Pre-COP26 Youth4ClimateConference: a youth perspective

By Mohammed Zhairi, Palestinian Delegate

Mohammed Zhairi, 16-years-old, lives in Ramallah, Palestine, and is part of YMCA East Jerusalem’s Youth-Led Solution BringGreen initiative, which will feature as part of a series of short films premiered at COP26. He attended Pre-COP, in Milan, Italy from 30 September – 2 October 2021. Each COP (Conference of the Partie) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is preceded by a preparatory meeting. This is his account of the experience.

The international Pre-COP26 Youth4Climate event took place in Milan, Italy on 28-30 September, and played host to around 400 young delegates from 193 countries, all working for climate justice. The structure of the event dedicates the first two days to youth-led working groups, while the last day is used to facilitate discussion between young delegates and World Leaders. The final proposal made by these young delegates will then feed directly into actions from both Pre-COP26 in Milan and COP26 in Glasgow.

Day 1: With my COVID test done and registration completed, I joined my fellow delegates for the opening ceremony. The event was officially opened by H.E. Roberto Cingolani, Italian minister for Ecological Transition, followed by speeches from Alok Sharma, UK COP26 President, Patricia Espinosa, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Giuseppe Sala, Mayor of Milan, Luigi Di Maio, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Vanessa Nakate, Youth Climate Activist, and Greta Thunberg, Youth Climate Activist. Though the majority of these speeches were very typical of others given at similar events over the years, Vanessa and Greta’s broke the mould.

After the ceremony, were we assigned one of four working groups to start writing our proposal based on the four themes of Pre-COP26 Y4C: youth driving ambition; sustainable recovery; non-state actor’s engagement and climate-conscious society.

With Greta Thunberg

Day 2: Building on our initial proposal structure we continued discussing, debating and collaborating. My group was assigned youth driving ambition, and so focused on youth engagement at a local, national and multilateral level when it comes to decision-making. The main goal was to have more youth voices involved in decision-making, and we proposed many ways to do so, such as establishing Youth Advisory Councils (YAC) at a Local and National level e.g. a YAC in the municipality of Ramallah, and a YAC in the Palestinian Government.

We also addressed the difficulties preventing youth engagement at all levels, such as finance, and proposed access to funding for young people who wish to drive ambition within their countries. At the end of the day our proposals were finalised and sent to specialists for formatting, and we went on to attend a special ministerial event on climate education, where several education ministers, in addition to his holiness Pope Francis, gave speeches about the importance of climate education.

With UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth Ms Jayathma Wickramanayake

Final day: We kicked off the day by presenting our final proposal to all attending ministers and presidents, and invited their questions, which was very fun. Afterwards, it was our turn to question them and it was very interesting to hear their perspectives on climate change. I have to say, many ministers didn’t answer the questions they were asked and instead read speeches from pieces of paper, which created some tension in the room – but I did have some interesting conversations with UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth Ms Jayathma Wickramanayake and COP26 President Mr Alok Sharma, both of whom were really keen to answer our questions.

Overall the event was a really beneficial experience. I had the opportunity to put my ideas on the table, meet and engage with leaders and network with some incredible young delegates, all driving ambition in their own way, sharing the same passion and inspiring each other. Now we hope that Pre-COP26 and COP26 will really take into account the proposal we have worked on, and that real action is taken, and not just ‘blah blah blah’ as Greta said.