Forum SG Puna support change of COP format for amplified youth voices

Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Henry Puna has called for a full revamp of the format and structure of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP).

Puna emphasised the urgent need to bring the voices of young individuals to the centre stage at global conferences and highlighting the marginalisation of youth voices in side events and smaller meeting rooms at COP28 in Dubai.

He said there is need for a shift in the way youth engagement is facilitated during COP meetings.

“The Youth voices are being marginalised, particularly in side events and small rooms. We must work towards ensuring that the voices of our young people are heard more, are amplified and given central stage here at COP meetings.”

Puna said his commitment to following this important change in partnership with Australia, potentially the host for COP 31, which has already pledged a commitment to a Pacific-focused conference.

He plans to engage with Australian counterparts to discuss the format and structure of COP 31, with a particular focus on bringing youth voices to the forefront.

“This is something we will raise when we sit down with Canberra – how can we amplify the voice of our young ones? How can we bring them to centre stage at global conferences like COP, instead of being relegated to side events and small rooms where their perspectives go unheard by the rest of the world but largely by our own people from the Pacific?” Puna said.

The Forum Secretary General also announced an initiative to ensure that in future COP meetings, young people from Pacific countries become an integral and vital part of the official delegation.

He also revealed plans for an MOU with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to combine resources and influence in bringing young people together, creating a movement where the youth voice must be heard.

SG Puna’s stance reflects a growing acknowledgment of the critical role youth play in climate discussions and positions the Pacific region at the forefront of the push for more inclusive and impactful international climate conferences.

His call for a change COP structure stands as evidence to the urgency of prioritising youth perspectives in the fight against climate change.

Youth leaders from the Pacific region and Africa voiced clear concerns and practical solutions regarding climate action at the side event on Monday.

A Youth from Australia said: “Our failure is not listening to young people. Youth leadership is not about picking things here and there that suit your agenda. It’s fully owning exactly what young people are saying, even in criticism. Meaningful engagement looks like taking ownership of mistakes and correcting them through leadership, consultation, and listening.”

A youth from Nigeria said “Young people are seen as complimentary stakeholders but not seen as key stakeholders. To build inclusivity towards sustainable development, stakeholders need to include youth as key decision-makers, not as compliments.”

Ayisha Siddiqa, Pakistani-American Human Rights Defender and member of United Nations Secretary General Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change said “Youth involvement is fundamental and important. This is a fight for life. The UNFCCC process is not working; we need more strategic approaches. A conference like this costs millions, which could be a savings fund for an entire community. The world’s major players need to rethink their strategies.”

Pacific Youth representative, Metoyer Lohia said “Political will drives conversations around climate change. We need good leadership and policies that reflect the science. The challenge lies in translating these policies into legislation at home to make effective changes in our communities.”

Pacific Political Champion for Gender and Social Inclusion, Mona Ainu’u and Niue Minister for Natural Resources said “I want this COP to make concrete decisions, especially for us in the Pacific and our youth. Leaders need to step up, and decisions need to be made. I’ve tried hard to fight for our young people, and it’s time for concrete actions.”

A youth from Australia said: “You cannot carbon capture your way out of the climate crisis. Continuing to build coal mines disregards the root causes of this crisis in the first place.”

The Youth discussion emphasised the urgency of change, the need for inclusivity, and the shift from talk fest to concrete actions in the global fight against climate change…