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Reflections from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Subsidiary Body (SB58) Meetings in Bonn, Germany, June 2023
Introduction – Empowering the Future: The Vital Role of Youth Stakeholders in Global Climate Governance
As the world grapples with the intensifying realities of the climate crisis, a new beacon of hope emerges from a powerful source: the impassioned voices of young people. In the realm of global climate governance, where decisions shape the trajectory of our planet’s future, the inclusion of youth as stakeholders is not just a matter of choice—it is an absolute necessity. As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process takes center stage, the energy, innovation, and perspectives that young individuals bring to the table are igniting a transformative shift that has the power to reshape our response to the climate emergency.
The UNFCCC, with its ambitious goals of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to the changing climate, and fostering international cooperation, stands as a pivotal platform for global climate action. While the negotiations and discussions often involve diplomats, policymakers, and industry representatives, there’s a growing recognition that the participation of young people is crucial for holistic, impactful decision-making. This blog embarks on a journey to uncover why their engagement is not only significant but can potentially be a game-changer in our battle against climate change.
From youth-led climate strikes mobilizing millions across the world to innovative climate solutions devised by young minds, the evidence of their passion and commitment is undeniable. As we delve into the heart of this discussion, we’ll share three real-world instances where youth have participated in the latest UN climate summit the Subsidiary Body (SB58) Meetings in Bonn, Germany. These young people will share their perspectives on the conference, highlight the successes they witnessed, and also shed light on the challenges they face in navigating complex bureaucratic systems and gaining meaningful participation.
Join us in exploring the symbiotic relationship between young people and the UNFCCC climate governance process. As the world seeks viable solutions to combat the climate emergency, it becomes increasingly evident that the involvement of young stakeholders isn’t just a choice—it’s a pivotal step toward securing the planet we all share.
The first contribution comes from Sahana Kaur who is originally from Malaysia.
“I’ve wanted to attend an Intersessional in-person for a couple of years now, and finally had the opportunity to do so this June. My first few days at SB58 were definitely daunting since I’ve never previously been to a UN climate conference, but the other youth delegates were all incredibly friendly and I settled down quickly.
One of the first things that struck me was the sheer diversity present at the conference: in terms of countries represented, topics negotiated, causes advocated for, and more. I also quickly noticed the extent to which party delegates and non-party delegates are often separated in negotiations and other sessions, although engagement opportunities like bilaterals were helpful in bridging this gap.
At the SBs, I attended sessions on a range of themes (particularly ACE, adaptation, the Global Stocktake, and a few others) to better understand how negotiations are approached differently for each topic. Beyond negotiations, I participated in a number of bilaterals, receptions, organizational meetings, and so on. While the negotiations were interesting to follow because I got to see international climate policy being deliberated right in front of me, the bilaterals and meetings were amazing ways to engage more actively and directly with policy-makers and other non-party stakeholders.
On the whole, I had a great time at SB58 – I learned a lot about how negotiations are structured, was able to advocate for solutions I care about, and met plenty of other young people in the climate space. Despite how technical they can be, I think the SBs are a great introduction to UN climate policy processes because they are much smaller and less overwhelming than COPs. If anyone reading this has experience in climate action and is looking to engage more with the policy side of it, I would strongly recommend participating in an Intersessional if it is feasible. Funding and visas are of course often difficult to secure, but if you do manage to get both, I personally think the SBs can be an extremely educational and practical experience.”
Our next piece comes from Élitz-Doris Okwudili of Nigeria.
“Attending SB58 in Bonn was a transformative experience, enabling me to engage with influential stakeholders, participate in crucial discussions, and advocate for meaningful change. In this blog post, I’ll share my journey, key takeaways, and the moments that shaped my experience at SB58.
Decision to Attend and Overcoming Challenges
I joined SB58 with a clear purpose; to foster the AYM4COP campaign and support the Africa Youth Climate Action Plan. Despite initial challenges in securing a second-week badge, the process was facilitated by an expedited visa. This quick turnaround allowed me to immerse myself in the conference and seize the opportunities presented.
Expectations and Participation
I had high expectations for SB58, anticipating a dynamic and inclusive environment where youth voices would be heard and meaningful dialogue would shape climate policies. The conference met some of these expectations, with diverse events and activities focusing on loss and damage finance, and the Global Stocktake (GST). Engaging in these discussions provided a platform to contribute and network with passionate individuals committed to climate action.
Cultural Insights and Personal Growth
Beyond the formal proceedings, SB58 offered cultural insights and diverse perspectives. Interacting with colleagues from YOUNGO and renowned activists like Greta Thunberg and Patience Nabukalu of Fridays for Future (FFF) broadened my understanding of global climate movements. Immersing myself in Bonn’s vibrant atmosphere and embracing its cultural heritage enhanced my overall experience.
Personal Benefits and Three Key Takeaways
SB58 had a profound impact on my personal growth. It emphasized the significance of youth engagement in climate negotiations and policy-making. My top three takeaways are:
- Empowering Youth: SB58 reaffirmed our collective responsibility to amplify the voices of the next generation and drive sustainable solutions.
- Loss and Damage Focus: Urgent discussions on loss and damage funding arrangements highlighted the importance of ensuring easy access to funds for vulnerable communities.
- Transitional Committee Inclusion: Advocating for youth participation in Transitional Committee workshops emerged as a priority to ensure effective climate action.
Memorable Moments and Ongoing Projects
SB58 provided memorable moments, from engaging in bilaterals with influential stakeholders like Dr. Salisu Mohammed Dahiru from the Nigerian Council of Climate Change (NCCC) to delving into discussions with the EU represented by Kajsa Fernström. These interactions reinforced our commitment to collaborative efforts and inspired ongoing projects addressing climate change challenges.
In conclusion, attending SB58 was a remarkable experience that empowered me to contribute to global climate action and foster meaningful change.”
Our third and final blog contribution is by Aditi Shetye from India.
“This piece presents my personal experience during week 2 of the UNFCCC SB58 Bonn Conference held in June of 2023. I had the opportunity to attend the second week of the conference with the help of the Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future. My attendance was the capacity of the Legal Advocacy Coordinator for World’s Youth for Climate Justice (WYCJ)– a youth led-NGO that works on the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion Initiative with Pacific Island Students Fight Climate Change (PISFCC) and in support of Vanuatu’s UN mission in New York. My intention to attend the SB meetings was multifaceted. One was to raise the importance of making progressive written submissions to the ICJ for the upcoming AO on States’ obligations on climate change. The second was to disseminate the Youth Climate Justice Handbook (YCJH) and thirdly, follow certain thematic negotiation blocs.
As a first-time attendee of the SB meetings, I had expected it to be as hectic as UNFCCC COPs usually are. However, it was a much better experience in comparison to the COPs. The negotiations were not very hard to follow, and the conference was easy to navigate. This allowed me to focus on the AO work I intended to carry out as well as understand the thematic negotiation blocs. I had the opportunity to set up bilateral meetings with party States as well as non-state actors to discuss their participation in the ICJ AO initiative. The intention was to convince States to make written submissions to the ICJ and offer them support in making progressive submissions to bolster youth participation in such processes. I was there with my fellow colleagues from Greenpeace Australia Pacific and PISFCC. With the help of members of YOUNGO, we were able to organise one action to ‘call all States’ to make progressive submissions to the ICJ and demand for the Legal Memorandum of the YCJH to be annexed as youth submissions. Being present at the meetings also allowed us to connect interested States with each other and begin the conversation on progressive written submissions. This allowed me to gauge States’ behaviour. With this invaluable information, and a follow-up after the Bonn conference, we were able to talk to some States’ embassies in the Hague and they were open to hearing our (youth) demands regarding the written submissions. After having reported these trends to my team, we curated effective strategies for the upcoming months to make an effective impact. This also helps us foster a strong network of State as well as non-state actors not just for the ICJ AO, but also for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Advisory Opinion on human rights against the climate emergency initiative.
Apart from my work with WYCJ, I was also able to follow negotiations towards the end (usually the crucial hours) on the global stock take and understand the incoming discussions at COP28. Understanding State behaviour enables my research on Climate Change Litigation while working in my capacity with the British Institute for International and Comparative Law (BIICL). This also enables me to inform my project which analyses trends related to corporate climate change cases in various jurisdictions.
Personally, the experience at the SB meetings was invaluable and helped me build my network further. I am grateful to the Stakeholder Forum for having given me the opportunity to attend the SB58 meetings this year. Regarding preparation for any such event, I have learned that I need to have an organized agenda for the work that needs to be carried out during the conferences. Some background information on how UN conferences work is always beneficial and helps in achieving the set goal. Given the intensity of such events, another important thing I have learned over the years is that I must remind myself to eat and stay hydrated at regular intervals.
Although my experience was good overall, there are a few common but vital issues that hinder attending such conferences. One of the main drawbacks is its accessibility for those who are from developing countries. Apart from the difficulty of finding funding for youth, the logistic issues of getting a visa always persist. It often happens that even if visa applications are made well in advance, the embassies fail to issue them on time. This poorly affects a certain group of youth for no fault of their own. This, in turn, does not allow for just and equal representation and hampering opportunities for youth from the global south countries.”
All three of these young women are climate activists in their own right. They were able to attend SB58 under a Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future Badge. It is clear that they will continue to impact international climate policy in their fight for a more just environmental community. In the realm of global climate discussions, the inclusion of young female leaders is not just a matter of diversity and representation—it is a strategic imperative for forging a sustainable future. Their unique perspectives, resilience, and unwavering commitment to environmental stewardship bring an invaluable dimension to the conversation. By embracing their leadership, we not only amplify the urgency of our collective actions but also pave the way for a more equitable, resilient, and harmonious world for generations to come.
Sahana is a climate advocate and undergraduate at Yale University. She is part of the Steering Committee of the COP28 Children & Youth Pavilion and of the Advisory Group to the UN-convened Greening Education Partnership. Originally from Malaysia, she has led partnerships with multiple governments and UN agencies to develop climate-related initiatives for young people. Sahana is an Aspen Institute Future Leader, a Diana Award recipient, and one of Tatler’s ‘7 Young Malaysians who are Catalysts of Change.’ She has spoken to more than 5,000 people about climate action and youth activism at events run by the UNFCCC, UNDP, UNICEF, and more.
Élitz-Doris Okwudili, holding a master’s degree in environmental sustainability and a second in Sustainable Project Management, takes a forefront role in climate action. Élitz-Doris is the National Organizer for the Youth Climate Save Movement and co-founder of the Youth for Today Initiative in Nigeria, advocating for environmental justice and sustainable food systems. Currently, she spearheads coordination and communication for Africa Youth Mobilisation for COP (AYM4COP) to amplify the voices of African youth in the international climate discourse. She is also a certified Young African Climate Change Negotiator and remains dedicated to driving positive change.
Aditi is an environmental lawyer specializing in climate change law and litigation. At BIICL she is a researcher for the Global Perspectives on Corporate Climate Legal Tactics project and works on developing the global corporate climate litigation toolbox. She also works as the Academic Taskforce/Legal Advocacy Coordinator with World’s Youth for Climate Justice (WYCJ), a global youth-led initiative for the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion (ICJAO)in support of Vanuatu.
Edited by Jamie Cummings
Jamie Cummings is part of a Belmont Forum-funded grant, Re-Energize Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience for Sustainable Development. She was the climate change focal point for the recent UNFCCC Bonn Climate Conference for the Sendai Stakeholder Engagement Mechanism with UNDRR. Jamie is also a young, female climate activist from the United States.