At the Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition summit in Milan, hundreds of young delegates from all over the world worked together to draft a seminal Youth4Climate Manifesto—a bold plan for climate action with demands across four thematic areas—that was brought to COP26 to precipitate concrete climate commitments from world leaders.
In this article, we examine how the policymakers and leaders who convened in Glasgow for the COP responded to the Youth4Climate Manifesto’s asks and ambitions with new pledges and action plans.
Banner image by Leigh Vogel, Connect4Climate.
Youth Driving Ambition
On the central theme of Youth Driving Ambition, the writers of the Youth4Climate Manifesto called on policymakers to open new avenues to young people and empower them to participate in the process of developing and implementing climate action. In response, the Glasgow Climate Pact included a call “to ensure meaningful youth participation and representation in multilateral, national and local decision-making processes.” Additionally, Italian Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani announced at the COP that the Youth4Climate summit will henceforth be an annual event, giving young people a direct pipeline to the latest climate negotiations.
In particular, the Manifesto called for renewed commitment to elevating, respecting and acting on the voices of indigenous people, women, and the most vulnerable. At COP26, the Improved Marrakech Partnership for Enhancing Ambition incorporated this message into its charter along with a five-year plan emphasizing accountability to stakeholders. A number of countries, including Bolivia, Canada, Ecuador, the US, and the UK, made fresh commitments to Gender Action, investing in women’s leadership and initiating a policy of conducting gender breakdowns in all statistical climate analyses moving forward.
Within the Sustainable Recovery theme, the Youth4Climate Manifesto urged all countries to rapidly transition towards renewable energy to reach net zero emissions by 2030. The percentage of the world covered by net zero targets now stands at 90%, up from 30% two years ago, but most of these plans do not meet the ambitious timeline called for in the Manifesto. To help push for increased ambition, The Glasgow Climate Pact sped up the timeline for countries to submit stronger Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), requesting that world leaders “revisit and strengthen” their 2030 targets by COP27 next year.
The Manifesto stressed the role of innovation and technological development in driving the needed changes, a message which 35 world leaders at COP26 took to heart in their accession to the new Glasgow Breakthrough Agenda, which aims to accelerate the development and deployment of clean technologies around the world this decade—all while driving down costs. The Breakthrough Agenda’s primary objectives are making renewable energy structures attractive alternatives in the most population-heavy regions of the world by 2030 and empowering developing countries to take advantage of clean energy.
In line with the Manifesto’s call for collaboration with the private sector on green energy, the Glasgow Financial Alliance has committed over $130 trillion (USD) in private capital to reshaping the global economy. Spanning 45 countries, these commitments will go a long way toward making net zero a reality.
One point youth leaders were very clear on in their text is the need to abandon entirely the exploration and extraction of fossil fuels. Although COP26 did not deliver the ambition asked for by young people on this front, their calls for action did spur some progress in Glasgow. Denmark and Costa Rica launched the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance with countries such as France, Sweden, and Ireland, who all committed to a managed phase-out of oil and gas production within their borders. The UK assembled a coalition of 190 countries committed to the rapid upscaling of green power and the abolishment of coal by the 2030s for major economies and the 2040s for the rest of the world. The Glasgow Climate Pact also marked the first time that a COP decision text has directly referenced the need to move away from coal reliance and fossil fuel subsidies.
In the push toward a sustainable future, the Manifesto was resolute that developed nations must assist developing nations in their implementation of the energy transition. On this front, COP26 saw some big announcements, including the launch of a World Bank trust fund that will mobilize $200 million over the next decade to support the decarbonization of road transport in emerging and developing economies. The UK government’s Urban Climate Action program (UCAP) was also a standout, pledging $27.5 million in funding to support cities across Africa, Asia and Latin America as they pursue net zero.
Accounting for “loss and damage” was key to the youth leaders’ conception of Sustainable Recovery, and COP took some needed steps in this regard. Section VI of the Glasgow Climate Pact empowered the Santiago Network to ramp up its ongoing efforts to address loss and damage worldwide while bolstering resilience to future climate impacts. While COP26 may not have delivered the level of progress hoped for by Youth4Climate delegates, loss and damage became a central topic in the negotiations. In the Pact, countries agreed to start a dialogue in anticipation of COP27, which was viewed by the Alliance of Small Island States as “a key step towards the creation of a loss and damage finance facility.”
The cultivation of nature-based farming practices and climate-smart agriculture is a major priority of the Youth4Climate Manifesto—no surprise, given the extent and impact of our food systems. Responding to this call to action, 45 nations and 95 high-profile companies at COP26 pledged to redouble action and investment toward safeguarding nature and transitioning agriculture to a sustainable model in the years to come. Further, more than 100 countries pledged to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030 with the help of $19 billion in allocated public and private funds.
Non-State Actors’ Engagement
The vision articulated in the Youth4Climate Manifesto extended beyond governments, stressing the need to engage non-state actors in the building of a green future as well. One key means of facilitating this sort of engagement, wrote the youth delegates, is “promoting and simplifying the processes for equitable global technology transfer,” both among research institutions and between those institutions and private industry. At COP26, the UK-led Breakthrough Agenda, which enlisted 42 nations, aligned itself with this aim, pledging to ramp up the development and rollout of innovative green tech worldwide. And in a dedicated “clean technology development drive,” 35 world leaders committed to increasing their countries’ ambition on both producing green tech and making it more affordable for the average consumer this decade.
It’s no secret that the wasteful “fast fashion” industry is long overdue for a pivot to sustainable practices, and the drafters of the Manifesto demanded the fleshing-out of “guidelines to elaborate … ethical, sustainable, and climate-friendly” approaches to clothing production. Rolled out at COP26, the updated UNFCCC Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, to which 130 companies and 41 supporting organizations are signatories, lays out a plan to source all of the industry’s electricity sustainably by 2030, abandoning coal power for good. It also offers guidelines on the responsible sourcing of raw materials.
A vital and overarching goal of the Manifesto was the cultivation of a climate-conscious society worldwide. Recognizing the deepening impacts of the climate crisis, the document called for the proliferation of knowledge of “the interconnected implications for the environment and nature as a whole,” with special emphasis on addressing biodiversity and embracing nature-based solutions. At COP26, 95 leading UK companies, including Burberry and ITV, committed to a “Nature Positive” approach moving forward, pledging to make sustainability an integral part of their brand identity.
A key component of the push toward broader climate-consciousness outlined in the Manifesto was the empowerment of underrepresented people everywhere to safely share their lived experiences of the climate crisis. To encourage diversity within party delegations, the COP26 Presidency funded the attendance of six female negotiators from underdeveloped countries, and the “Advancing Gender Equality in Climate Action” event on Gender Day at the COP saw numerous countries come forward with fresh pledges to support women and girls in sharing their climate stories. Bolivia, for instance, issued a commitment focused on getting indigenous and Afro-Bolivian women into climate leadership positions, while Belgium committed $58 million to a 5-year Sahel Climate Program focused on the needs of women and girls. Norway also laid out a new initiative to raise the impact of women and girls at both the national and international levels of climate policymaking.