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Youth as Change Agents

Something that I come across daily at Luther College is the emphasis on using the youth as effective agents of change; finding the critical areas through which the energy of young people can influence greater politics. Here in Paris and throughout the history of the UNFCCC, the youth are impacting the content of the negotiations. Tim Damon, as a member of SustainUS, has worked tirelessly to promote intergenerational equity as a key outcome of these discussions and currently has two sentences referencing this concern in the negotiating document. It may not sound like much, but considering how long it took this convention to recognize that climate change is actually happening, this is a big deal. Now Tim and his colleagues are using every connection and every outlet to ensure that this critical phrasing remains. YOUNGO, the officially recognized youth constituency to the UNFCCC, has had impact in other areas, such as Loss & Damage, Adaptation, Women & Gender, and more. YOUNGO is, however, a constituency of youth. The lack of formal structure and long-term organization presents unique challenges to an ever changing demographic. Petty squabbles have derailed meaningful conversations and the lack of a common vision has left many who are interested in assisting on the periphery. My experience at the Conference of Youth (COY) last week was a shining example of missed opportunities. 6,000 youth registered for the pre-COP gathering to discuss the future of climate change. I attended in hopes of improving my understanding of key negotiating points and efforts to coordinate among people of different backgrounds. What I found, however, was a disarray of tangential conversations lacking enough substance to inform meaningful action. I was expecting a venue to work alongside of the negotiations, but what I found left me bewildered and confused. COY was an opportunity for the youth to enter COP21 with a well-developed policy platform, prepared speeches, and meaningful action. Now that negotiations have begun without these key preparations in place, the YOUNGO constituency is constantly fighting to make up for lost ground. Delegates frustrated by this process are relieving their stress on other youth who only want to help. Those who have volunteered to organize the youth movement within the UNFCCC began the week by saying that the UNFCCC is a waste. These unproductive conversations must end for the youth to organize and become the change agents we so desperately need. When I walk into the YOUNGO meeting rooms, I see such a wealth of knowledge and experiences that only need a rallying point that isn’t there to criticize and strike down ideas, but to encourage and identify solutions. The YOUNGO constituency has tremendous opportunity within the COP framework and their influence will be important to track as the negotiations proceed.

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