Youth leadership at COP26: A personal reflection

Ms. Rose Kobusinge1

1Graduate Student, University of Coventry, UK


  • COP26 produced mixed feelings/vibes; average, failure and a few wins
  • Youth engagement in COP26 was tokenistic and this MUST stop, rather transformative inclusion is needed.
  • “We hear you”, “you have every right to be angry”, “we are doing our best” these words do not take the youth to decision-making tables. There should be a minimum requirement for youth in the official national delegation that all parties must follow for accreditation
  • We need climate leaders who will push boundaries to deliver on climate, social and sustainable development targets and not greedy politicians
  • Young people from African countries and other developing nations need both local and global community support to engage in decision-making and climate action
  • As young Africans, we need to be proactive, united and strategic, otherwise the systems do not favour. Also, we must push for the systems to change for the best
  • Climate, Social, Biodiversity and Gender justice will not come easily, we have got to be united, and we will not be defeated.
  • Hence, as young people, scientists and civil society, it’s our role to hold our leaders accountable or else they will be no significant PostCOP26 deliverables and required ambitions.
  • The youth need to understand that climate action neither starts nor stops at COP. So, attending COP is a tiny, teeny bit of the journey. Grassroot, local, national and global ambitions, leadership and actions are what is needed.
  • I call upon all youth in Africa with the privilege of accessing information or read this to use the opportunity to learn more about climate action and raise awareness in their communities
  • For the African youth that want to attend COP27, we must start proactively engaging and creating impact now.

An uneasy journey to my first COP ever!

Before COP26, I struggled to find a badge and funding just like many other young people, especially from the global south. Luckily, I received a badge from Global Climate Action (GCA), two weeks before COP26. Thanks to EJF and partners for funding me and 5 other young people from the global south to attend COP26. After receiving the funding, I was finally ready to go to Glasgow for my first COP ever, how exciting! My journey to Glasgow was not easy with train breakdown delays of about 4 hours but nevertheless, the hope and momentum for COP26 was still alive. I arrived quite late on the 31st and I was ready for the blue zone on the next day. On the 1st, I found my way to the blue venue with over an hour of standing in the queue, all excited about in-person learning and contributing to the negotiation process having participated in a few negotiations’ simulations during my study at the University of Oxford. Little did I know that I won’t have any chances to see how the process is held because I had a non-party badge, a challenge many young people faced. I contacted my country’s delegation and the other organizers to give me an opportunity to go in negotiation rooms at least for one session to learn but I was not successful. Moreover, there were no screens to watch the negotiations, only the COP26 platform, which was very complex and not user friendly.

My days at the blue zone

Realizing that it was not possible to directly contribute or participate in negotiations, I needed to find indirect pathways to voice the positions of many young women and Ugandan youth. I also took advantage of the side events in the pavilions, interviews, outside the COP venue and networked with various youth and participants. I also had the opportunity to meet Prince Charles, Sir. David King, UN Envoy on climate&migration, Ms Caroline Dumas, the sustainability managers of Twitter and Facebook among others.

On the 5th / 11/2021, I also participated in my first climate strike ever, moreover as a frontline lead where I managed to meet other enthusiastic climate activists like Destin Sempijja, Vanessa Nakate, Elizabeth Wathuti among others.  There were two matches that took place on 12 and 13th which indeed energized and gave me hope; looking at thousands of multi-cultural young people joined by children, their parents, the elderly and campaigners from different backgrounds calling for climate action and climate justice. I believe global and local leaders can do better if they come together and learn from the young people! This is possible as seen from the approaches towards ending COVID-19. Even though there are still inequalities in global COVID and vaccine management, it’s clear that COVID was handled as an emergency.

If climate change is prioritized just like the COVID-19 pandemic, where various vaccines were developed within a few months after the outbreak and the global north willing to donate vaccines to the global south to reduce vaccine inequality, I believe a clean and just energy transition is possible, grants for adaptation, loss and damage and mitigation is possible too. Plus, the success of the Montreal protocol should also be revisited for lessons and strategies. I believe there are many examples showing global action is possible, it just depends on if the rich countries think the issue is urgent enough and affects them too. Otherwise, we can do this; I mean if our leaders do not continue letting us down and if we all come together as one to act on climate change (global, private, civil, public, youth, international, local and indigenous communities).

My thoughts about COP26

COP26 produced mixed feelings; many young people think it was a failure, other people think it was a mediocre COP whereas some politicians say it was a success. I completely agree with all the three categories depending on the context, the most important bit is we shall judge by what happens PostCOP26.

Were my COP26 expectations met? The answer is NO to a larger extent. In my experience and from talking to negotiators and other young people at COP26, there were mixed feelings about COP26, all the young people were not impressed by how less inclusive the summit was but also about the drudgery on key issues such as Loss and Damage and climate finance. I also felt that the urgent need to cut emissions was not prioritized as it should have been. “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive”, said Alok Sharma the COP26 president. The fact is this dream cannot be achieved if rich countries continue to treat the atmosphere as a dumpster for GHGs.   Moreover, there was a discrepancy between what that the leaders promised during the world leaders’ summit and the actual negotiations. During the leaders’ summit and PreCOP26, it felt like negotiations were going to be much simpler given the verbal promises.

As far as youth engagement is concerned, COP26 further affirmed the existence of tokenism in youth engagement. The leaders continue to praise themselves on how much they have engaged youth in COP26 and in many other climate action ventures based on only a few cherry-picked youth. Many leaders are using the phrase “youth engagement” to make themselves look good and convince the youth that they are working on it. You hear responses like “we hear you”, “you have every right to be angry”, “we are doing our best” and then you know it’s time for tokenism. Regarding negotiations, we are still far from transformative youth engagement as many of the governments did not accredit youth (there were no official party youth delegates) and those that accredited them were not given an opportunity to directly contribute to negotiations.

Following this, I managed to talk to a few leaders at COP26 to advocate for the states to ensure that there is a condition on a minimum number of youths in the official delegation as young negotiators and also MUST involve the youth in decision-making. Otherwise, the old generation is deciding a future for the young people without their contributions/considerations. This is also an opportunity for states to train a new generation of negotiators, 21st century leaders. It’s a shame if they think the same old negotiators will continue to negotiate our future.

Anyway,  looking back at the Glasgow Climate Pact, the word “youth’ is mentioned 10 times, all only under the “collaboration” section. One could say that this is incremental progress as compared to the previous summits, but this is not what we the young people want. We want positions and opportunities that we deserve to shape our own future, we want to directly contribute to negotiations, contribute to policies and be involved in climate finance, have considerably easy access to climate finance for our innovations and ideas etc. Moreover, the pact generalizes youth as one, to be clear, we need increased engagement and inclusion of young people, women, displaced people and marginalized groups from the global south and vulnerable communities.

Looking back at the events PreCOP26, social media and world leaders’ summit, it seems to me that the global leaders seemed more interested in COP26 than the road after COP26. The momentum PreCOP26 showed as if COP26 was going to be the most seamless and inclusive COP ever, but this was not true.  As young people, activists and civil society, we must keep pushing and keep our eyes on the leaders demanding for action post COP26, it’s what matters the most. Every young and old person out there with the privilege of knowing about climate change, the Paris Agreement and COP26 should make it their key responsibility to hold their local leaders and the global leaders accountable to fulfil the pledges made. I call it a privilege because I know that the biggest number of young people for example in Uganda (due to low levels of education and outdated school curricula) do not know what climate change is but are facing the harsh impacts from droughts, floods, landslides affecting lives and livelihoods. This means that Action for Climate Empowerment should be prioritized at both global and local levels as the most vulnerable communities and young people need to know how to adapt, mitigate and act on the existential threat of climate change. Sadly, the most vulnerable have had very little to contribute to climate change and at the same time struggling with social-economic injustices, unemployment, poverty among others while the culprits of climate change continue to enjoy dirty profits from fossil fuels as they make empty promises and drag themselves, yet climate change is not waiting in any way.

I also think states should think beyond COP26, let them not limit themselves to decisions made at COP26, we need much more ambitions as the climate is not taking time off. I believe there is an opportunity to have climate leaders and climate action states to show the rest of the world that a just and fair system and climate is possible. i.e., If we could have a model African country deciding to lead the way for clean and sustainable development using low carbon pathways, that would be a gamechanger for the continent.

It was not all bad but could have been better. I can’t forget the hospitality of people in Glasgow and the wonderful opportunity I had to network with COP26 participants. I made friends and met amazing people from all over the world during COP26 and I will work with some of them post COP26. I attended and contributed to a number of side events on renewable energy, Nature-based solutions, youth and women engagement, climate finance etc.

Affirming the 1.5oC limit was a success and the finalization of the long-overdue Paris rulebook was a debt finally paid and I hope it will be able to guide action. In addition, I hope the progress on loss and damage, phasing ‘out’, rather ‘down’ fossil fuels will continue to progress at a needed rate as climate change is not waiting neither is it still negotiating any terms!

As regards the Glasgow Climate Pact, I am surprised that they called it a pact without pointing out the consequences to those that break it.

Also, some negotiators from the global south felt that there was an improvement as compared to the previous negotiations. This makes me scratch my head regarding what past negotiations were like knowing a bit of how COP26 went. Nevertheless, we need to see states take bold actions post COP26. And importantly, climate action should aim to address the root causes of vulnerability and inequalities. Otherwise, COP will seem to look like one of those annual political and ministerial shows where leaders meet to talk the talk.

I hope the COP27 will go deeper to address issues of youth and indigenous community inclusion, the loss and damage, more ambitions of phasing out coal, fair carbon markets, finance for adaptation, nature-based solutions and loss&damage and climate justice. I also think the discussions on carbon removal from the atmosphere should be brought on board.

What next for me Post-COP26

I will be collaborating with the sustainability team working with Twitter to speak about how youth in Africa could use Twitter for climate advocacy.

I have hosted Twitter spaces exploring what they think about COP26 and their actions up next.

I will also strengthen the youth group under YOUNGO on migration and climate change

I will be collaborating with some other Ugandan and Nigerian young people I met at COP26 to bring African stories to life.

I will also be speaking at 3 different panel discussions on climate change and inclusion in December

I will also be preparing to actively engage in COP27, it’s coming home in Africa.

What COP27 could look like; Leadership with a focus on Youth engagement

COP27 is an African COP, Africa is the youngest continent and it’s time to leverage on the young innovative, enthusiastic and revolutionary young population. Over 70% of Africa’s population is below 30 years old. Can we have a youth-led COP27? Egypt and its partners should aim to put young people in leadership positions and build their (our) capacity in delivering COP27. From initial meetings and preparatory phases, young people should be involved and tasked to ensure the critical youth, women and children voices are included throughout the whole process. I would also like to see other countries join the Italian government in their decisions to annually convene young people PreCOP.

Also, I would like to task all the young people who know about climate change and have access to information to spread awareness and share opportunities with other young people and local communities they do not have the information and opportunities. As young Africans, we can leverage COP27 to be an inclusive and innovative COP and united with each other to make it worthwhile. Let’s be proactive and not wait for leaders to include us as they may or may never, we must keep pushing.

Interviews and events:

I contributed to a number of interviews with Ugandan local media; NBS television, new vision and other international media outlets like RE TV, Tortoise media, OPEN media. I was also hosted by Isabella-EJF on a live event:


Some of the links include:

Migration&climate change
EJF live event:

Gender day:


ONE Africa: