Dec 8, 2023 - World

Young people at COP28 call on world to "do better" to address climate change

Youth from Fridays for Future organization stage a protest calling to cease fires and end fossil fuels in the conference venue, Blue Zone during the COP28, UN Climate Change Conference

Youth from Fridays for Future organization stage a protest calling to cease fires and end fossil fuels in the conference venue, Blue Zone during the COP28, UN Climate Change Conference.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Young people at COP28 in Dubai are calling on the world to "do better" to ensure their countries — and the planet — are habitable for generations to come.

The big picture: COP28 kicked off its second week with youth day, injecting energy in what will undoubtedly be the toughest days so far as negotiators work to hammer out some of the thorniest issues for the final text of the key Global Stocktake document.

  • That includes whether it will include specific language on the "phase out," phase down," or some alternative, of fossil fuels.
  • From small — but loud — protests to panel discussions to sideline conversations, one outcome for many young people at COP is clear: Negotiators must come to an agreement on ending the use of fossil fuels to have a better chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees compared to preindustrial levels.
  • "We don't have enough time for discussions. We have to act now," said Grace Malie, a 24-year-old youth delegate from the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu.

Driving the news: Those discussions in recent years have increasingly included young voices who bring creative ideas and give a full picture of what is happening on the ground, those who spoke to Axios said.

  • "The actions [we want to see done] are being implemented by young people, not the leaders, not the men and women in suits," said 25-year-old Nyombi Morris, a climate and environmental activist from Uganda.
  • It was a sentiment echoed by 26-year-old Tamala Pita from Tuvalu. But Pita, who is attending COP for the second time, said she also believes the climate summit gives young people the chance to keep the issues affecting their peers back home part of the conversations.
  • "Once you're out of the conversation, no one thinks about it. So that's why we are here," she said.

Ahmed Abdi Osman, a 25-year-old representative of Somalia's Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, agreed.

  • "As a youth leader, we are here to share our knowledge, to share our experience to share our insights from other youth leaders," Osman told Axios after engaging with other youth leaders on a panel about the role of young people in climate action.
  • Osman, who is attending his first COP, said collaboration among leaders — especially young people — is key. Other youth leaders can share their own experiences, which can help Somalia see "how [it] can adapt" and "how [it] can mitigate climate change issues" back home," he said.
Pacific island youth share traditional music and dance at the Climate Mobility Pavilion in the Blue Zone at COP28 on Dec. 8. Photo: Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath
Pacific Island youth share traditional music and dance at the Climate Mobility Pavilion in the Blue Zone at COP28 on Dec. 8. Photo: Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath/Axios

Zoom out: The young people Axios spoke to in Dubai expressed cautious optimism that this year's COP got off to a good start, with the adoption of a "loss and damage" fund to help some of the world's most vulnerable nations respond to the devastation caused by climate change.

  • But they say it's not enough. "There needs to be better efforts being put in by countries who are emitting the most while we're at home feeling the most of the effects of climate change. People need to do better," Pita said.

Zoom in: The effects of climate change are felt acutely in Tuvalu, the fourth-smallest nation in the world. Most — if not all — of the country could be submerged underwater by the end of the century under certain sea level rise scenarios.

  • "When we're talking about loss and damage, the central thought of losing our land, it's not something where we can just get up, pack our things and go," Pita told Axios.
  • "There's the historical, the traditional ties that we have to the land. Our culture is very much intertwined into the land," she added.
  • Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees preindustrial levels is "not a goal for us, it's a limit. Because once we exceed that, our lands become uninhabitable ... And then, when we're forced to move, where can we go, where we can practice the same traditions and culture?"

Go deeper: Indigenous peoples' climate dilemma: To go or not to go

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