During preparatory events ahead of COP28, youth perspectives have been deliberately sought and are expected to be amplified by the 2023 presidency which intends to “centre youth perspectives in international climate policy-making, setting a model for future COPs”, according to YOUNGO, the official children and youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
University World News spoke to students who are attending the 2023 United Nations climate change conference, COP28, which is being held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), from 30 November to 12 December.
Christabel Mhiribidi, who has just graduated from Zimbabwe’s Midlands State University, is one of them. She studied geography and environmental studies and will pursue a climate-related masters degree in future. She recalls meeting the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last year when COP27 took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Christabel Mhiribidi, Image provided
“l have always read about him and his tireless efforts to create a conducive environment for all. So, getting to see him in person was like a dream come true,” Mhiribidi told University World News.
At COP28 Mhiribidi said she would be representing the voices of children and young people to make sure their perspectives were taken into consideration during decision-making processes.
She was chosen by the UAE-sponsored International Youth Climate Delegate Program that selected 100 young people from an applicant pool of 11,000 from the Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States, indigenous peoples and other minority groups to follow climate negotiations and discussions about carbon credits and just transition processes at the conference.
“It is important for university students to attend climate conferences as they will develop an appreciation of global climate issues which informs the action taken thereafter. They will interact with like-minded peers, share climate stories, challenges and collectively offer solutions,” she said.
Nyasha Milanzi, Image provided
Focusing on just energy transition
Another Zimbabwean student, Nyasha Milanzi, who is pursuing a masters degree in sustainable communities at Michigan Technological University in the United States, told University World News she is attending COP28 as a delegate of her university to complete a research paper as well as learn about other climate topics such as environmental justice for indigenous peoples, carbon credits and adaptation.
She will co-moderate a session on 2 December with Emma Loizeaux from the University of Colorado about ‘Fossil Fuel Divestment at University’.
Milanzi said her interdisciplinary research focuses on equitable and just energy transitions in under-served communities in Sub-Saharan Africa and in rural communities.
Milanzi said she will be attending as an observer and will be able to participate in sessions or negotiations with themes related to indigenous communities, carbon financing and adaptation.
She said that, during her first year in Michigan as a graduate student, she got the opportunity to enrol in a climate and energy policy class where students could potentially attend COP28.
She said that, through this course, she learned about many of the complex global climate science, politics, governance, and law issues, which she believes are essential for understanding the gravity of the problem at hand as well as the challenges encountered when trying to solve a global challenge without a ‘world government’.
Milanzi said her initial area of interest in climate advocacy was to work with like-minded individuals and organisations to eradicate energy poverty in Africa, starting in her country, Zimbabwe.
“However, during my undergraduate studies at Ashesi University (Ghana), I learned about the impact of the energy sector on our environment and how that sector, alone, is responsible for close to a third of the greenhouse gases emitted into our atmosphere.
“After that, my approach to the topic of electrification pivoted. I realised that we needed to build more grid systems that emit less greenhouse gases than fossils.
“Most African countries, including Zimbabwe, increasingly need more energy to power their economies. Unfortunately, burning fossil fuels is harmful for our planet and can be dangerous to the communities that live in proximity to these power plants.
“In 2019, air pollutants killed about 1.9 million people in Africa, according to the World Health Organization,” she said.
Milanzi said she is now conducting research and investigating equitable and just pathways for implementing energy transitions to renewable energy sources as they are less detrimental to the environment and they are better for human health.
She said the global effort outlined in the Paris Agreement, aimed at limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030, faces a critical challenge and the current progress is far from where the world needs to be.
What to expect from COP28
But what are her expectations when it comes to COP28?
Milanzi said a key priority for her is the successful implementation of the Loss and Damage Fund at COP28. The fund, established at COP27, aims to provide financial assistance to nations most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of climate change.
She said Africa, in particular, requires substantial financial support to meet the costs associated with adaptation efforts.
Milanzi said that, furthermore, it is critical to address the systemic underrepresentation of indigenous communities and other vulnerable groups in negotiations.
“A poignant example is a community in Kenya that, just a few months ago, was forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands to make way for carbon market forests.
“This situation is regrettable, particularly considering that these communities were not included when the provisions and terms of operation for carbon markets were established in the COPs. Now, they find themselves uprooted from their homes and livelihoods to facilitate their government’s engagement in carbon forest trading.
“The injustice is twofold: not only were they excluded from the initial decision-making processes, but they are also now bearing the brunt of the consequences,” she said.
“To rectify this, it is imperative that the platform instituted for indigenous peoples around the world receives substantial resources. Only through such proactive measures can we hope to correct the historical oversights and ensure that those most affected by climate change have a meaningful and inclusive role in shaping the solutions.”
The Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ Platform was set up in 2021.
Wandipa Mualefhe, Image provided
Learning the stories of the most vulnerable
In an interview with University World News, Wandipa Mualefhe, a student from Botswana, who is in the third-year of a PhD study in environmental and energy policy, also at Michigan Technological University, said COP28 will be her first major climate conference.
Mualefhe said that, as an undergraduate, she studied civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.
She said the environmental aspect of the degree exposed her to climate change and the focus was more on how to adapt to it and how to mitigate the effects.
“Adaptation work is very important. For me, I think, the most important thing in the climate change conversation is finding the most vulnerable people and learning their stories; learning, not just about them, but from them, too,” she said.
Mualefhe said she comes from a privileged background in Botswana where her family is in the middle class, hence she has mostly been cushioned from the effects of climate change.
She has, however, noted that Botswana has a long-running history of droughts that are getting worse and, in recent years, floods have also been experienced.
“The project I’m pursuing for my dissertation is an ethnographic exploration of climate change in Botswana, where I’m from. I’m going to COP28 as a component of one of the classes I took this semester, an international climate policy class.
“I chose it mainly for this opportunity. My research interests are in climate change, climate justice, climate/environmental/energy policy, gendered power, public policy-making, and policy analysis,” she said.
However, with access to the conference, she plans to attend events and discussions relating to adaptation, just transition, capacity-building, gender, and other discussions focusing on Africa and the Global South in general.
But does she think COP28 will achieve much?
“I have felt some disappointment about the UN Climate Change Convention in general and climate conferences, of which COP is the biggest one. I just don’t think enough is happening, considering what is known. I think there is an awful focus on politics at these conferences that takes away some of the work that needs to be done,” said Mualefhe.
Tafadswa Kurotwi, Image provided
Book targets young people
Tafadswa Kurotwi, in her fourth year at the Catholic University of Zimbabwe, attended COP27 and told University World News she is also making her way to COP28.
She said there is a gap in climate education which she has tried to bridge by writing a book targeting young people.
She said the climate change book which she wrote with fellow youths Elizabeth Gulugulu and Priyanka Naik will be launched during COP28. She could not say more about the book until its launch.
“My attendance is to amplify my voice as well as to represent young people from my country and from the Global South, who are being impacted by the climate crisis,” she said.