As every year, delegates to the UNFCCC together with academics, civil society organizations, businesses, and other groups met in Bonn to proceed with the international climate talks under the UNFCCC – also in preparation to the upcoming Conference of the Parties in Chile in early 2020. We used the opportunity to attend the event in June to conduct field research on youth representation at the UNFCCC and contribute to a side event organized by the CLIMENGO research project.
Disrupting the political machinery? Youth Representation in climate change governance
In September 2018, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg initiated a school strike outside the Swedish parliament in defiance of an adult world that has failed to take the mounting climate crisis seriously. In less than a year, Greta’s school strike has inspired a global movement of youth climate activism. Under the label ‘Fridays for Future’ children and youth across several continents now mobilize to put pressure on political leaders to take more radical action on climate change and at this moment secure livable and safe climate futures for generations to come. In this paper, we trace how these youth voices are represented in the realm of global climate governance and the international negotiation process organized around the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2015 Paris Agreement. We ask how youth representatives navigate through the international climate talks to achieve their goals, what roles they play and identify with, and what issues of contestation arise from frictions and (ideological) tensions within the youth group. Our study draws upon interviews with youth activists, youth delegates, and UNFCCC representatives, document analysis, as well as participant observation at the UN climate meeting in Bonn. Based on a governmentality perspective, we investigate how fields of visibility, practices, and techniques, forms of knowledge, and formations of identity shape the conduct of youth in climate politics. As a result, we present a typology with three competing rationales behind youth engagement in global climate politics: A rational approach complies with established rules and institutions, (2) a radical approach is more disruptive and confrontational, and (3) a collective approach aims to develop synergies between cooperative and confrontational measures. By contrasting these strategies, we seek to advance the understanding of children and youth as political subjects in global climate governance and hereby push the study of youth representation in global affairs in new and productive directions.