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Youth mobilise for 'a say' in climate change policymaking

By Hana Namrouqa - Nov 09,2017 - Last updated at Nov 09,2017

BONN — At the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP 23), where thousands of diplomats and heads of international organisations are currently negotiating the guidelines for the Paris Agreement, a large group of young Arab leaders are filling the halls, galvanised by their potential role in climate action.

Youngsters, who represent more than a third of the Arab world’s population, aim to establish their role in the ongoing negotiations. “We want to be part of the shaping process of our future,” said a group of young environment activists at the event held in Bonn, Germany.

Displaying a great sense of awareness of what has been accomplished over the past years in the fight against climate change and of what still needs to be done, the Arab youth are pushing for their region to be more “accountable”.

Safa Jayoussi, a Jordanian youngster who heads the climate and energy campaigns at IndyACT, said that Arab youth are advocating with other young activists from around the world for loss and damage adaptation.

“We are also advocating for more financing of mitigation and adaptation projects in our region and this is of high importance,” Jayoussi, who is also a board member at the Climate Action Network, said.

The environment activist said that young Arabs are progressively “maturing” in climate action, especially in the last two years.

“Many of these young people are becoming a source of information for Arab delegations in climate change negotiations. Many times, they have served as a link between policymakers and experts; therefore, more Arab delegations are inviting young environment activists to join their countries’ official delegation,” Jayoussi told The Jordan Times on the sidelines of COP 23.

But, despite this increased participation, Jayoussi said that policymakers are still addressing the youth as “a target audience”.

“In the official decision making, we are still not really in,” she stressed.

World nations are currently drafting out the operating guidelines for the Paris Agreement that will detail how nations can reach the goals agreed upon, including the limitation of global warming to 1.5oC or 2oC at the most by the end of the century.

Mousa Sheikh, a young Jordanian environment engineer, took a two-week leave from his job in a private sector firm, to join his colleagues at YOUNGO, a youth climate movement that delivers interventions at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change  process.

“The Arab youngsters and the youth in general should be involved in the core of the climate negotiations because what is being discussed is our future too,” Sheikh said.

He underscored that the Arab youth at COP 23 are interested in understanding more about the mitigation of impacts of climate change and the financing mechanism and opportunities.

For Tareq Hassan, an environment activist from Yemen, attending COP 23 is “pivotal” for monitoring what the Arab delegations are pitching.

“We are here for many reasons, including to push the Arab governments to include the environment problems of the Arab world in their official statements as the conference proceeds,” Hassan said.

The founder of the Arab Youth Network for Sustainable Development and member of the Arab Youth Climate Movement  said that he quit his job in an international humanitarian organisations earlier this year to promote activism in sustainable development.

“We want to build a young generation in the Arab region that is fully aware of what climate change is doing to our countries. We inform them about COPs and try to create ambassadors of sustainable development in the Arab region,” Hassan said.

The activist highlighted that there is a gap between young Arab environment activists and some Arab delegations participating in COPs, underscoring that Arab young leaders in environment and climate action have a great role in attaining the sustainable development goals and empowering the young generation.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Noubani, an expert on climate change actions for the Ministry of Environment in Jordan, said that having a young generation in the Arab world that is aware of the world environment status and involved in climate change negotiations creates “responsible policymakers for the future”.

“Arab young activists can be observers now but, in five or ten years, they can become the decision makers who are directly involved in global environment negotiations,” Noubani said, highlighting the importance of enrolling the Arab youth in environment and climate change talks and processes.

Lebanese Nuhad Awwad is acting as an observer in this year’s COP. “This year, I am observing what the Arab countries are pitching. We are following up on what is happening at meetings and negotiations, including financing…  In addition, we are going to all the events to create partnerships with leading groups that can come to Arab countries and apply their initiatives, like in the renewable energy field,” said Awwad, who is a member at the Arab Youth Climate Action and the Mediterranean Youth Network on Climate Change.

However, this year’s participation of the Arab youth is lower, Awwad said, urging Arab governments to engage the youth in climate change policymaking.

Arab governments should build the capacity of their youth by training them on climate change and inviting them to be part of the official delegations which will enrich Arab countries’ participation at climate talks, she said.

“We play a role in raising the awareness of our communities… but we are not having a say in policymaking,” Awwad pointed out.

Lebanese-American Rawan Chaya, an intern with Climate Action Network joining COP for the first time, said that COP 23 and its goals “hit home, particularly regarding the environmental injustices plaguing Lebanon”.

“As an environmentalist living in the Arab region, I feel uneasy for upcoming generations. I believe that in order for climate change to be tackled as effectively as possible, it is important that countries all over the globe implement environmental awareness within school curricula,” Chaya said.

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