COP28 delegate Zaina Rafidi: COP was inspiring and eye-opening

Date: 15 December 2023

By Zaina Rafidi

COP 28 delegate Zaina Rafidi is a passionate advocate for environmental sustainability. She is a long-time volunteer for The East Jerusalem YMCA and, as a Medical student, brings a healthcare perspective to addressing climate change. 

Determined to shape the future of our planet, I, a young Palestinian woman, found myself at the COP28 venue for the first time, a realm of possibilities accompanied by challenges. The annual United Nations Conference of the Parties climate summit provided a unique opportunity to witness hands-on experiences and actively contribute to discussions influencing our shared environmental destiny, with invaluable support from the World YMCA team.

From the onset of my COP28 journey, the youth team played a pivotal role in navigating the complex landscape of international conferences. Their support was not just logistical; it also provided a sense of community, collective identity, and mentorship, proving extremely valuable in the busy hallways of the conference venue.

As an attendee from Palestine representing the East Jerusalem YMCA and participating as part of the World YMCA youth delegation, I felt seen and empowered to share our unique environmental challenges, navigating the complexities of international discourse.

The COP28 experience

This experience gave me the confidence to articulate Palestinians’ unique environmental challenges. Our strategic vision as a youth movement, inspired by the four Pillars of YMCA Vision 2030 – particularly around a Sustainable Planet and Just World – anchored my belief that there is no climate justice without human rights

The World YMCA team’s guidance was strengthening, particularly regarding youth engagement. Their seasoned expertise in international forums empowered me to engage confidently with a diverse group of delegates and highlighted the crucial role of young people in addressing global challenges. 

As a collective youth delegation, we aimed to contribute to the shared goals outlined in the Paris Agreement. Championing sustainable practices and addressing the pressing issues of climate change became a unified mission, with the Paris Agreement’s central aim of keeping global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursuing efforts to limit it further to 1.5 degrees Celsius serving as a guiding beacon in our collective endeavours.

Witnessing the negotiations firsthand was a profoundly inspiring and eye-opening experience. The diverse perspectives, dynamic discussions, and collaborative spirit emphasised our urgency and collective responsibility in tackling this global crisis.

Ensuring all voices are heard

Voicing our Palestinian just cause as part of a youth movement shaped my skills in communicating the intersectionality of climate change and social justice. And that helped to ensure the Palestinian perspective was heard, recognised, and understood “glocally”.

The World YMCA’s commitment as a youth movement cultivated through advocacy became evident as I navigated the conference’s demanding schedule. Their guidance fueled my passion for environmental and social justice, inspiring me to advocate for the environment and the rights of marginalised communities.

Attending COP28 as a Palestinian woman was a transformative journey. The conference provided a platform for dialogue, collaboration, and advocacy. I’m thrilled that I returned home with a renewed commitment to champion every individual’s environment and rights, especially those facing challenges different from mine.

Reflecting on my time at COP28, I am grateful for the World YMCA’s role in amplifying voices from globally marginalised places, highlighting our collective power in guiding the world towards a sustainable, equitable future.