“Bickering over punctuation while hundreds die”: Three young Greens’ experience of COP26 in Glasgow

By Paul Hellard

“We are experiencing Climate Change right now in many ways, and continue to be battered by this phenomenon, which has been brought about by actions of the Global North,” says Janmejai Tiwari from a noisy Internet café in northern India. He and a group of several Young Green activists have just returned from COP26 in Glasgow and they are clearly more inspired and energised than before they left. “The Global Young Greens’ mission is to bring the voice of the Global South to the front,” says Janmejai. “And we won’t stop at COP.”

This was the first COP attended by the Global Young Greens, and I spoke with three young activists who made it through the visa interviews, flights, COVID-19 tests, quarantine, security barriers and into the areas around the halls for the COP26 conference in Scotland. This year, about thirteen delegates managed to get to Glasgow. The Young Greens representatives were in Glasgow for the COP26 in different capacities. Janmejai Tiwari was a delegate observer for the Global Young Greens, Snigdha Tiwari was a delegate observer travelling on behalf of the Global Greens and Ayah Abdouny was there as a representative from Lebanon for the AlterCOP, an alternative conference organised by the Federation of Young European Greens that opened alongside COP26. 

Snigdha Tiwari meets with Nathalie Bennet, member of the UK House of Lords

Snigdha Tiwari lives in the very north of India, very close to the extremely sensitive Himalaya mountains.  “We are facing the effects of climate change right in front of our eyes,” she says. “It is happening for us today.  This gave me all the motivation I needed to apply to be a delegate when called upon for COP26.  I started in a drive for social justice, quite early from College. I was to become involved with many of the local political campaigns in the Greens parties here in 2017.  Through the Asia-Pacific Greens Federation, I’ve had the opportunities to represent my part of India, which has had glacial breaks and cloud-burst events, which have increased in intensity.  These have been caused by Government policies, which make them man-made disasters we are facing.”

Ayah Abdouny joined the Asia-Pacific Young Greens Network (APYGN) in March 2020, had a meteoric rise to become its Convenor from June 2020 till November 2021, and was recently elected as the co-Convenor of the Asia-Pacific Greens Federation (APGF) in October 2021. Ayah was active at the AlterCOP program which was held alongside COP26 in Glasgow. 

“I’ve noticed how much the Asia-Pacific needs support to boost the green thinking in the area, to bring trust in the young people of this very diverse region of different cultures, societies and political systems,” says Abdouny. “This applies to Lebanon where many believe in the same principles as the Greens, but aren’t aware there is a global movement that abides by them. The youth are not only the future, but they are also, more importantly, the present. They are being pushed away from the political sector but they should be more involved because, now, change is more vital than ever.”

 

The AlterCOP, organised by the Federation of Young European Greens (FYEG) on the sidelines of COP26, brought young activists together for training and empowerment in climate negotiation activism. Credit: FYEG Communications Intern

So, COP26. HOW WAS IT?

It must be said.  Staging such a contentious event presents major challenges for the host cities. Barricades are erected, roads are blocked.  Long delays and queues are normal while trying to enter any specific session.  This year in trying to prevent COP26 from becoming a COVID-19 super-spreader event, observers found it virtually impossible to enter rooms where negotiations were taking place.

On the first weekend of COP26, 250,000 people demonstrated in the streets of Glasgow in the Global March for Climate Action. On the last day of negotiations, large numbers of observers left the halls and joined the protesters in the street, in an act of support to those others who’d effectively been locked out.

Snigdha enjoyed the challenges of coordinating with the delegation. But the COP venue was divided into so many different zones, some allowing people into some areas and not others.  “Rules seemed to be made so delegates and observers weren’t actually able to get to the sessions they needed to be in. The observers were restricted quite a lot,” explains Snigdha. “We had four badges for 10,000 people. Just four badges.”

COVID restrictions only allowed for a certain number of people to be in each room. Long queues and waiting outside was the order of the day. “It was of course fascinating when we were in a plenary session inside though,” explains Snigdha. A lawyer by profession, she notes that “I attended a session on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, where we saw some countries blocking the adding of a small punctuation mark. All words and punctuation marks are important, but the way the countries would raise their little flag to propose the tiniest of detail was fascinating. While they bicker about tweaks to sentences, flash floods are happening and hundreds of people are dying. We must ask, how useful are those discussions, to deliver what we all need today?”

There were demonstrations almost every day around Glasgow. Either inside or outside, there were noisy processions and sometimes a party atmosphere. Serious demonstrations. Fridays for Future, the Global Climate Action March, the Women’s Day and the Youth Day, and at each of these, the Global Young Greens organised and pushed with a long set of demands for better representation.

Thousands of protesters marched for climate justice during COP26. Credit: Chris McFayden

Even though Glasgow closed with a disappointing Pact that was watered down at the last moment, this tone was actually already set, just as COP26 started.  “India said they would commit to Net-Zero by 2070, and China said 2060,” says Janmejai Tiwari. “There was greenwashing even before the first delegate arrived in Glasgow.  The negotiators would not go outside what their leaders had already set.” Janmejai and Snigdha managed to land a forty-minute meeting with the Indian Environment Minister but, as noted by Snigdha and Ayah, this whole thing is an ongoing process. “Draw momentum from COP and take it further.  Share it with students in schools and with other activists,” says Snigdha. “When we raise our voice and give our clear demands, we give courage to others to also demonstrate that Climate Change is a global issue. If politicians don’t do what is required, they will not have the support of their people. We know what the world requires, for us all to survive.”

 

SO WHAT NOW?

After her trip to Glasgow, Ayah Abdouny went back to Lebanon with many aspirations, and some of them revolve around raising awareness of the COP. “The Asia-Pacific is one of the most affected regions by climate change,” she says, “but the people in it are just trying to survive, instead of having a decent living that allows them to think further than tomorrow, bigger than their own families, and sometimes, other than themselves.

“I was inspired by the energy of the European Young Greens, the people I’ve met throughout the program,” says Ayah. “The work they’re doing is so efficient because they’ve been active in their surrounding cultures that allow easier trust in progressive thinking and in the youth. This allows more acceptance of a united community that believes in a sustainable and just world.”

“In Europe and South America, there is a very strong tradition in the Green parties, of working with the young people, to activate their own political strength,” says Janmejai. “My aspiration now is to strengthen the youth movement at the local level and have better coordination with movements at the transnational level to fight for climate justice. Being with a network like Global Greens and Global Young Greens gives us all here an opportunity to achieve this. Another aspiration is to empower the youth and the marginalized, to have them at the policy-making levels. We don’t want the youth to be just used as tokens, we have a moral and ethical claim over the future.”

 

Ayah Abdouny rounds it up with the fact that the young people of the world are, “not just the future, we are the present.  Young people have to get active now because it’s not even a choice anymore.”

 

Panel of young activists from Kenya, India, Germany and Scotland in the session on “Community building to counter the Climate crisis”. Session moderated by Thomas Waitz, Members of European Parliament (MEP) and Co-chair European Greens.

 

Attendees at the 2021 AlterCOP, organised by the Federation of Young European Greens

En rapport

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