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Road to COP26: National Director of ISEC Burundi at the Youth4Climate Summit

Author: Olivier Nihimbazwe

In 2019, the governments of Italy and the United Kingdom sealed a partnership agreement to assume the Presidency of the 26th annual Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26). Ahead of the COP26, Italy hosted the Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition Event also called Pre-COP Youth Event between 28-30 September 2021 in the City of Milan. Olivier was selected from a pool of over 8900 applications to attend this event as the young delegate representing his country, Burundi. He shares his experience.

Youth4Climte event brought together close to 400 young delegates from nearly all countries and gave us the opportunity to elaborate and put forward concrete proposals and recommendations on the climate agenda. The first two days were dedicated to working groups. During the event, we negotiated demands around four major themes: Youth driving ambition, Sustainable recovery, Non-state actors’ engagement and Climate-conscious society. In a summary, demands from the Youth driving ambition working group focused on meaningful participation of youth in programing and implementation, funding for youth-led climate actions and capacity building. The second working group on Sustainable Recovery developed proposals majorly on energy transition, nature-based solutions, climate adaptation and loss and damage as well as climate finance. Non-state actors’s engagement working group submitted innovative ideas on how non-party sectors such as food systems, entrepreneurship, fashion, sports and arts can be less impactive on the climate.

I deliberately chose to work actively in the Climate-Conscious Society theme because, as a young activist, this is where most of my efforts have been channeled. We started by recognizing that education and awareness about climate change is an indispensable tool in addressing climate change through empowering and motivating people to take action and participate in the planning and implementation of climate action efforts. We brainstormed and identified means of creating a more climate conscious-society through four key interdependent pathways. The use of impactful story telling by showcasing climate change impacts and solutions, mandating climate change education in schools, engage the media to communicate meaningfully the climate emergency, as well as innovative strategies the public and private sectors as well individuals can employ to communicate the climate science easily to the public.

It was so powerful to discuss the great ideas coming out with diverse facets and this is where I saw both the unique complexity of these discussions. A delegate from Africa would not necessarily submit the same ideas as those from the global north due to diverging background factors and gap existing in the climate priorities. However, at the end of the day, it was the duty of each delegate to ensure that their voices are heard and reflected in the outcome document. All in all, representing Burundian voices on a global stage ignited further my ambition of becoming a climate negotiator as a party delegate for my country in the future. This is more relevant for me as a young climate justice advocate from a country with the lowest per capita GHG emissions yet one of the most vulnerable to the devastating effects of global warming and where the huge majority are not informed about this crisis.

Youth4Climate was an inspiring experience. I can still reflect on the remarks of the Italian Minister of Education, Prof. Patrizio Bianchi as he spoke to open our working group. Speaking from the experience, he emphasized the need of robust climate education system to achieve a climate conscious society while demonstrating the crucial role young people are already playing in taking action across communities and holding leaders countable. After sharing his experience, he added a statement spoke to my soul: “Spend your time for others and the planet”.

The last day of event coincided with the first day of Pre-COP26 whereby we had the opportunity to talk to the Ministers attending this summit in a plenary. The ministers made interesting commitments to involve young people in climate decision making and implementation in their respective countries. The other commitment that caught my attention is when decision makers pledged to engage effectively the ministers of education to accelerate climate change education programming and implementation and ensure that they attend the global climate summits.

It was a unique networking opportunity. I had the opportunity speak to Alok Sharma, the president of COP26 whereby I pointed out the vital need to enhance and facilitate participation of young people from the global south in high level climate summits where decisions that shape the future of the planet, our future, are made. I was also excited to interact with amazing young climate activists such as Greta Thunberg from Sweden, Vanessa Nakate from Uganda, Elizabeth Wathuti from Kenya and many other new friends that I made. I didn’t miss to interact with Ms. Jayathma, the UN Youth Envoy and Nesreen Elsaim and the chair of the UN Secretary General’s Youth Advisory Group on climate change. Being surrounded by hundreds of people with whom I share the passion was gave me an unmatched feeling.

The outcome document of the Youth4Climate event will be fed into COP26 taking place in early November 2021.

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