Youth Climate Ambassadors on COP26

The Wellbeing Economy Alliance for Wales meets on a regular basis every month to have different discussions and conversations about all sorts of topics related to how we can build an economy and a society that serves the wellbeing of people and places and the planet.

This month we took some time to talk about the COP26 climate summit that has recently taken place in Glasgow and to share reflections and any thoughts on how we feel as as the COP comes to a close. To hear from some people who were there and those of us who were watching from afar. And also what that means for us as the Wellbeing Economy movement. The climate change agenda is certainly very close to our hearts, and we connect the climate emergency with other societal challenges like economic inequality and social exclusion, so we want to explore how all those things intersect to affect the wellbeing of people, places and planet.

We were joined for this meeting by two of Wales’ Youth Climate Ambassadors, who are also on the organising committee for Wellbeing Economy Wales. In their own words, Ellie and Caitlyn shared their reflections on COP26.

You can watch the event recording via Zoom online here.

Ellie: “OK, so I’m Ellie. I’m 17 and I’m from Swansea. COP was about a month ago now and I was lucky enough to attend for four days. I knew that young people’s voices were underrepresented at events like this, but I don’t think I truly realised just how much that really was. And something that really stood out to me was the lack of representation from the global south. We all know that climate change disproportionately affects marginalized and indigenous peoples, and these peoples are often least at fault for the situation that we’re in. And so I feel it’s it’s quite important to hear their voices and their stories on climate change and how it affects them. So the lack of representation at COP to hear from them upset me, actually. Caitlin, did you notice that?”

Caitlyn: “Definitely. I only managed to go up on the last day because of COVID and numbers and stuff, but I attended an event called Climate and the Visceral Sense, where they showed a symbolic video (from Wales) of Mother Nature and a little girl, and trying to include young people and educating young people on the climate. And I met a girl called Jennifer from Africa at that event. She was selling coffee outside and she got to tell her story, and her journey into climate issues was really, really interesting. But she was the only person at the event or in the room that could really talk for indigenous people and people in climate impacted areas.”

Ellie: “Yeah. I actually attended some events in the Green Zone as well. And I think the one that stood out to me most and actually in relation to this discussion, it was run by the Brazil and Africa Institute and there were three panelists from Brazil and Uganda. And the event was talking about start ups, youth empowerment and climate change and how they’re all interlinked. And it was interesting to hear each of the panelists perspectives because they were all young people who had come to talk about their experiences and who were working with their communities to come together and solve the problems that they were facing. One of the panelists, she was from the slums in Brazil and now she’s a U.N. ambassador. So she was really sharing her story and how she got there. And that was that was very inspiring.”

Ellie: “I feel like Greta’s blah blah blah slogan was quite a common theme at COP26. I actually heard it being spoken about around the Green Zone, and that was quite interesting because it shows me that she’s having an impact. I don’t think I realised, like I said before. How much of an opportunity we really had as young people from Wales to attend the conference. I saw other young people around, but none as young as us, and I think we now realize that we are in a really privileged position. And I think as a collective now, we want to use that privilege. We’ve been given a seat at the table and now we want to share that – we need to pull up a seat for other people.”

Caitlyn: “I think my first experience was quite emotional. There was a lady who got the chance to speak at one of the events I went to, who was talking about how wrong it is that the responsibility is all being put on the youth now. You know that climate change is not just something that’s 30 years away. It’s happening now. She was talking about her five year old son and how she doesn’t want her son to be dealing with all this. I was like, Oh my God, this is really hard to listen to because what she was saying was true. We don’t want children to have to deal with a broken planet.”

Caitlyn: “Overall, when I look back at the conclusions of COP and when I was keeping up to date before I actually went, I was quite frustrated. If I’m going to be completely honest, considering how bad our situation has got in the last decade, I think all of us were very, very hopeful in the meetings that we had in the run up to COP to hope that things were going to be done more drastically. And I think things just took way longer than they needed to and certain politicians were making it a lot harder than it needed to be, and I just feel like it was quite frustrating to listen to. But when I actually got to COP and I got to listen to people speak and got to hear people’s personal stories, I found that quite emotional because it was quite nice to see a collective of people, all connecting with people and we were all talking to one another. And I really liked that side of it.”

Ellie: “I actually I feel like when we got to Glasgow, we entered the climate bubble and none of us knew what was going on outside of that bubble. Nobody knew what agreements had been made that day. Nobody had time to watch the news, and it was only when we came home that we realised what had actually gone on in the days that we were there.”

Ellie: “At the Brazil and Africa Institute event that I attended, one of the panelists spoke about the importance of storytelling and narrative, and activism. We all tell different narratives, but they all have the same root cause and the same aim. So maybe if we aligned on narratives, we might get somewhere further. Does that make sense? Because if we’re all saying the same thing, then there’s one impactful message rather than lots of different messages.”

Sian: “It’s the struggle that we’ve often talked about: how do you make the issues straightforward so that people get it really easily? So the vocabulary that you use is unequivocal, and the vocabulary crosses the various strata of socioeconomic divides or age divides or cultural divides, and people understand what it is that’s important to them. I’m very interested in Jaaron joining us from Chicago Illinois today, and would love to understand where he feels the biggest challenges are to people understanding climate change?”

Jaaron: “I think the the volume of the conversation is too low. There’s other things that seem like bigger problems, like the socio economic impact on one side of town or where a person is brought up, the development of their land… So they’re not even focused on the climate. So I think the value of that conversation needs to be brought up to where more people to have the resources or even the intelligence and the ideas that could bring some better concepts. Where we’re equally focused on our health, but also focus on the health of our land. I will look at a first grader and ask them, how do you see the world? What is your worldview?”

Dawn: “I think that’s really getting to one of the key issues: the more difficult people’s lives are and the more division there is – and here in the UK at the moment, the media is full of COVID again and division and the sorts of stuff that just fills the news all the time. It’s such a distraction, from climate issues. Maybe it feels like actually focusing on climate issues is something that those privileged few can afford to do because everyone else is just grappling with the day to day and just getting by. I like what you said – that the volume is not high enough on that conversation compared to all the other arguments and discussions that are going on.

Lydia: “I recently realised how I haven’t been given the whole climate thing enough attention, really, and how serious it really is. And I think there’s a lot of depression around and people thinking this is too big, we can’t deal with it. It’s no good going through the systems that we’ve got at the moment. You know, they’ve screwed up. And so many people have been left behind and marginalized and left out. So that’s why I think we need seriously to look at bottom up, learning about the planet and bottom up, learning about the way the world works. I’ve got this crazy idea, but, you know, let’s not leave it to other people. Let’s connect with communities around the world – like “twinning” – and try something completely different, connecting and talking to each other, as siblings. You know, the world’s burning, I think there’s going to be another way. A few people, just a few people, can change things. We’ll keep at it. You’ve got to persevere, really.”

Dawn: “I think what you’ve said about how as individuals we sometimes feel so hopeless with the scale of the challenges. And I often think that the only agency we really have is in our own sphere of influence in our own local places, connecting with each other and, you know, communities around the world where people are just stepping up and thinking, Okay, what can I do in my local place to make a difference? And then if you can amplify that by connecting with other local places and small places around the world, perhaps that’s a new way of working.

Jaaron: “From my perspective, I believe we’re too intelligent to have something going on this long, we are too wealthy. There are too many resources that have separated people and it’s affecting not only our physical health, but I think we all can agree it affects your mental health. Instead, we should be aligning people and bringing us together where we can move forward, where everyone can be accountable to each other, but also, just live a marvelous life and enjoy themselves.”

Dawn: “I think that we need to come together, we need to work together, we need to recognize that we have this shared interest in a healthy life on a healthy planet, in all the different facets of wellbeing – from economic and social, health, environment, the interconnectedness of all those things. Really, the solution must come from much greater interconnectedness and collaboration across across silos, across borders. One of the fantastic things about the Wellbeing Economy Alliance is that it is a global movement and there are national hubs of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance in lots of different countries around the world, and it’s through networks like this that we hope we can connect with people with common interests and shared agendas to live very different lives from what we see on a daily basis.

Dawn: “And I think what’s really come through strongly today is a desire from us here in Wales to connect internationally and to use our privilege as a nation that has a very progressive climate agenda. To use the platform that we have, the resources that we have here in Wales to reach out across the world and do what we can to give others a voice and to hear the stories from elsewhere. And I think what’s really come through is just the importance of our shared humanity – that actually we all care about these issues. And how can we connect with each other to move the agenda forwards separate from powerful government ministers whose actions or failure to act can be incredibly divisive, demoralizing and disempowering. We find our power when we connect with each other. And what we’ve heard here this evening is real emotion and real passion, which has been really great, great experience. So I hope you’ve enjoyed the discussion and thank you all very much for being part of it. Thank you very much for joining this meeting of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance here in Wales and hope to see you again.”

Find out about our upcoming events on our Eventbrite page.