Ashoka University student represents India at COP-27
Abhiir Bhalla shares his insights from the Global Climate Conference
I had the honour of representing India at COP-27 in Sharm El-Sheikh (Egypt) in the first two weeks of November. It was a unique opportunity for me to participate in not only the Youth Conference (COY-17) between the 2nd – 5th of November but also the main conference as a panellist and delegate between the 14th-18th of the month.
The UN Climate Change Conference of Youth (COY) is an annual event under the banner of YOUNGO – The Official Youth Constituency of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. COY, the largest and longest-running youth event to date, takes place on the sidelines of the annual UN Climate Change Conference, also known as Conference of the Parties (COP).
COY serves as a space for capacity building and policy training to prepare young people for their participation at COP, empower them, and formally bring their voices to the UNFCCC processes to shape intergovernmental climate change policies. I was amongst the 20 young people selected by the UN (YOUNGO) from across the country to represent India at COY-17, after a rigorous selection process. Our delegation was one of the largest delegations amongst the 140 countries represented from across the world.
Even amongst the Indian delegates, most were working professionals, many of whom were in their late 20s/early 30s. Being amongst the youngest delegates there, I was fortunate to be welcomed very warmly by the group since many of them were acquainted with my advocacy efforts through LinkedIn and the mainstream media. This was indeed a huge moment for me since my two previous chances to attend a COP were foiled first by my ICSE Boards, and subsequently by Covid. It was really exciting to finally have a chance to share my thoughts at the most relevant and significant climate change conference at a global level.
As part of the conference, I participated in capacity-building sessions, skill-building workshops, and cultural exchanges thereby contributing significantly to the drafting of the Global Youth Statement. The capacity-building sessions were enriching, yet extremely fun. They encouraged us to look at climate policy documents from a lateral-thinking perspective. One of my favourite sessions was around the relevance of social media in climate action messaging, and how applications like TikTok, Moj, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and even Koo could be used to reach out to the masses in making calls to action relevant at a community level. The UNFPA, UNICEF and UNEP came together to conduct several sessions on understanding Nationally Determined Contributions and how they operate.
- Key points from COY17 were incorporated into a Global Youth Statement presented at the World Leaders’ Summit on the 7th-8th of November at COP. It is a comprehensive 107-page document outlining key youth-led policy demands based on 15 key themes, including climate finance, energy and loss, and damage. Some of the key elements focused on:
- Ramping up the role of private sector engagement; making it less ‘passive’ as merely a supporter that was funding the offsetting its evils, to a more active, emission-minimalistic approach.
- Looking at smart cities and how individual campaigns needed to be brought together to create a snowballing societal effect.
- The role of grassroots climate education—changing the perspective of environmental studies from a ‘mandated’ education approach to a holistic education approach.
- Strengthening climate entrepreneurship and focusing on not only climate tech but also affordable, accessible solutions that were implementable and replicable at scale.
- The role of AI and blockchain in revolutionising energy-saving and power-generation techniques, as well as looking at nuclear and renewable energy (beyond just solar power).
During the main conference of COP-27, we, as youth leaders, underlined the interrelationship between climate change and the enjoyment of human rights by young people and the role of youth as a catalyst for ambition and climate justice and accountability. It was also noted that youth perspectives and needs should be effectively integrated into the design and implementation of National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The discussions reflected the strong support by youth to establish a financial mechanism focused on loss and damage, a further movement towards just transition, and also for local adaptation and resilient solutions that are responsive to the needs of vulnerable communities. Quality education and green decent jobs were a cross-cutting element in several discussions.
Unfortunately, due to final examinations, I had to return to India after the first stint and participate in the second half of the conference virtually. This was something the British High Commissioner in India, H.E. Alex Ellis would later have a hearty laugh at, bemusedly noting the difficulties of juggling global climate diplomacy and college examinations parallelly! The two of us were sharing a stage at the Imperial Hotel in Delhi, looking back on COP-27 and also speaking of India’s monumental G20 Presidency and its implications for climate action.
Looking back, a key call to action that I was continually advocating for, was a framework for the implementation of the 2009 commitment emerging out of COP-15 in Copenhagen, where developed countries had promised to jointly mobilise USD 100 billion per year by 2020. Two years past the deadline, this target has not yet been met, not to mention that it is an outdated one—not accounting for the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the global recession and of course, the Covid-19 pandemic, none of which had been foreseen 14 years ago.
Another key focus for me, through all the panels I was a part of, was to drive focus on the phasing down of fossil fuels at large. At COP-26, India and China were criticised for their 11th-hour change in the agreement’s wording from the “phasing-out” of coal to its “phasing down” instead. At the time, I had spoken on BBC about my diverging perspectives as an environmentalist (the idealist) and an Indian (the realist). I had highlighted that coal should not be individually targeted, since this was in the interest of the Developed world. I was delighted to note that following our advocacy efforts, the Indian Government advocated for the phasing-down of all fossil fuels (and not just coal) at COP27. While this received some reluctant support from the UK and US, the rest of the developed world failed to throw its weight behind this proposal, which ultimately failed.
Nonetheless, this was a sign of significant progress, which ultimately contributed towards the creation of the Loss and Damage Fund, which has been touted as the most successful outcome of the ‘African COP’. Herein, global governments took the ground-breaking decision to establish new funding arrangements, as well as a dedicated fund, to assist developing countries in responding to loss and damage resulting from climate change. Governments also agreed to establish a ‘transitional committee’ to make recommendations on operationalising the new funding arrangements and the fund at COP28 next year. The first meeting of the transitional committee is expected to take place before the end of March 2023.
The conference proved to be an immense networking opportunity, where I met and interacted with like-minded individuals around the world and discussed common challenges and got inspired by localised solutions to various issues. It was not all work, work, work either! Our hosts at Sharm El-Sheikh sure knew how to party, and took us around to all the cool places. There is little doubt that I came back having made new friends, mentors and acquaintances from all over the world, and I am sure we will continue to collaborate to do our best to affect meaningful change in the time ahead.
I am grateful to YOUNGO (UNFCCC’s Constituency for Youth Non-Governmental Organisations) for selecting (and funding) me to represent India at the Conference of Youth (COY-17) between the 2nd-5th of November. I’m also grateful to the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability at Ashoka University for supporting me by bearing my travel expenses for the first stint of the conference. Finally, I am grateful to the Commonwealth Human Ecology Council (CHEC), Future Climate Leaders Programme, Save the Children India, and Earth Day Network India, for inviting me to be a panellist on several key panels at the Blue Zone of the Conference between the 14th-18th of November.
Abhiir Bhalla is an active youth environmentalist and freelance sustainability consultant. He is currently part of the Ashoka Scholars Programme at Ashoka University and is pursuing a minor in Entrepreneurship and Media Studies, after having completed a major in Political Science and a minor in International Relations.