Against a backdrop of climate-induced hardships that continue to grip the country, Pakistan witnessed a historic moment in climate activism as it hosted its first-ever Local Conference of Youth (LCOY) from August 24-25 at National University of Science and Technology, Islamabad.
Organised under the ambit of YOUNGO, the official youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), LCOY Pakistan brought together passionate young minds from across Pakistan to collectively address the urgent challenges posed by climate change.
LCOY was more than just a conference; it was a beacon of hope in a country where 60% of the population comprises youth whose voices often go unheard and whose future is shaped by decision-makers out of touch with their aspirations.
The urgency of this conference is underscored by Pakistan’s ongoing struggle with climate-related adversities. The spectre of recurrent floods looms large, as exemplified by the devastation caused by the 2022 floods and ongoing flooding this season. A year after the catastrophic floods, UNICEF highlighted that approximately 4 million children still need humanitarian assistance due to shortage of funds for recovery.
The conference opened with a solemn message of unity, echoing the plight of those vulnerable communities who remain impacted by the onslaught of climate change. This poignant beginning set the tone for LCOY Pakistan, emphasising the gravity of the climate crisis and the responsibility that lay on the shoulders of the youth to drive change.
The conference’s central theme revolved around empowering the youth to take the lead in addressing climate change and building a more sustainable future.
Grounded in the reality of witnessing escalating temperatures and environmental disruptions firsthand, Pakistan’s youth understand the urgency of climate change. Their direct experiences highlight the necessity for them to not only voice their concerns but actively influence pivotal decisions shaping their future.
The conference’s main plenaries and side events echoed this theme, fostering diverse discussions, workshops, and initiatives to mobilise youth action in line with the thematic areas delineated in the COP28 letter to parties.
The first plenary on “Energy of the Future” resonated deeply with the call to fast-track energy transition and drastically cut emissions by 2030. It underscored the urgency of moving towards clean energy options, emphasising the potential benefits like reduced carbon emissions and fostering a sustainable energy future.
Nested within this were breakout sessions diving into energy transition opportunities and efficient measures to reduce emissions.
The second plenary on “Climate Finance” delved into the intricacies of funding climate endeavours. There was unanimous recognition of the need to uphold past commitments while crafting an effective loss and damage fund mechanism.
The discourse revolved around innovative funding avenues and the instrumental role of the private sector. It illuminated the necessity of resilient financial strategies for climate adaptation projects, with breakout sessions further investigating community-centric climate finance tools and the nexus of the private sector in bolstering climate finance. Concluding the trio was the “Community Climate Action” plenary, which aptly captured the essence of placing nature, people, lives, and livelihoods at the forefront of climate initiatives.
Focusing on grassroots movements, climate justice, and youth-led activism, this session highlighted the monumental role of communities in spearheading bespoke climate solutions and ensuring that climate action is equitable and inclusive. Breakout sessions further delved into the themes of climate justice, women-led initiatives, and youth advocacy.
A common thread running through all three plenaries was the central idea of inclusivity. This was evident in the participation of diverse attendees from across Pakistan, encompassing marginalised groups, signifying a profound commitment to ensuring every voice was heard in shaping our collective climate destiny.
According to an ambassador from Balochistan, Ureel, “LCOY’s reach is transformative, kindling awareness and stimulating essential conversations. As we look forward, we imagine enriched dialogues with panelists, bridging provincial divides, amplifying voices from overlooked communities, and paving the way for accelerated progress.”
The conference also showcased a plethora of innovative programmes and simulations, serving as a cradle for groundbreaking youth-led initiatives. Among these, “Skillistan” championed the integration of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in communities, while “I CARE” targeted support for climate-displaced individuals. “Clim-8” presented a deep exploration of climate-security links, Aga Khan University illuminated the carbon footprint within academia, and “Girls Leading the Change” championed forward-thinking, climate-resilient education.
With NSTP’s dive into space pollution, Un1fy’s focus on sustainable water, WWF’s conservation-forward approach, and One Minute Academy’s fresh take on content creation, the conference was a mosaic of empowerment and proactive action.
A “Green Jobs Corner” also offered opportunities and insights into environmentally sustainable careers.
Shabbir Ahmed, an LCOY volunteer and MS student of energy systems working on developing advanced materials for solar-powered systems to extract drinkable water from dry air, said, “Local youth conferences are the crucibles where potential is forged into impact. They amplify youth voices, nurturing their growth and infusing them with the capability to spearhead transformative change. When the youth of Pakistan step into these arenas, they don’t just participate – they ignite progress, carving a brighter path for the nation’s future.” A highlight of the conference was an engaging mock COP. Participants were divided into eight factions: fossil fuel magnates, developed nations, developing states, emerging economies, clean tech, industries, agriculture, and climate hawks.
Their mission? To negotiate and keep the planet’s warming threshold below 2 degrees Celsius. As negotiations unfolded, an MIT-developed climate simulation tool rendered the real-time outcomes of their decisions. This immersive experience laid bare the intricate complexities ingrained within international negotiations and mirrored issues encountered during actual COP sessions. It elucidated why, over the span of 27 COPs, tangible progress has been excruciatingly slow.
The session concluded with a profound revelation: achieving a consensus in such a diverse assembly is nearly an insurmountable challenge, demanding substantial sacrifices of individual agendas. The crowning achievement of LCOY Pakistan is the drafting of an influential policy paper, echoing the collective voice and recommendations of Pakistan’s youth for the first time. This strategic document is primed for adoption into the country’s official representation at COP28.
As a manifestation of youth-led resolve, it underscores the urgency for decisive action and will also steer the advocacy initiatives of our nation’s youth delegates in Dubai. Furthermore, this policy paper will inform the official YOUNGO stance this year in its Global Youth Statement, submitted to UNFCCC.
As the conference concluded, it was evident that the wave of youth-driven climate action was not just a fleeting moment but the start of a relentless movement. The challenges faced by our planet, and more intimately by Pakistan, are stark. Yet, against this backdrop of adversity, a generation rises – determined, informed, and united.
While the sessions, simulations, and discussions will fade, the commitments forged here will not. The onus now rests on all stakeholders, from policymakers to citizens, to heed the clarion call of our youth and, together, chart a path towards a sustainable and inclusive future.
For if there is any lesson to take away, it’s that when empowered and unified, our youth are not just the leaders of tomorrow – they are the vanguards of today.
The writer is a sustainability and climate risk (SCR) professional, passionate about sustainable energy consumption and climate change
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2023.
POST AUTHOR: Waqas Idrees