COP 25 is a whirlwind of negotiations, emotions, actions, frustrations, hope, and fatigue.
I left the COP 25 venue on December 13th feeling a mix of emotions, and unable to describe what I had felt besides ‘overwhelmed’. Perhaps ‘overwhelmed’ is a term with too many negative connotations, but I was overwhelmed by the ambition and passion from youth, the lack of action from parties, and the attempts to sideline those demanding climate justice. Yet ‘overwhelmed’ is what I had felt for the first few days following the return from COP as I read the news of the continuing negotiations that extended past the official dates of COP 25. However, negotiations are not the only things that happen at COP. The civil society movements, the innovative initiatives, the energy and ambition from activists make up a large portion of COP that often goes unnoticed in media reports. I am overwhelmed by the connections I have made, not just as professional networks, but as friends and mentors.
I am neither the first, nor the last to say, “it is the people you meet, that makes the experience memorable” when reflecting upon my experience at COP. As cliché as it is, I cannot help but echo the exact phrase.
I met incredible youth who are unafraid of asking questions and pushing the boundaries. I was accompanied by the inspiring, intelligent, and passionate people of the Climate Action Cohort. I reconnected with old friends and was introduced to passionate activists, women, people of colour, indigenous leaders, youth delegates who have amazed me, inspired me, and have the pleasure of calling my friends now. They work tirelessly to bring valuable perspective, passion, and insight and I am so inspired and grateful to be surrounded by them.
In this environment, I now realize that I have always positioned myself as a ‘learner’, ‘wait until I know enough’, and placed myself at the sidelines. At COP 25, I found myself surrounded by and in awe of youth who ask complex questions, who give insightful analysis, who push the boundaries of bureaucracy. Then I realized my own capacity of being able to ask questions, share my own analysis, and can take up space. If anything is stopping me from doing so, it was myself. I had used my age and lack of “professional experience” as an excuse to stay in the sidelines and listen, but there is no specific age that I am finally “credible and old enough” to take up space. Attending COP challenged my own perception of what it means to be actively engaged, what climate action is, and my role as a youth. I saw youth delegates making their impact by asking the necessary questions, pushing the boundaries, and breaking the status quo in all corners of the COP venue.
COP is a spectrum of pure technical and formal negotiations to passionate protests and everything in between. It can feel helpless, disappointing, hopeful, and inspiring. Every day was a rollercoaster ride navigating between these ranges of emotions. I am incredibly privileged to be present at an international setting such as COP 25, I am undeniably privileged to not fully understand what it means to be living in a climate crisis. The indigenous communities and vulnerable states that directly see and feel climate change affect their lives, their cultures, their homes, and their livelihoods know what is means to be living in a climate crisis. I can only imagine and empathize with what I have heard from these activists and what I have seen and heard from my Arctic expedition with Students on Ice. Those who are affected the most have contributed the least to the climate crisis, and their voices need to lead the environmental movement as we approach the ten crucial years ahead of us.
The young and intelligent activists brought the passion and ambition that could not be seen in the negotiation rooms. Regardless of the results of COP 25’s negotiations, I am optimistic. The young people are leading the way with their ambition, understanding of solutions, and their ability to cooperate. COP 25 clearly demonstrated the capacity of the youth. Now that the young people have shown the people at COP and the world what they are willing and capable of doing, it is time for the world and governments to listen and truly engage youth in conversations and allow us to lead the way with solutions.
Thank you to all those who have spoken up at COP, those who have asked a challenging and complex question, those who put themselves in the front lines of protests, those who have challenged my views, and those who took the time to share their knowledge with me.
Thank you to the Lawson Foundation for supporting the Climate Action Cohort. Thank you especially to the folks of Climate Action Cohort, Students on Ice, and Youth Climate Lab for your guidance and support before, throughout, and after COP. I appreciate the opportunity, guidance, support, and learnings that I have had the privilege to experience. COP 25 will be a guiding experience that I will cherish and embrace in all aspects of my life and career and I am forever grateful for the impact it has had and will continue to make on me.