Can We Improve Youth Influence at COP27? – Laura Augenbraun

Until I was walking into the UN COP Climate Change Conference in Sharm El Sheikh after receiving my pass, I did not believe that I was going to be attending such a life changing event. I am incredibly thankful to have been given this opportunity to not only attend COP, but to do so alongside such amazing UConn students and faculty. After being at the conference for just three days, my viewpoints on climate-related subjects have been shifted completely, my original thoughts challenged, and my mindset on tackling the climate crisis changed, all in the best ways possible. Laura Augenbraun at COP27

While I recognize that I am incredibly lucky to be speaking with some of the world’s top leaders on fighting the climate crisis, something I have noticed the lack of representation of the younger population at the conference, specifically those from developing countries. This observation was striking, considering climate discussions very frequently boil down to how it is my generation’s responsibility to fix and that only the younger population has the power to make a change. Additionally, it’s been brought up in multiple discussions how the effects of climate change hit minority communities and developing countries the hardest. Yet, these exact people, young students from developing nations, are not the ones in attendance. I understand that many may not have the time nor money to travel far distances, and that is why I’ve been thinking about and want to pursue the idea of creating a UNFCCC grant. Any type of organization or person could have the ability to donate to this grant, and the UNFCCC should allocate a specific amount of money each year to give to it as well. The money that is raised would be given to several students that deserve representation and a place in the discussions, panels, and negotiations.

The application process for this grant should be through a program the UNCCC either creates or works with that sends reporters and journalists into parts of the world that are experiencing disastrous climate change-related events to interview and find potential applicants. It’s important to give the application process more humanity instead of simply looking at an online form – you simply cannot express everything through an essay.

We need to bring students who have experienced life-changing events due to climate change to COP because their story is what most people will follow and listen to. On my second day of the conference, I attended a presentation given by the BBC called Fact-Based Storytelling versus Misinformation. During this presentation, Marsha Ochieng, the Growth Editor for BBC Africa, discussed the company’s findings when studying which stories received the most views out of their coverage of COP26 last year. What they found was that, rather than watching stories on activists and policy makers presenting facts and figures, their audience was much more receptive to listening to the horrors climate change has brought onto normal people. The difference in the types of stories had as much as a 500,000-viewer difference.

What was particularly exciting about learning this was that it ties perfectly together with the work I do in my Environmental Justice Leadership Program that I lead at UConn with four other students and a professor. During our discussions on how to gain support on campus, we spoke about how “people follow people” and the presentation by BBC was a perfect representation of that. Therefore, it is so important to give those who have stories about how climate change has altered their life a platform to speak, not only to gain support from those outside of the conference, but also to push climate legislation and negotiations that are happening inside.

Although the conference has been a fountain of information with opportunities to learn all around you, I think there are still some important people missing from the conversations, people that are dealing with the effects of climate change on a first-hand basis, and could make a large impact on both the following of COP by outside viewers and how successful the conference is in terms of pushing forward climate legislation.