It has been a frustrating few months for young people struggling to get their voices heard in a political system that must seem designed to alienate them.
There is a sense that their future is being ravaged by an electorate too old to live out the consequences of their choices. A trepidation that is particularly keenly felt on issues that disproportionately affect younger generations, such as climate change.
In the UK, there was a stark generational divide between young people who were overwhelming in favour of remaining in the EU, and older voters that ultimately handed the Brexit camp victory.
The pattern was largely repeated in the US yesterday, with people under the age of 30 much more likely to vote for candidate Clinton than President-elect Trump.
Both those decisions will significantly affect the world’s chances of meeting the Paris Agreement’s goals, signed to much fanfare just last year.
So at the international climate negotiations in Marrakech this week, amid the fog of the US and UK’s decision to pursue isolation over cooperation, young people are taking the opportunity to stand up and say, ‘listen to us’.
Among the dozens of participants from youth organisations at COP22 in Marrakech, there is a growing concern that momentum from last year’s landmark Paris meeting is being lost.
Speaking at a side event, Jeanne Martin from the UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC) told delegates:
“Young people are the most effected by climate change. Yet our voices are ignored in decision-making processes, our presence is excluded in certain negotiation sessions, and our potential to be part of solutions is constantly downplayed.”
Young peoples’ absence from those key meetings perhaps removes inputus for action. Kristina Yasuda from campaign group Make It Real Japan warned delegates that, “COP21 was magical because there was more sense of urgency. At COP22, there is already a business-as-usual atmosphere coming back.”
Those fears are only accentuated by electorates increasingly voted to retreat within themselves, rather than extending a branch of cooperation.
So do they think votes for Trump and Brexit are a betrayal of their generations’ wishes? Surprisingly not.
Instead, there is confusion as to why older people fail to see the urgency of addressing global issues such as climate change.
Reflecting on the UK’s decision to leave the EU, Joanna Read from the UKYCC tells DeSmog UK:
“I trust that those who voted that way believed that was a good vote. I don’t believe they purposefully set out to screw over young people. Whether that is effectively what they have done, I don’t believe that was their intention. I just don’t understand how they think this is a better future; for them, for us, for generations to come.”
That feeling is shared by the youth delegates from the US, who are still reeling from the election of a candidate they and their peers largely shunned.
Morgan Curtis from SustainUS says, “I do believe that everyone that goes to the ballot box believes they are voting in their own, their family’s, and their community’s best interest. We just have deeply divided beliefs about what that means right now.”
A Seat at Our Table
That may seem an unbridgeable divide. But the COP22 participants are eager to collaborate, even if it is within systems they believe are broken.
Referring to Trump’s promise to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement, Curtis says, “To me it doesn’t really matter if [the US] is in the agreement or not if we’re rapidly increasing fossil fuel production and our emissions are sky rocketing.”
“What’s actually happening on the ground is more relevant.”
So if the formal negotiations are no longer working, what are they here to tell policymakers?
“Listen to us. Take into account the youth’s opinions and ideas. We are naturally more creative. If you look at the way young people voted in both elections, it would have happened very differently. Get us more involved. Get everyone more involved in solutions”, Read says.
They retain hope that the elites they didn’t elect will one day be ready to cooperate.
But there is a sense that, if needs must, this is a generation ready to take the future into their own hands, epitomised by Curtis’ parting shot:
“Donald Trump, there is a seat for you at our table, if you choose to join us”.
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