“This is not an accident, this is not pandemic driven. This is policy driven. I think that’s what we have to remember.”
In the final episode of our series, we speak to Angus Mackay (UNITAR), Jayati Ghosh (University of Massachusetts Amherst, International Development Economics Associates), Marie-Claire Graf and Heeta Lakhani (YOUNGO) to ask them what they think the real legacy of Glasgow will be.
You can read the YOUNGO Global Youth Statement discussed in the episode here.
2:50 Part 1: Angus Mackay, UNITAR
15:33 Part 2: Jayati Ghosh, University of Massachusetts
29:01 Part 3, Marie-Claire Graf and Heeta Lakhani, YOUNGO
Jayati Ghosh: This is not an accident, this is not pandemic driven. This is policy driven. I think that’s what we have to remember.
Colm Hastings: Welcome to The Green Renaissance. A podcast series from the Partnership for Action on Green Economy, that aims to unpack the green recovery debate. In our final episode, and with COP26 now in our rear-view mirror, where does the world go from here? Angus Mackay, Director at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, says that Glasgow marked an important step in our fight to tackle climate change.
Angus Mackay: By inference phasing-down coal kind of means phasing-down, phasing-out fossil fuels. So that’s why I think that this COP was significant. And we’ll look back at it as the beginning of the end of fossil fuels.
Colm Hastings: Leading development and political economist Jayati Ghosh returns to tell us that solving the climate crisis means first addressing the gap between the world’s rich and poor.
Jayati Ghosh: I don’t have to tell you about the top .000001% of the global population, the Elon Musk’s of the world. Who celebrate by taking little joy rides to the moon.
Colm Hastings: And YOUNGO’s Marie-Claire Graf and Heeta Lakhani tell us that the world’s youth will be the ones that ultimately decide their own future.
Marie-Claire Graf: At the end of the day, young people represent more than half of the world’s population, and we are by far not well represented in all of these processes.
Heeta Lakhani: These are decisions that we want to be in, whether it’s policy decisions, whether it’s business decisions. I think the future does belong to the youth, and we’re going to be the ones making the change in the years ahead.
Colm Hastings: Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and for the final time – I’m Colm Hastings, and this is The Green Renaissance.
Colm Hastings: In this, the final episode of our series, we look back to look forwards. COP26, which took place in Glasgow back in November 2021, was described at the time as being our last chance saloon to save the planet. Over two weeks, more than 35,000 delegates from 197 countries descended on the Scottish city. And in the end, we had a new climate deal – the Glasgow Climate Pact, which will set the global climate agenda for the next decade.
Colm Hastings: Now in the months that have passed since, the response to COP26 has been predictably mixed. So what did it all really mean in the grand scheme of things? Did the Pact represent a historic breakthrough, or more “blah blah blah”? Will the events at Glasgow generate new and needed momentum for a global green recovery? And what about the role of young people – will they now have a greater say in their own climate future?
Colm Hastings: In the final episode of our series, we speak to four guests to ask them what they think the real legacy of Glasgow will be. In Part One, we speak to Angus Mackay, who is the Director of the Division of Planet at the UN Institute for Training and Research; in Part Two, we have a second series appearance from Jayati Ghosh, one of the world’s leading development and political economists; and finally in Part Three, we speak to Marie-Claire Graf and Heeta Lakhani, two prominent youth climate activists who are the focal points for YOUNGO – the youth constituency of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But for now let’s start with Angus, for whom COP 26 was a bit of a homecoming. Did he think Glasgow lived up to its billing?
Part 1: Angus Mackay, UNITAR
Angus Mackay: I think I’ve been to eight or 10 COPs. I think it’s true to say that each one is a little bit warmer than the one before, and expectations are building and that’s only to be expected because that’s what the science is telling us. That said, if you have been to eight or 10, one thing you learn is that no one meeting is going to solve the planetary crisis. They are all steps towards doing that.
Angus Mackay: But I think, you know, the question I have is always what is the level of intent of the negotiators as they come together, and are they serious? And I feel that definitely, that is the case – that there was serious intent between the countries and the different groups. And that doesn’t mean that you can solve all the problems and address all the barriers and so on. But the level of intent is very, very important. And talking to negotiators and talking to those who talk to negotiators as one does, I did feel that this was very much being taken very, very seriously.
Angus Mackay: And the other thing to say is we didn’t meet in 2020, obviously. The meeting the previous year was, kind of curtailed and was rather strange the one in Madrid. So there’s a sense that we hadn’t really spoken seriously to each other as the global community for quite some time. And certainly that serious discussion was had right up to the final, very dramatic plenary.
Colm Hastings: You referred to the final plenary at the end of the Conference on the final weekend. That led to the big outcome of COP 26, which was of course the Glasgow Climate Pact. Just for a bit of context, the Pact aims to turn the 2020s into a decade of climate action. It also importantly completes the Paris Rulebook, the detailed guidance that tells countries how the Paris Agreement is to be implemented.
Colm Hastings: Now, the immediate response to the Pact and its provisions has been deeply polarized. So we had Alok Sharma, who was the COP 26 President from the UK saying that the Pact keeps the dream of 1.5 degrees alive, but the pulse is still weak. And then we had others, on the other side of the fence, that were calling the agreement, a betrayal of people and planet. I imagine the real answer sits somewhere in the middle, but what do you see as being its role in driving the climate change agenda forwards over the next decade?
Angus Mackay: Well certainly the Rulebook is a hugely important element. I know that in the lead-up, we had concerns that the discussions on the Rulebook would be slow and that there would need to be successive, additional follow-up meetings to sort of, nut out the detail. But a lot of progress was made, and it’s very difficult to overestimate the level of detail needed, that you have to work out for a truly international treaty to actually function. You know, so the way that you measure carbon offsets, for example, it’s highly complex but it’s actually very, very important. So that’s one thing.
Angus Mackay: Perhaps Glasgow and the Pact will live on in our memories for the way in which it kind of named and shamed coal. Because it’s actually written into the Pact, and the phase-down, I think is now the terminology. But it’s quite a big deal for an international agreement to say, not only are you as a country responsible for reducing your emissions, but we’re going to tell you to some extent how you should do that, which has never been the case before. So we’re going to tell you that you can do it anyway you want, but you’ve got to phase-down coal. And also by inference, phasing-down coal kind of means phasing-down, phasing-out fossil fuels. So that’s why I think that this COP is significant and we’ll look back at it as the beginning of the end of fossil fuels.
Angus Mackay: The other thing I think is, it’s important that we recognize that dealing with climate change is not something that you deal with at international level. It has to be dealt with at domestic level, it’s countries that need to act. And so agreements at international level need to sort of have their reflex at domestic level. And you can measure that by the numbers of statements that are triggered at national level. So for example, India, making important statements about becoming carbon neutral – it’s that national reflex that the international discussions drive that makes a difference. And my impression again, is that we are seeing that happen much more these days and much more clearly than before.
Angus Mackay: And then to that also the increasing role and voice of youth, which is fundamental for me and what we do in the UN system and particularly at UNITAR, we’re about building climate literacy. We’re about educating the planet, if you like. And I think that the best standard barriers of that are the youth. So it’s great to see all of the action in the streets of Glasgow in advance, coming from the voice of youth.
Colm Hastings: I think on youth, that’s something that also interested me in the Glasgow Climate Pact. There’s a provision towards the end in which it kind of committed countries to making sure that youth are engaged in decision-making processes, not only at the global level, but at the national and subnational level as well. Do you think there’s still a bit of a disconnect between youth engagement, such as the marching, the protests we saw on the streets in Glasgow as you mentioned, and them actually being able to make a direct contribution to these processes as they’re ongoing.
Angus Mackay: Well like I said earlier, you know, when you go to a global meeting, there’s no action because it’s a meeting. But there is talk about action. But actually if you go to countries, you go to communities, you go down to the ground level, that’s where you see action. And there is a tremendous amount of action. And of course, COPs are about giving some visibility to all of that, all of the individual actions of communities and individuals, and you know, that have been going on for years and years now, it’s a way of showcasing that. It’s not just about agreeing the next bit of the treaty. It’s also about showing what’s been done and this is one of the things the UN system helps to do.
Angus Mackay: And I think that youth are engaged. I think when you look more deeply at what’s going on at ground level, I think you find so many youth leaders who are taking action. It’s not all about talking. I mean, they’re actually implementing projects on the ground from cleaning up beaches and the oceans, to working with local farmers and in schools and so on. And I think for those individuals who are doing that work, I think the marches and the rhetoric that they hear at the global level is vitally important, cause it gives them energy. It makes them feel that somehow, somewhere along the lines that their work in their local area is actually connecting up to a bigger group of young people who have the skills to connect at that level. So I think these things do join up.
Colm Hastings: You mentioned just there some of the other agreements that were made. The Glasgow Climate Pact took a lot of the headlines, but there was a lot of other things being discussed over the two weeks. I think it’s been said that no other climate conference has ever seen such a blizzards of promising climate statements, announcements, pledges from all kinds of different stakeholders. I guess it’s important to remember that these are often just that – they’re statements of intent, they’re not always, well, not very often legally binding. But which of the, I guess, statements, agreements, any other thing that also you think will be particularly important to monitor in the lead up to COP 27 later this year and also beyond?
Angus Mackay: So, I mean the centerpiece of course is raising ambition on the NDCs, the Nationally Determined Contributions, and we’re at 2.5 or thereabouts, 2.5 degrees in terms of the existing pledges that have been made, and that’s way, way above where we need to be. So by the end of this year, by Egypt COP 27, that gap needs to have been closed. This is the key issue and when we are looking at eye-catching announcements, it’s those that connect to that agenda that we’re really interested in.
Angus Mackay: So of course this coal phase-out deal with South Africa is one of those possible accelerators. For the first time, zeroing in on one country, one important country to figure out how we can phase-out coal in a way that is inclusive, takes into account the needs of those who are currently employed in that industry. You know, it’s the first time we’ve seen a really large, well-publicized well-financed initiative to end coal in a significant economy like South Africa. And I think the example of that, it will send a signal that, well, why not elsewhere?
Angus Mackay: Obviously the sort of the China-USA pact to keep temperatures below 1.5 is very eye-catching. They’ve focused on the next 10 years and that’s fundamental, this is the 10 years that we have. What we do in the next 10 years will define the rest of the century, we know that. And we know that this is the two largest emitters, and we’re at the beginning of the Biden Presidency – we’re not at the end of the Biden Presidency, which gives us some confidence that at least we’ll see this moving forward over the next few years. So that’s pretty eye-catching and interesting.
Angus Mackay: And I guess the other elements is the private sector element. So Mark Carney’s Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero – 450 major firms signing up, 130 trillion dollars under management. The idea that these companies will all move towards net zero – hugely important, very significant pledge but of course, again, the devil’s in the detail. There are issues around how you measure progress, what do we actually mean by net zero? We don’t have an international standard. And at the end of the day, also you need to find bankable projects. If you’re going to shift those assets towards low carbon, it’s also got to make sense from a business perspective and you know, that’s going to be a tough thing to do. But not to take away from the importance of this agreement.
Angus Mackay: So depends on how you want to look at it, but I see those as some of the more eye-catching issues. There are so many others, there’s ongoing discussions on loss and damage, I haven’t covered that. And there’s a feeling that that issue had plateaued in recent years, but there’s now a little bit more energy and movement there. On the other hand, we’re still chugging out carbon. We’re still damaging our planet. But we also know that talking about that sort of rather depressing rhetoric, people only have so much bandwidth for it. So I think in the UN system, we do try to look at the opportunity side. And I think that that also captures a little bit of how COP 26 happened and will be remembered.
Colm Hastings: To follow on from that then – what makes you optimistic for the future? Because as you said, there’s almost an imbalance between the many positive statements that emerged from Glasgow, and then at the same time the science which suggests that progress isn’t really being made at least in terms of carbon emissions. I think for some, for quite a lot of people – particularly young people – I think sometimes they find that difficult, to kind of maintain that positive outlook. So what keeps you energized?
Angus Mackay: I’m partly optimistic because I see how things have progressed and changed over a matter of 10 years, I can say a little bit more about that in a moment. But I’m also optimistic because I think it’s my responsibility to be optimistic, as part of the older generation. Because I think optimism and hope is what generates solutions, what generates the possibility of overcoming major challenges. I think without that, you can’t achieve very much. In the final, final years of the Roman Empire in the third or fourth century, there was probably not much optimism and very little hope. And it came to an end.
Angus Mackay: It’s not going to happen like that, we’re going to fix this as a global community. We’ve demonstrated that we have the interest and engagement, we have many of the solutions, not all of them. And I think the UN is here to ensure that this amazing dialogue continues in a positive way and that we learn from each other. I think that that will then spin off into many other positive ways in which countries can talk to each other, cause if we can fix this together you know, what can’t we fix?
Angus Mackay: The other thing to say is, you know, I don’t think 10 years is a very long time, but if I look back 10 years, it takes us to the Durban COP, COP 17. And, you know the big innovation, the big issue in Durban just 10 years ago was we should establish a green climate fund, with the ability to bring together large sums of capital that could be channeled to those countries that most need it. And you know, 10 years on the Green Climate Fund has been established and you know, it’s building up to become increasingly effective. So, you know, we forget the achievements that we have made.
Angus Mackay: It doesn’t change the basic calculus though which is, are we fixing this in time? What is the actual cost? We know that we are at a very critical moment and the risks are extremely high. And if we don’t keep at it, then 1.5 will not be achieved. And many individuals, many communities, many countries are going to suffer tremendously as a result of that. So I am positive, but I don’t want to be naive about it. I mean, there are huge, huge risks out there. We know what they are, and that must energize us to keep working harder.
Colm Hastings: So Angus is hopeful and sees reason for optimism. But what about our second guest? In Part Two, we speak to Jayati Ghosh, a leading development and political economist, and a Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts. Some of you may also remember Jayati from our first episode of the series. So what did she make of the events in Glasgow?
Part 2: Jayati Ghosh, University of Massachusetts
Jayati Ghosh: I think it’s hard to find a single area in which this Conference was a success and that’s being very harsh I know, but let’s look at it. Did it succeed in promising outcomes that would actually change what we know is going to be a catastrophic tendency towards climate change that humanity may not survive? No, it did not. Did it at least ensure global solidarity for moves in that direction? No, it did not. Did the rich world or the advanced countries agree to accept their climate responsibility, not just in terms of historical debt, but their current patterns of carbon emissions and respond accordingly? No, they did not.
Jayati Ghosh: Did the advanced countries recognize the need to go in for massive climate adaptation policies given that large parts of the world are already suffering the consequences of climate change? No, they did not. Did they promise to deliver adequate technology to enable developing countries to do this, to change towards greener technologies, renewable energies and so on? No, they did not. Did they even deliver on the climate finance that they have been promising for 12 years now without delivering? No, they did not. So what did it achieve?
Colm Hastings: So where do we go from here? I mean, I also wanted to go back to our first discussion, which was now just over a year ago, when all of the talk at the time was about this once in a generation, once in a lifetime opportunity to implement a green recovery, to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and the opportunity it perhaps presented to reset our global economies. And at the time you spoke about committing to a recovery agenda that wouldn’t just redefine our relationship with nature but would also look at different aspects, would look at how to protect water resources, that recognized the vital work of the care economy, which promoted a more equal society. Do you think there’s been any progress in those areas since we last spoke, or is it a case of governments stalling or even doubling down on their old practices and habits?
Jayati Ghosh: I think it’s very much a case of governments basically doing what they have been used to doing now for decades, which is to talk the good talk and refuse to walk it. And that really is terrifying because now it is each day that is lost, not just each year, each day that is lost, adds to the urgency of the problem and makes it harder and harder to solve, requires more and more resources which so far are not forthcoming at all. So it is terrifying.
Jayati Ghosh: I think I would add to what I said last year. I last year, I saw it very much as the sense in which you have to have a global green new deal that combines the reduction of inequalities with the need to live in harmony with nature and the planet. I would now put it slightly differently, that we cannot hope for any kind of resolution to the climate problem or to environmental problems in general, without addressing inequalities. I think that has emerged so clearly in the last year, the inequalities are what are preventing the world from meeting this challenge. And so we really have to address those on an urgent basis.
Jayati Ghosh: So what are these inequalities? Well, first of course, there’s the inequality between rich countries and everyone else, which has enabled the advanced economies to have massive fiscal stimuli, to do massive monetary stimulus the like of which has never been seen before. And the current implications of that, in terms of higher inflation, the costs are once again being born largely by developing countries. Where inflation rates are much higher than the developed world, even though they did not spend so much more, in fact they spent much, much less, and they’ve not been able to provide adequate pandemic response in the poor countries. So that’s one major thing.
Jayati Ghosh: The inequalities between the advanced countries and everyone else in terms of carbon mitigation, whereby the rich countries are able to go in for measures that rely on the latest technologies that they’re still not willing to share, and they’re still protecting their multinationals to hold onto it and enforcing intellectual property rights, even though these are clearly global common public goods. So there are so many ways in which the global cross-country inequality is playing out, but then there are inequalities within countries. I think that’s very important.
Jayati Ghosh: The recent World Inequality Report, brought out by the Paris Inequality Lab, that has some very interesting information about the carbon emissions by income category across the world. And it turns out that even within the developing world, the greenhouse gas footprint of the top 10% or the top 1% is very, very high – higher than the greenhouse gas emissions of the bottom half of the population in the United States or Europe. So to take my own country India – in fact, it’s even worse in China – but in my own country, India, the top 1%, the average carbon footprint is 32 metric tons per year. Whereas the average for all of India is only 2.2 metric tons. Now 32.4 metric tons in India, for the top 1%, compares to 9.7 metric tons for the bottom half of the US population – in other words, it is more than three times that. And compares to 5.1 metric tons for the bottom half of the European population – so in other words, more than six times.
Jayati Ghosh: That tells you something – that tells us that it’s really the poor in every country who are bearing the brunt of the climate change, but they are not the ones contributing to it, not in the past and not today. If anything, the poor have actually improved in terms of carbon emissions – they have come down in their carbon emissions – whereas the rich are going haywire. I don’t have to tell you about the top .000001% of the global population – the Elon Musk’s of the world – who celebrate by taking little joy rides to the moon. So we are really in a world where extreme inequality is feeding into a climate disaster.
Colm Hastings: I think I’d read at some point last year, about how in history pandemics have at times often acted as a bit of a leveller in terms of inequality, and kind of brought different social classes closer together. And yet, in our case, it seems to have only heightened and highlighted the vast inequalities that as you said are not just between countries now, within countries as well, that only seem to be getting bigger. I think the less I say about Elon Musk and his friends the better…
Jayati Ghosh: You know, this is not an accident. This is not pandemic driven. This is policy driven, I think that’s what we have to remember. This is the result of policy choice, not of some natural phenomena or some extra-terrestrial change or something. These are policies that have enabled the rich to get richer and richer in each country. These are policies that have protected the monopoly rents of some corporations and their owners. These are policies that have prevented the taxation of the extremely wealthy, and allowed them to move their money around the globe to the least taxed jurisdictions.
Jayati Ghosh: These are policies that have imposed instead taxes on the poor. So, you know, everyone says well, let’s just go for a global carbon tax. That will fall predominantly on the poor, and the rich will once again go laughing all the way to the moon. So I think we really have to rethink how we are going to address this because the inequalities we have today are the result of policy choices and we can address them.
Colm Hastings: How can we address them? How can we affect them? As you said, a lot of the solutions or a lot of the policy instruments do already exist. Events such as COP, global conferences don’t seem to be generating the right kind of momentum, the right kind of answers. Where are the solutions, how can we kind of change the trajectory and the way the world is going at the moment?
Jayati Ghosh: I think the COP conference was based on entirely the wrong premise. It was all about individual countries coming and committing to some very distant future emission reduction. It was not about what are you going to do today in terms of either impacting inequality or reducing the carbon emissions of the rich in your own country today, which is what it should be about. So if we really wanted to do something about redressing inequality, and thereby also addressing the climate challenge, we could do so many things, the most important of which are regulatory. They’re not even taxation – taxation is very important, but the regulatory changes are essential.
Jayati Ghosh: We need regulations that do away with the massive monopoly rights created over knowledge by the intellectual property regime. This was an artifact created really by a very small group of lobbyists during the Uruguay Round of the WTO. And it’s been unbelievably successful, not just in establishing this as something that is written in stone apparently, but that is now taken for granted as inevitable. None of this is inevitable. Human invention has never relied on this individual patentization of knowledge. We’ve had major technological advances through human history without the privatization of knowledge. Today, in fact, privatization of knowledge is inhibiting both the development and the dissemination of knowledge and technology. In fact, it’s doing exactly the opposite of what it’s supposed to do.
Jayati Ghosh: So what should we be doing instead? We should, first of all, establish a TRIPS waiver – not just for the pandemic, but for all climate-related technologies. Most of these are developed with massive public subsidies. We forget this – we think it’s all private companies doing this on their own. 80 to 90% of the knowledge and the technology that is used for both pandemic-related treatments and vaccines and so on – and for the climate mitigation efforts – all of these are developed largely with public research in public labs or with public subsidies. So if taxpayers are paying for this, then surely there should be conditions on the companies that are benefiting from it. They shouldn’t be handed this over and said, well, now it’s all yours do what you like with it, and don’t share it with anyone.
Jayati Ghosh: We should demand that they share this knowledge. And of course governments can make them do it if they want. The reason they don’t is because there’s no political pressure to make them do it. So the job is to create that political pressure. In other words, all the young people who have been marching in Glasgow and who are so inspirational and really so important to the cause – they see some of this, but they need to be out there campaigning not just for an overall sense of urgency with regard to climate, but a sense of urgency with regard to what needs to be done to control this untrammeled power of large corporations and the extremely wealthy.
Jayati Ghosh: In addition to regulation, we need much more control over how markets function. We have to really curb monopolistic practices, which have gone berserk especially with digital technologies and artificial intelligence. We need to actually get into taxation. The simple, low-hanging fruit of a unitary taxation for multinational corporations. It’s so evident, it’s so obvious – that multinational corporations should be taxed at the same rate as domestic corporations, but the OECD moved in and made it such a complicated agreement that it has ended up providing almost no additional taxation, and essentially the corporate lobbyists have won. So there are many things that can be done, but we need to have public demand for these to happen. That’s what we are not getting at the moment.
Colm Hastings: That was something that I wanted to ask you because I think at the end of our last interview, I asked you what gave you hope for the future? And one of the things, if I remember correctly, that you kind of pointed out was I guess, the growing public protest movements that were coalescing around the world. How do we build that powerful movement? But also as you said, the greater knowledge of what is actually needed rather than just taking to the streets and demanding climate action, how do we build that base-level knowledge and understanding throughout these movements around the world?
Jayati Ghosh: I think the young people remain a huge source of inspiration. I mean, definitely those who were marching in Glasgow, but all over the world there are young people who are extremely agitated but haven’t figured out all of the steps in the process and all the different mechanisms if you like. So I do think there is much more need for education on the ways in which particular policies are functioning. I mean, for example, this World Inequality Report, which was just released a few weeks ago, it’s hugely important. And it talks about some of the policies that have enabled this.
Jayati Ghosh: The Oxfam Inequality Report has talked specifically about policies that have enabled this. These are not widely known, even among climate activists and the links between policies, inequality and climate change are not really very, very evident to them. So they don’t know which specific policies to agitate about, to mobilize around, to protest against. So I think there’s a huge role for education, and here of course the UN can play a big role, but all of us have a role to play in getting this message across about the mechanisms and about what to fight and which policies to prevent or to change.
Colm Hastings: As Jayati highlighted the voices of young people can be the decisive force in driving climate action forwards. The vitally important work of young people around the world has been a recurrent theme throughout the series, and so to round the series off we thought we’d give the floor to young people themselves. In Part Three, we speak to Marie-Claire Graf and Heeta Lakhani from YOUNGO – the youth constituency of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Both Marie-Claire and Heeta helped draft the Global Youth Statement, a collaborative 77 page policy document that was launched at the 16th Conference of Youth in the days leading up to COP 26. The young people movement is unquestionably growing, but did Marie-Claire and Heeta think that they were given a proper platform to share their voice in Glasgow?
Part 3: Marie-Claire Graf and Heeta Lakhani, YOUNGO
Marie-Claire Graf: We definitely see that youth engagement got more and more popular. We could also see that more and more delegations do have youth delegates in their official delegation. We could also see the extraordinary effort by Italy, the first government who was hosting a youth summit prior to the Pre-COP. So we could see that there is engagement and there is momentum, yet all of this engagement is not on a rights-based approach. And very often it’s an adult-centric approach. So adults organizing youth conferences, adults engaging with young people rather than giving the space to young people where they can meet themselves, or they can train themselves and support them in their own rights.
Marie-Claire Graf: We do not see that the outcomes of, for example, the Global Youth Statement is also really taken forward and implemented because we, as young people, are not sitting at the tables where the decisions are taken and very often even the young people who have the privilege, who are part of a delegation like I myself was part of the delegation of Switzerland back in 2019 – it’s very hard for us young people to then also bring something through into a decision. And yet the references, for example, in the cover decision of the Glasgow package are by far not enough to make the youth voices meaningful. At the end of the day, young people represent more than half of the world’s population and we are by far not well represented in all of these processes.
Colm Hastings: This kind of idea of working with youth is becoming increasingly popular, but it also always seems to be at arm’s length, and I think youth are almost seen as being, as subjects that we should look to work with but are not really given the chance to put forward their own ideas or actually seen as being powerful agents of change. So with that in mind, do you think our often top-down governance, decision-making processes – do you think they’re actually working? Are they still fit for purpose or do we need to reform them? Do we need to, kind of, rethink the way that we engage with youth – and not just for youth, but for other marginalized groups as well, to make sure that they’re really given a voice in future climate decisions.
Heeta Lakhani: Yeah I think we definitely need to rethink how we’ve been engaging, especially not just with young people but like you said, marginalized groups, indigenous people, women, the entire gamut of who’s not just the main and center of all the conversations that we’ve been having so far, but are actually the ones that are facing the impacts more than anyone else that we’re seeing. There is a little bit of shift happening. We are seeing positive change, like you mentioned in Glasgow there were a lot of young people present in the venue at least. And in fact, actually this was the first time that YOUNGO had such a large delegation. We had close to a hundred additional badges than what we would usually have gotten, and we got it from support from various entities – UN, non-UN, governments, so on and so forth. So one thing is really opening up doors and, you know, giving youth the badges to be in such spaces.
Heeta Lakhani: But I think the other thing like Marie-Claire already mentioned is how do we really engage with them? And this still needs a little bit of reform. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done because it’s a lot of unlearning as well. And unlearning takes time. Sometimes it also takes a lot of reflection, and we really need to think about – is my way really the best way to engage, or maybe we can leave it open and get a different kind of response from the people who actually need to be engaged with. And this takes a lot of time, but I think we really need to push for it we need to call this up more and more. And change is definitely happening.
Marie-Claire Graf: I think it’s very crucial that if we agree that we need a party-driven approach, like the governments have the supreme decision-making authority, that they themselves reflect who is in the team and what voices are part of the deliberation and the decision-making as well. And there, we see an enormous under-representation of young people.
Marie-Claire Graf: While I already mentioned young people are half of the world’s population, in the delegation we see only around one fourth of the delegation are below the age of 35 and if we look for leadership positions, we see close to zero or only a very few young people being in a leadership position within the delegation. So we see a huge mismatch and there, I think it’s very crucial that we strategically strengthen young voices, for example, through the newly set-up global Youth Negotiator Program on Climate. And that we have young people who are well-trained, well-resourced being part of delegations who are also able to bring in this unique voice of young people in the process and the negotiations. But also, as already mentioned, that young people are here in their own right.
Marie-Claire Graf: And it’s not only good to have them at the COP as you also mentioned, being in the corridors, but they need to be part of the negotiation they need to be in the rooms where the negotiations are ongoing, and what we have been seeing at COP partially due to COVID and partially also through very rigid regulations, that young people have been excluded from this policymaking process and rather left on the events side or outside where they can protest.
Marie-Claire Graf: But also we need a lot of capacity building for young people to better understand the decision-making process, and not that the young people only come in at COP because it’s a big momentum, it’s all over the news, but engaging throughout the year, because this is where the changes are happening. If we only come in at COP, mostly our points and our ideas, recommendations cannot be taken because the process is not, is not designed like this but we have to engage throughout the year.
Marie-Claire Graf: And this is also where the structure of YOUNGO comes in, who is working throughout the year, every single day to ensure that youth voice are heard in the meeting. And I would love to see that there is way more openness also from the United Nations itself to include young people in a meaningful way, where young people are co-leaders, where we have an intergenerational approach. And it’s less of – this is the view, this is how we did it for the last 30 years. And this is how we’re going to do it. And you young people can come into our space instead of co-creating a space together, especially when it matters for young people.
Colm Hastings: So I guess looking forwards, what do you see the role of youth being in driving the climate change agenda forwards over the next decade? We obviously had, I guess the two different angles in Glasgow. We had the hundred thousand people on the streets during the middle weekend, demanding stronger climate action from world leaders. But then as we’ve already discussed, we also had youth leaders given some kind of platform on the, on the Presidency, the Plenary Stage at COP 26, presenting the Global Youth Statement. Where do you see the biggest youth contribution being made over the next 10 years shall we say?
Heeta Lakhani: Definitely I think youth engagement is only going up. At least since when I have been part of the climate movement internationally, in 2015, 2016, when I joined in, the youth movement was a lot smaller. There were of course young people, but outside of the negotiation space, the amount of momentum that we have now was not seen. And this is definitely only going up – not just on the streets, but more and more young people are also within YOUNGO, we’re seeing our membership increase. We’re seeing clearly so many new people coming in, wanting to make policy inputs, wanting to engage.
Heeta Lakhani: And this is, I think definitely only going to go up because no matter what you see, innovations, entrepreneurs, business leaders, startups, everything – it’s all led by young people. Whether it’s change on the ground, whether it’s policy advocacy, whether it’s striking, whether it’s businesses, it’s definitely led by youth. And with the amount of knowledge that is now, or awareness that is now being spread around internationally, more and more young people are concerned about their futures.
Heeta Lakhani: More and more youth see this as a very viable – not just career option for monetary reasons, but also because there is no other way out. We really need to be in this space because if we’re not in it, it is a matter of life. And these are decisions that we want to be in, whether it’s policy decisions, whether it’s business decisions. So definitely I think the future does belong to the youth, and we’re going to be the ones making the change in the years ahead
Marie-Claire Graf: To add also on the strategic part, right? I think it’s very important that we have young people within the different spaces. And one of them are the delegations themselves, the country delegations, where we need well-resourced, well-trained young people who are empowered to speak up. But also we need constituency engagement, where young people, regardless of their nationality can speak up and where we as a group can all come together.
Marie-Claire Graf: And I think we have also been seeing in the last couple of months and years, that not everyone likes if young people are united and have a strong voice. We have been seeing a lot of cherry-picking and tokenization of young people, to on purpose dismiss and divide the youth space and the youth demands. Because if we are very strong, also of course this gives a lot of opposition to less ambitious forces. But also we need young people who want to engage outside completely of the institutions, who do not want to engage in this institutional approach. And I think it’s very important that we have all of these spaces open and that also it’s important to ensure that young people can raise their voice safely.
Marie-Claire Graf: We have been seeing various attacks on young people, on young climate activists around the world – which is very shocking for me to see that young people are put in jail, or even murdered in some countries for basically standing-up, for demanding a safe and just, livable future. So there is definitely a lot of work to do, but also the United Nations itself seriously needs to reflect on how they engage with young people, but also how they for example hire young people – who are only being unpaid interns, and leaving after three or six months is not the way to engage young people.
Marie-Claire Graf: And while, for example, in the UNFCCC there’s a brilliant team who is working on young people, it’s again very shocking to me that they are no young people there who are leading these efforts, and that the young people are always seen as the ones outside and the ones we have to engage – rather than the ones we are co-creating something with. And so I think every stakeholder here can do much better including we as young people, have to learn, have to reinvent ourselves, engage in different means and matters. But on the other side, the time is really running out and we do not have time to have another five years of dialogue. So I really wish that for 2022, we can make substantive progress, and that we really believe in this intergenerational, co-leadership and co-designing of the spaces.
Colm Hastings: I guess just to finish on a more personal note. I mean, I’m 30 so I don’t know whether I’m classed as young or youth anymore – in my head I feel pretty young, but in other ways I don’t…
Marie-Claire Graf: You are, YOUNGO defines young people under the age of 35. And with this everyone under the age of 35, from zero to 35 is able and welcome to join YOUNGO the constituency – there is absolutely nothing needed, just a little bit of interest to be part of YOUNGO and also be part of the process.
Colm Hastings: Perfect. Well, I was going to say that I sometimes find it incredibly frustrating with the pace at which things are progressing. I mean, there are a lot of things that suggest things are moving in the right direction, but my fear is that change will come, but it’ll be too late. So for you both, I’d be interested to know how you kind of, keep your spirits up, what motivates you to carry this work forwards.
Marie-Claire Graf: For me, the reason why I started to engage now over 10 years ago is because I saw the changes in our natural world. Coming from Switzerland we have a lot of glaciers, and the glaciers are melting very rapidly. And in winter, the snow is very little. So this is when I started to be very afraid of the changes I literally saw. And it’s yeah, very sad and yeah, it’s very personal to see these changes, in my very short lifetime to see how the world changed around me and looking at pictures where I see like how the glaciers are so small. And then later on, I learned that it’s not only the nature that was changing, but this inherently linked social dilemma that we are in and seeing how everything is connected and how little is actually happening, despite the science has been crystal clear for decades already.
Marie-Claire Graf: But what gives me optimism is really seeing a strong movement like YOUNGO, like the strike movements, who are focusing on the goal to change something, focusing on this transformation, focusing on really believing that there is a better world for all of us. And so the young people we are working with, with so many people from all around the world really gives me the hope that there is change, there is will, there is courage, and there are solutions because there’s so many solutions, when I’m talking to the young people within YOUNGO, the young people that have been contributing to the Global Youth Statement.
Marie-Claire Graf: I see all of this spirit and drive for this better future we all dream of, and this is then also sometimes clashing with the processes at the UNFCCC where we see like, no motivation, no encouragement, no will and no motivation to do anything. So yeah, the young people I have the privilege to work with for the last two years, and I’m going to continue working with, really give me the hope needed. And it’s of course also brilliant to have a very dedicated team of young experts, also like Heeta, to work with where I can learn every single day from.
Heeta Lakhani: Yeah, I think I would just echo everything that Marie-Claire said. Seeing the amount of passion, the amount of motivation that is in this space – when you speak with young people from across the world, young people from island states, young people from countries anywhere in the world, and just seeing what they’re doing, the amount of passion that they have, you know, willing to up and weird hours of the day, just to join meetings, just to make sure that they’re a part of the process, just to make sure that there is progress and things are moving forward.
Heeta Lakhani: I think this, it really brings hope. Seeing that no matter what the current situation is, also really seeing that if we do push, if we do take action at the pace and scale needed, which we’re currently not doing, but if we can all put together everything that we have and really move in the right direction, we really still have time. And we still have a world that we can, you know, keep as a livable planet, not just for us, but for generations to come.
Heeta Lakhani: So I think just keeping that in mind and everything else that Marie-Claire has mentioned, the amount of inspiring youth that we’ve met, just, you know, speaking with them, listening to them, and having this team that no matter what you do, you know, there’s always someone to pep you up. And usually since we are working in a volunteer space, everyone is doing more than one thing in life. So the amount of work that everyone is juggling – sleepless nights, long days, just to be a part of the movement, this is over and above everything that everyone’s already doing. I think this in itself is extremely inspiring to me.
Colm Hastings: Well, what better way to finish the series than with an inspirational message from those that are fighting for our future. If you’d like to read the Global Youth Statement that Marie-Claire and Heeta were referring to, you can head over to our website at www.uncclearn.org. And that now brings The Green Renaissance series to a close.
Colm Hastings: I’d like to thank all of our guests for so brilliantly bringing the green recovery debate to life over the course of the past 12 months; Lorenzo Franchi, the technical wizard that has been working behind the scenes to put each of these podcast episodes together; and finally to you, our listeners, for joining us on this journey. We hope that you’ve enjoyed the series, and been inspired to learn more about our climate, the role of our economy in shifting the world onto a more sustainable pathway, and to continue the most important fight of our lives. So, for the final time, I’m Colm Hastings from the Partnership for Action on Green Economy, and this has been The Green Renaissance.