Youth, activism and philanthropy: Have they been given a seat at the table at COP27?
EXCLUSIVE: The UN’s youngest climate advisor has been a focal point at COP27 in the first week, but has the summit done enough to promote youth activism and philanthropy, or has it shut its doors on key voices that could hold inspiration in combatting the climate crisis? edie speaks to activists, storytellers and philanthropists to find out.
A lot has been made about the need for COP27 to capture a more inclusive set of voices, both from the activists that were kept outside of the Blue Zone in Glasgow last year, to the everyday citizens of the Global South currently battling the worst of the climate crisis.
Despite a dedicated Youth Day at COP27, there are still concerns that the summit in Egypt isn’t as inclusive as it needs to be; a dispute given weight by the fact that there are more fossil fuel lobbyists at COP27 than there are representatives from a single Africa country. In fact, the only nation with more collective delegates that the combined fossil fuel participants is the United Arab Emirates, hosts of COP28 next year.
As such, edie has reached out to the activists and philanthropists on the ground at COP27 to get their views on whether youth and activism has been given a seat at the table during negotiations, and what success at COP27 should look like.
Sophia Kianni, youngest UN advisor
At 20 years of age, Sophia Kianni is and Iranian-American climate activist the youngest advisor to the head of the United Nations at COP27. Kianni has been busy at COP27, taking part in numerous high-level discussions alongside Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and appearing at side events and programme launches.
However, Kianni feels that youth is still underrepresented at COPs and that the voices of current and future generations are being “lied to” by world leaders. Referencing last week’s UNEP Emissions Gap Report that shows the world is on track for around 2.5C of warming, Kianni says that existing plans from world leaders are “woefully inadequate”, referencing what was stated by UNEP in the report.
“Seven years after the Paris Agreement, there is still not a single country that has a climate commitment compatible with 1.5C,” Kianni told edie.
“What do leaders do? They keep greenwashing. They keep making excuses for not taking action. They keep lying. So on top of the emissions gap, we have an honesty gap. There is a widening rift between what leaders say and what they do. Which is why we are here today. To define what real action is. To stop leaders from being able to ‘say one thing, but do another’. To prevent leaders from being able to create loopholes, creative accounting and lies and lies – and more lies.”
Kianni’s non-profit Climate Cardinals works with more than 9,000 young people globally, all of whom volunteer to help translate the complex and jargon-stuffed climate reports into easy-to-understand rhetoric and action plans.
While Kianni appreciates the need for official texts and documents to strengthen climate action, she does wonder if world leaders are speaking a “secret language” that is detached from the everyday world – one that is worsening as a result of the climate crisis.
“We take time out of our own studies to [volunteer] because we believe that language must not be a barrier for people to take action on climate change. So I have one question for the government and business leaders here at COP27. Which language do you need us to translate the climate data into so that you will take action?
“Please tell us. Is there a secret ‘Leader language’ that we don’t know about? Because I have to believe that the only reason that you are not taking climate action at the pace and scale required is that you do not have the information. If you did have the information – and were only pretending to take action – well, then that would be unforgivable. Or as Secretary General Guterres put it: that would be ‘lying’. We need leaders to stop lying.”
Jack Harries, co-founder Earthrise Studio
There are many means to translating official and complex “climate speak” at COP conferences, and that isn’t just confined to written.
Jack Harries is a film-maker & “climate storyteller” and co-founder of Earthrise studio, With more than one million followers on Instagram, Harries uses his platform to give a voice to communities most impacted by the climate crisis through visual and provocative media.
For Harries, success at COP27 would focus on the thorny subject of loss and damage.
“The crucial question looming over world leaders at COP27 is one of Loss and Damage,” Harries toled edie. “In other words who will pay the bill for climate devastation? Much has been made of the 100 billion promised to global south countries however, this has amounted to little more than just empty promises. With governments under increasing strain from rising energy prices and cost of living, climate Is falling to the bottom of the agenda.
“Due to years of delay, it’s widely considered we’ve now run out of time to limit temperature rise to below 1.5C. It has therefore never been more important for wealthy countries – the ones who have caused this crisis in the first place – to provide reparations for global south countries to adapt and build resilience in the face of a rapidly changing climate.”
But discussing loss and damage means hearing from those currently suffering the most from climate-related disasters. That includes offering a place at the table for youth activists.
“COPs are often exclusive and inaccessible spaces, meaning that activists, youth delegates and front lines voices can’t gain access. This is certainly the case with COP27,” Harries said. “Whilst accommodation is prohibitively expensive and hard to access, space for civil society and protest has been severely limited by the Egyptian government. As a result, many youth activists have decided to boycott this COP entirely including the world’s most famous youth activist Greta Thunberg.
“We need to tell a new cultural story. This needs to be weaved into everything we do and amplified by filmmakers, musicians, artists and thought leaders. We believe stories shape culture, culture shapes leaders, leaders shape policies and policies shape the system. What we need is system change on a scale never before witnessed.”
Molly Fannon, UN Live
Even as delegates arrive in Egypt for the COP27 climate conference, many will be tuning in to the discussions remotely. Accessibility to these negotiations has never been more important, yet the opportunity for activists and youth movements to get around the table with key decision makers is dwindling.
There is a danger that these important voices are being overlooked due to not being able to get to COP27, however, their voices will be key to generating the discussion that will make a difference in countries it matters most.
In response to this, UN Live in partnership with the IKEA Foundation has produced network of ‘portals’ in Sharm El-Sheikh connected to 10 other locations worldwide – from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh to Nakivale in Uganda – to bring a platform to voices in hard-to-reach places around the world. It is supported by collaborators at MIT’s Centre for Constructive Communication, and will enable real-time conversations between activists and decision makers, bringing forward crucial perspectives on the climate crisis to the heart of COP27.
Prior to COP27, edie spoke to UN Live’s chief executive Molly Fannon to see whether the summit has an inclusivity problem.
Fannon is now on the ground in Egypt at COP27, and edie caught up to catch her views on whether discussions have given a platform to youth and activism.
“For me, success at COP27 would be that those with the privilege to be at COP27 realise that without the voices and support of those on the frontlines – all over the world – nothing will change,” Fannon told edie. “We need everybody. Every voice matters. Everyone at COP27 needs to feel humble in the face of their inadequacy without the voices of the many from around the world. Because without them, no solution, however brilliant, will take off.
“Every voice matters. Especially the voices of people often cast as the “disadvantaged” or “climate victims,” which are labels that are dangerously misleading. Those communities have incredible wisdom to share with us on living sustainability, on resilience, on how to cope with changing climate, with challenge. Until and unless we listen to them, and include them, centrally in this issue, we cannot fully address the challenge that faces us.
“There were many barriers this year, which are not unique – how to get “badged,” how to buy tickets, how to find a hotel. The barriers to entry this year are not unlike the barriers to entry for all major decision fora in the world. So, what if you said “forget COP27 in Egypt ” come be part of COP from your hometown. Imagine the difference, and the inclusion that would create. The goal of UN Live’s Global We program is to offer onramps to the voices that must be heard.”
UN Live’s work with the IKEA Foundation has been crucial in improve accessibility and making COP27 much more inclusive, regardless of where you are in the world.
Per Heggenes, chief executive Ikea Foundation
At COP27, the IKEA Foundation released new research examining what investments can deliver the biggest emissions reductions across key sectors, and has pledged to invest €600m across various climate solutions.
The Ikea Foundation had already committed €500m to climate mitigation and adaptation by 2025. This was an increase on the €368m spent between 2014 and 2020. However, the organisation announced in 2021 that it would spend an additional €1bn on initiatives supporting the low-carbon transition within five years.
For the Foundation’s chief executive Per Heggenes, COP27 is a chance for people to unite behind the climate cause, regardless of age or geographical location.
“It is Time to Unite! We need everyone to come together to mitigate the crisis we face. Philanthropy, the private and public sector need to step up support for climate action and be prepared to collaborate in radical, unprecedented ways to preserve the planet for future generations,” Heggenes said.
On the role that youth has in shaping discussions at COP27, Heggenes had this to say.
“Young people and climate reps tell us they are often not invited when governments and businesses take climate decisions that in fact directly impact their life and their future. They increasingly feel excluded and forgotten. We believe they need to be at the heart of the decision making and must have a seat at the table.
“Especially those most affected by climate change must be given the opportunity to speak up about the impact this has on their life and livelihoods. By sharing how they are coping with it and the unique solutions they are developing to adapt, they can help others learn from their experiences.
“Our partnership with the Museum for the United Nations contributes towards this. Even if you can’t physically attend COP, they can bring you to it from wherever you are without emissions.”
To find out more about how IKEA Foundation’s partnership with UN Live is helping create the world’s largest conversation on climate, visit museumfortheunitednations.org