Young voices among the excluded at Cop26, claims Irish activist

‘You have to ask yourself, ‘are we going to keep on ... talking about this all the time’

Voices of young people continue to be excluded from United Nations climate summits when they should be heard in negotiation rooms, according to Valery Molay of the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI)

While everyone knew there would be logistical difficulties at Cop26 due to coronavirus, she believed it was "an excuse to exclude civil society, young people [and] the voices of marginalised people".

On that basis, Cop26 was lacking something, said the NYCI climate justice officer who is among a large group of young Irish climate activists in Glasgow. "It's the 26th Cop so at some point you have to ask yourself the question, 'are we going to keep on coming and talking about this all the time?' " she asked.

It had been established that global warming was a systemic problem. But when young activists came to Cop26 solutions were still being considered in the framework of business as usual, said Ms Molay.


“So where are the justice and equity elements in that?” she asked.

Personally, she found it upsetting that the EU bloc in talking about “loss and damage”, and increasing adaptation targets, was doing so within a framework of charity. She added: “Is it charity or reparation that we are talking out?”

To solve the climate crisis was not just about cutting greenhouse gases, she said. “It must be while changing the system that created the problem in the first place.”

The Irish activists had an hour-long meeting with Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan in Glasgow, where she said the exclusion issue was highlighted, whereby young people could not get into the negotiation room or hear what was going on.

Ms Molay said it was emotional for her hearing from people at the meeting talking about themselves and how overwhelming the climate issue was, as indicated by one person saying, “I started this at 13, now I’m going to college, I can’t continue doing this”.

“They are sick and tired of assemblies and then nothing happens after that,” she noted.

‘At home in Ireland’

She welcomed a commitment by Mr Ryan to raise the issue of appropriate language with lead negotiators on loss and damage and his undertaking to examine how youth engagement can be improved “at home in Ireland”.

The young climate activists met chairwoman of the Elders Mary Robinson at the conclusion the meeting. The former president said she was glad to have met them as well as other young people form every continent during Cop26.

“Every single one them said they’re so tired; they’re exhausted. We talked about their self-care,” said Mrs Robinson.

She believed they are not exactly suffering mental health problems but it was worry. “They have put so much into it. They have read the science and they feel like I feel. And it’s tough when you’re young. I think they’re disillusioned. And when Greta [Thunberg] uses language like ‘blah, blah, blah’, they say ‘is that all there is?’ ”

Others must prove this is not the case, she insisted.

Mrs Robinson introduced the Irish group to former UK prime minister Gordon Brown who was at Cop26 to make a "final push" for countries to agree on $100 billion (€87 billion) a year for poorer countries to tackle climate disruption, to avoid the summit being branded a failure. He compared the current system of trying to secure the long-promised climate finance annually for developing countries to "a charity fundraiser or a begging bowl going around the table".

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times