Young people are the loudest advocates for climate action. The News on Sunday spoke with young Pakistani environment researchers and climate justice activists representing Pakistan at the recently concluded COP27
he News on Sunday (TNS): Can you briefly introduce yourself and your work? How did you get involved with youth climate advocacy?
Rida Rashid (RR): I am a 19-year-old climate justice activist based in Islamabad. I founded the nonprofit, IMPACT Pakistan, which is a group of 300 students working for adaptation to climate change in Pakistan. I became involved in climate advocacy when our hometown in south Punjab was hit by floods. My father had to relocate. I saw the land devastated, our crops – our only source of income – destroyed, and people left dead and suffering. I knew the world had failed us. It was time to speak up.
Hafiz Jawad Sohail (HJS): I started my journey as a volunteer and have attended several programmes after my graduation. I have worked on all tiers of climate action: global, regional and local. I now have a better picture of what climate negotiation process looks like and how international diplomacy works around the climate movement.
Zainab Zahid (ZZ): My climate advocacy journey started with YOUNGO (the official Youth Constituency of the UNFCCC). I supported several working groups in various capacities. I’ve assisted the communications team in developing content, been a part of the Adaptation Working Group, and am now assisting the Water and Climate Working Group as a contact point. I was also the president of the NUST Environment Club, where I helped mobilise the youth at the local level.
TNS: How satisfied are you with the decisions coming out of COP27?
RR: Loss and damage facility is a victory for the island nations, G77 led by Pakistan, the youth and the civil society. We have paid the price in the 2022 floods for the creation of this fund. There is still need for agreements on where the money will come from, how it’ll be received and distributed, loans or grants, and who is covered under the definition of vulnerable countries. For me, COP27 was a failure because they tried to treat the symptoms and not the cause of the climate crisis which is fossil fuels. They failed us again.
HJS: Climate justice in the form of Loss and Damage Funding remained contested throughout the COP. It was a cornerstone of negotiations to measure the conference’s success. While Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan considered a new proposal for loss and damage fund, there remain gaps: finance and ambitions falling short, progress on the ACE Working Plan and the intergenerational equity to make it more inclusive.
ZZ: I’m happy that people are pushing for change; we need perseverance in climate space. As a young participant, I feel positive about Article 59 in the draft decision that encourages parties to include children and the youth in their process for designing and implementing climate policy and action and to consider youth negotiators for inclusion in national delegations. The responsibility to institutionalise youth participation now lies with national governments.
TNS: What are the Pakistani youth’s priorities for climate action? Were these addressed?
RR: The youth in South Asia and Pakistan are demanding a mechanism to ensure that funds are distributed properly. The youth hope that national governments and conferences like COP27 will give greater representation to the youth from the Global South. Let us sit on the table where you bet on our future. Allow us to be heard because it’s our future on the line; we must have a say in it.
HJS: The youth represent a vulnerable and often ignored group in Pakistan. They have no say in climate policy making or representation in the decision-making process. Now the role of the younger generation is being recognised at the world stage. Several youth constituencies, including YOUNGO, have played vital roles in this regard but national delegations have failed in this area.
ZZ: I believe the youth in Pakistan are bringing their own chairs to the decision-making tables. They are aware, educated, bold and confident. The youth, unfortunately, were not a priority at the COP27. My recommendation would be to institutionalise youth participation in climate policy-making; allocate 15 percent of the annual budget for climate-related youth activities; and launch training and capacity-building programmes for youth.
TNS: As young climate activists from the Global South, do you think your voices were integrated and reflected in the decision-making process at COP27?
RR: No. The conference was filled with fossil fuel lobbyists. Youth groups and government groups had more white representation than black/ brown. The youth of the Global South spoke at pavilions but were not heard.
HJS: We raised our voices at various platforms and represented the Global South in the best way we could. We sought formal recognition from national governments and delegations at the COP. While governments are failing to integrate young voices, international institutions and actors are allying with our efforts.
ZZ: My approach is more of advocacy than activism. Communication is key to engaging stakeholders. We deserve a better and more meaningful response from the other side. Though Articles 55, 59, 60, and 61 in the draft decision highlight the importance of youth participation and inclusion, we still need to do better for representation of the Global South youth. The Global South is too often neglected and silenced; we are not invited to the negotiation table. There will be no operationalisation of goals in the absence of support from national governments for equitable youth inclusion.
TNS: What are the biggest disappointments and achievements of COP27 with respect to Pakistan?
RR: The biggest achievement, of course, is the development/ commitment of the loss and damage fund. It took years to create this fund. Pakistan played a vital role. The biggest failure is that despite two weeks of negotiations, world leaders were unable to develop a mechanism needed for this fund to be operational.
HJS: After the recent flood, Pakistan’s case on loss and damage was self-evident. World leaders like the UN secretary general and Al Gore advocated on behalf of Pakistan. The world expressed solidarity with Pakistan. Pakistani officials could play a more effective role by demonstrating leadership and a more coherent approach. The announcement of the Loss and Damage Fund is a big achievement for Pakistan. Whether these funds can be utilised transparently and credibly remains to be seen.
ZZ: Pakistan has played a significant role in lobbying for the establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund on behalf of G77 and China. However, there is a huge room for improvement for other negotiation tracks such as action for climate empowerment (ACE) and adaptation. Additionally, Pakistan needs to materialise a mandate for youth participation in climate change policy making instead of inviting youth for tokenism. There is no concrete action plan for youth inclusion and climate justice.
TNS: What are you most hopeful about in reference to climate action and the global community coming forward to address it?
RR: The youth are the most united right now; we know that our future is at risk. The only thing that gives me hope is seeing activists across the globe advocating for earth rights. All great revolutions require the power of the common people behind them. This revolution too shall be led by the common people, especially the youth.
HJS: I am hopeful about the power of the civil society and young people, who have been relentlessly pushing decision-makers to deliver positive results to mobilise climate action. These movements and collaborative lobbying and support can help bring about a paradigm change.
ZZ: I am glad that the global community resisted backsliding and reaffirmed its commitment to global climate goals. I am also hopeful that all stakeholders, including indigenous people and the youth, will be made part of climate solutions and policy; the catalytic role of multilateral institutions and banking sector will become more effective and diversified. This COP was called the “COP of implementation,” the next should be the “COP of credibility”.
The interviewer is a climate justice ambassador at Plant-for-the-Planet Initiative and a training facilitator at The Climate Fresk. He is also part of the Climate Science, Global Shaper and Climate Reality Community