Connecting Knowledge and People
by Petros Theodorou
Prior to the Conference of the Parties (COP) each year, a massive gathering of young people from all over the world, known as Conference of Youth (COY), takes place in the host country. Each time, United Nations assign the coordination of COY to local youth organizations. This year, the 11th Conference of Youth (COY11), the biggest one so far in terms of participation, was organized by the French Student Network for Sustainable Development (REFEDD), the Avenir Climatique association, the International Youth Climate Movement (IYCM) and the Federation of French Scouting. Furthermore, this year there were online broadcasts and debates with local COYs that took place in Canada, Brazil, Morocco, Madagascar, Benin and New Caledonia.
From the 26th to the 28th of November, at the Parc des Expositions of Villepinte, in Paris area, more than 5000 young people from every continent of the world took part in COY11. The message of this year’s COY was “The young people are ready” to promote local and sustainable solutions, to change their habits to adopt a sustainable and desirable lifestyles and to play their part in the shift towards a low-carbon society. Within a three-day programme of conferences, workshops, working groups and various events, young people discussed their aspirations and expectations for COP21, prepared joint advocacy plans to lobby their political bodies, enriched their skills and knowledge on climate change, sustainable development and social solidarity issues, and had a great opportunity to meet other people with similar mindsets and dreams about their future. On top of that, COY11 produced the COY Manifesto – an official statement that has been sent to the COP21 Presidency. The COY Manifesto includes the position and recommendations of the participants on potential actions on adaptation, youth inclusion, energy and sustainable food production.
Personally, I had the chance to attend COY11 as a volunteer, in the context of my participation in a voluntary programme about climate change awareness held by Concordia, a French youth exchange association. Due to the recent shocking terrorist attacks in Paris, it was with great enthusiasm that I found out that many young people had ignored the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, making their way to France and COY11; in fact, coming to Paris was for many of them an expression of solidarity against every kind and source of violence.
The high diversity of people I met and spoke to, made each and every day fruitful. Amid social interaction and a plethora of events at COY11, my interest was really captured by a few inspiring young people who have devoted significant part of their life, not just for “the protection of the environment”; they fight for the protection of cultural values and traditions, the sustainable future of next generations and the right to live as their ancestors have taught them: in harmony with nature.
Diana Rios, a young activist, President and Treasurer of the Alto Tamaya-Saweto community in Peru delivered a captivating speech about the chronic struggle of the community against illegal loggers. This struggle brought about the murder of her father, former community leader. Diana and her compatriots have “laid down their lives for their territory, not just for them, but for everyone, as the forests keep disappearing.”
Áslat Holmberg, a Sami young man, is maybe the most serene person I have ever met. Yet, he opened his presentation during COY11 with a beautiful Yoik that overwhelmed the whole conference venue, making even more people come to the presentation room! Through his soft spoken tone of speech he first described some of the traditional habits of Sami people and then explained how climate change actually affects their daily life. For instance, “the time periods during which ice is thin, have been prolonged due to the increased mean temperature, making reindeers migrate earlier than usual.” Hunting, therefore, a multidimensional activity for Sami people has become way harder.
Students from Bali, Indonesia
One of the most creative presentations was undoubtedly that of a group of high school students from Bali, Indonesia. This group performed several events during COY11 such as one about deforestation in Kalimantan. The short theatrical play about their campaign “Bye Bye Plastic Bags”, provided a simple yet explicit explanation of the environmental damage that plastic bags could create in the long term, provoking a strong applause by the audience at the end.
As one of the students said when asked about the role of COY11, “it is very important that all these people, coming from their own organizations and their own communities, bring their local problems and solutions together, so that we can spread them in a global movement of youth, to bring back these programmes and solutions at their own communities.”
Personal reflection on COY11 and resulting thoughts
Mahatma Gandhi said that every change starts from changing our own self first. During COY11, I heard that quote numerous times by young people who have practically turned these words into action, be it either by individual commitments or collective initiatives or both. Thus, after putting together words I heard and actions that I became aware of during COY11, I firmly believe that we, as young people, have the potential to put and keep humanity in a transformative track. A shift towards a world of equal opportunities for (environmental) education and labor; more sustainable energy and consumption patterns; environmentally and socially just natural resources’ management; more inclusive societies; and a less anthropocentric development approach, is how I see this transformation. And taking notice of the commitment and dynamism of all these young people at COY11, I can actually overcome my pessimism about the outcomes of COP21 and hope for change within a changing climate.