii
Having attended the YMCA 175 global changemakers event in London in 2019, and the inaugural YMCA Youth-Led Solutions Summit on Climate Action, this group of young leaders were inspired that they could instigate change in their community. As an island community that ships the majority of its landfill to other parts of the world, young leaders working with YMCA Honolulu decided to tackle the problems of food and electronic waste. The team has been holding electronic waste collection drives and installed vermicasting bins, initially rolling out the installations at YMCA Honolulu’s branches – with plans for wider community implementation long-term. School children and community members are being trained on how to replicate this at home.
C.A.R.E for Climate – Michigan and Albay (USA)
‘Cultivating Action through Responsible Education’ or C.A.R.E. for Climate for short is a cross-cultural collaboration between young people on two continents that saw young leaders recruited from two countries (USA and Philippines) age 13 to 23 years old to train to become Eco- Leaders through a specially designed seven-week extracurricular programme. Once completed, newly trained ‘ecoleaders’ then created their own climate action solutions and initiatives to target changes in human behaviour for sustainable water and improved air quality, aiming to reach at least 30, further people. Eco-leaders had the opportunity to apply micro-funding to implement their projects. 469 people have been reached so far, with a second cohort starting in Spring 2022.
‘Sumaq Muru’ – Peru
Producing affordable and non-polluting energy to help communities struggling with poor drainage systems, poor hygienic services, and pollution was Sumaq Muru’s priority while teaching its communities how to implement changes themselves through innovative technology. Part of its solution is the ‘Eco Base’ design, a private and dignified community sanitary space, made from recovered plastic materials turned into bricks (eco-bricks). The second part of the initiative involves training local families in poverty how to collect plastic and produce the eco-bricks themselves, to ensure the work’s sustainability. The work began in March 2021, with more than 1 metric tonne of plastic waste acquired, and turned into 1,000 bricks so far.
BrinGreen – Palestine
Space is becoming increasingly limited in Palestine, with a growing population, and the perils of living under occupation – green areas are disappearing rapidly. Committed to raising awareness among the community on the importance of green areas and organic planting, BrinGreen is creating home kits with pots, compost and seeds for the community to grow their own healthy and organic plants, accompanied by information booklets. This has provided locals with no green space living in urban areas, small, manageable, green havens, creating living gardens. 500 kits have been distributed so far.
Meet the YMCA Delegation at COP26
COP reflection #3 – on ‘Moral Courage’
Mair Kelly is from The Mizen Head in West Cork, Ireland, a very rural area with a strong r...
COP reflections #2 – ‘An emotional journey’
Mike Bromfield is an events producer: he is also a YMCA England & Wales Youth Ambassad...
COP26 reflections # 1- Young people did everything they could
Carlos Sanvee is Secretary-General of the World Alliance of YMCAs It’s a week since the ...
YMCA’s 10 days at COP26: looking back
YMCA saw COP26 as a prime opportunity to propel young people’s voices into vital convers...16/11/2021
It’s not the ‘Blue Zone’ that makes me hopeful – it’s my peers in the Green Zone
By Rodrigo Puntriano Mendoza Rodrigo is a young leader from Peru with a passion for enviro...13/11/2021
YMCA announces further investment in youth-led solutions and young leaders at COP26
Press Release Friday 12 November 2021 At a time when a great deal is being promised...12/11/2021
‘Listening to young people is not a tick-box exercise’ (New York Times Climate Hub, COP26)
By Rachel Nixseaman Rachel from Scotland is a passionate youth and community worker with Y...08/11/2021
If COP26 promises access and input, why are young people being blocked and topics ignored?
Shakil, from the USA, is an international consultant with experience in community relati...08/11/2021
COP26 – What do we make of it so far?
By Amy-Beth McCarthy Amy-Beth from UK has been a passionate advocate for addressing climat...05/11/2021
COP26 – What is all the fuss about?
Read the blog post from YMCA Ambassador Dwight Tomlinson, Jamaica, about COP26...
Join YMCA at COP26 for an exclusive film premiere of youth-led climate change solutions
We will showcase six youth-led solutions on climate action from across the globe, inside t...
YMCA adds in-person COP26 documentary film preview with Rhys Lewis performance
Join YMCA for an evening of youth-led climate discovery as part of an exclusive YMCA film ...