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Climate change: Indifferent youth, lack of local action behind governance failure

By Mansee Bal Bhargava* 

As a governance scholar-teacher-learner, it is an undying belief that the individual is the core unit and thus influences any governance decision and action. Besides, a belief that grounded-local solutions are key to any large (regional-national-global) problems like climate change. This belief can be extended to the philosophy of self-organization, which is also fundamental to governance research and practice. Self-organization, when looked from an institutional perspective, is a group of individuals having some perception and preference, coming together under an institution by setting up some instructions to follow and setting up institutional prerogatives or collective goals.
The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) is global level institution formed by the nation states to address the climate change and take climate decisions-actions. The 2021 United Nations 26th Climate Change Conference, known as the COP26, is organized at Glasgow from 31st October to 12th November 2021 with designate president, Alok Sharma.
The COP26 brought together country-industry-academic leaders and eminent others to discuss ways to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
In the COP26, scientists and UN officials have warned governments for pragmatic actions to reduce emissions in order to curtail the rising unprecedented disasters worldwide. Since the earth’s climate has reached a new high with rise in greenhouse gas emissions and global temperatures.
If things have worsened in the years despite the commitments signed by the countries in the Paris Agreement, it is worth asking whether the COP26 will do any wonders. Though, the congregation was skewed with dominance of the big boys meet who have been doing business as usual, the meagre participation of other gender and youth still managed to make their perspectives noticeable.
Talking about India where the voice of other genders and youth is a bare tokenism, agree or not, we are not succeeding on achieving the global goals through the country level commitments made by the governments because, the climate change governance seeks equal participation of all sections, even including independent voices of/for the bio-diversity.
To add to the apathy is the poor understanding of the distinction between governance and government among all. That, the failure to achieve climate action goals (or other initiatives) is a governance challenge where though leaders promise minimum government and maximum governance but perform just the opposite by playing power games instead of empowering the citizens.
When the group of influential individuals (mostly men) holding positions make certain promises, it becomes their responsibility to also communicate those promises into actionable plans to the local authority as well as acceptable projects to the citizens, importantly in language/s they understand.
Unless most citizens understand the global-national goals and participate in the local actions, the governmentalized (and masculine) efforts will continue to be challenging. Climate change is an example of that! Though it is difficult to convey and convince the minimum government and maximum governance to the public at large, at least I have the privilege of teaching that to the youth.
How to bring citizens in the governance process in the first place, is more of a challenge for government before even the citizens understand the problem and chose to participate. It is difficult to make Citizens participate but not impossible.
One of the ways to make citizens participate is engaging them in dialogues which is a crucial part of building trust for any collective actions. Since, the climate change discourse predominantly is about sustainable development for the future generations, the article focusses to engage the youth in climate change induced COP26.
I reached out to nearly 50 youth from across the country who I know are directly-indirectly involved in environment studies-activities. They were requested to share their thoughts on COP26. It took a week in receiving the responses before writing this article. Ironically, only nine youth responded.
It teaches me that most of the youth are either indifferent to such activities or disinterested or unaware or don’t see sharing thought makes any difference (a typical prisoner’s dilemma situation). Nevertheless, it is important to take note of the thoughts of those who responded. So, here are their thoughts as what do they believe and feel about the climate change COP26 happening-decisions and what does that mean as a local level governance:
  1. Srishti Ramnani from New Delhi shares that, this event should be an opportunity to discuss the steady health of the environment and not adding on random targets by the delegates which are not assessed in terms of environmental costs (as derivatives of environmental impacts). Perhaps, learning the economic future value of resources by the leaders can set forth some serious targets. So, let the youth be the representative at such forums to globally educate the 'evolutionary mechanisms' that should actually be adopted for the environment.
  2. Kalpana Patel from Jabalpur shares that, the COP26 is one of the best opportunities to discuss the concerning effects of climate change. The discussion should be more action- oriented and should aim at practically possible aims and targets. Another major aspect that needs to be addressed is about the equity in sharing the responsibilities and burdens globally. Acknowledging the fact that we all have to take steps to minimise the climate change, the world leaders cannot ignore the fact of developed nations' contribution to this global rise in temperature. After all growth and sustainability must go hand in hand and one cannot be achieved at the cost of the other.
  3. Mohammad Imroz from Hajipur, Bihar shares that, the COP26 is a great platform where the country addresses its environment-related problem and discusses the solution to climate change. However, the COP26 should plan to work on how to work on the ground level and how to improve it, with a focus on promoting education, training, and public awareness of climate change as one of the biggest causes of climate change. The impact falls on the people of the middle-class and poverty-stricken families. In this epoch, youth coming into environmental education and environmental training should be given more preference as we know that youth is a crucial factor to address the issues of any country and for economic growth. In COP26, India has taken a significant step with its 450-gigawatt renewable target and national and this step can prove to be very good at controlling the climate change of India and also in economic growth.
  4. Sayyad Sahil Ahmed from Greater Noida shares that, the COP26 is the best platform to integrate our efforts towards making our environment healthy. Planning should be done whole to part, but execution must be done in part to whole in order to include local efforts in the picture. COP26 goals can only be achieved if everyone realizes their short term and long-term responsibilities related to consumption as well as production. Youth should be included in such talks as well as in decision making to make long-term goals look realistic. In developing countries like India, it becomes necessary to first educate a larger audience about this mission in simpler terms and to present to them the favourable outcomes of working together in this direction.
  5. Yukti Sharma from New Delhi shares that the COP26 is the summit to bring the parties together to accelerate the actions decided towards mainly climate change. Talking about net zero emissions and decarbonization, finding nature-based solutions to the problem of climate change are secondary things in the context that the approach of all these should start from the local levels. Until and unless the needs of the poor are balanced with the natural ecosystem, as well as scientific strategies to tackle emissions, no strategy is going to work. The conference should have local level discussions. Starting from the most polluting cities, (for ex. Delhi), such conferences may have representatives, having deep insights of the reason for such major causes, irrespective of how to reduce it. Proposing strategies on a higher level and understanding the strategy on a lower level makes the difference here.
  6. Gaurav Fouzdar from Agra shares that, the COP26 will be a very important climate subject for India. As India is heading towards use of non-fossil fuel energy and renewable energy resources. To achieve these goals the efforts must be contributed from the local level. Awareness about the agenda must be discussed at local level to increase the awareness which will directly impact in understanding of long term and short-term responsibilities and duty of individuals. Introduction of new technology and new research which are being done in the field of climate change and reduction of carbon levels must be appreciated at all levels.
  7. Bhumika Khatreja from Sonepat shares that, the commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2070 was much needed as being the 3rd largest emitter of carbon. As a youth of the developing nation, in my view India should focus more on ‘Adaptation than Mitigation’. The need to reduce the greenhouse gases caused by human activities is the main driver of climate change globally. But it should not hamper the development of the nation. The actions at the local level will sum up to form a big change therefore the strategies made need to be considerate of all the sections of the society so that they can be adopted as a whole.
  8. Bharg Modi from Dahod shares that, we are currently in a climate crisis and during such time, do we really need a conference like COP26? All the world leaders used their private aircrafts to reach there and the venue where the conference is going on also needs electricity, water, food to welcome all the leaders. World leaders don't travel alone; they have their whole team with them. It is too late for us to talk about climate change. We have to start working with what we have with us. Developing nations are pointing their fingers towards developed nations that have created all the mess, in the time of crisis playing blame games will not save anyone because climate change will affect everyone. Developed nations promised 100 billion dollars to help the developing nations and they are giving it in the form of loans. Developing nations want grants not loans because they have so many things on their platter and if they have to repay the loans then survival of those nations will get difficult.
  9. Chetan Malusare from Pune shares that, since the goals under COP26 are legally bound, countries can set up non-binding national targets or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), including climate related targets to greenhouse emission reduction under some policies and measures by governments. But now, countries asked to revise NDCs before COP26 as they are considered not adequate. Many aspects discussed in this meeting like Climate finance where money provided to emerging countries from public and private sources, phasing out of coal usage, reduce methane emission which is the central issue as it can heat the planet 80 times more than carbon dioxide result from transportation, usage of some natural resources, livestock and other agricultural practices and land uses, and carbon trading mechanism where rich nations could hive off some of their carbon reduction.
The responses on the COP26 by the above few shall set a trust from the future generation. They are my learning for how the future governance discourse will shape climate change and other social-ecological matters in the country. They are a hope to do things differently than the present time business as usual mode of governmental-exclusive way of climate governance. They are also a hope to change the way we at present perceive climate change and prefer mitigation-adaptation.
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*Entrepreneur | Researcher | Educator. A water enthusiast, a governance scholar, and a keen political observer. More about the work of Mansee is at: www.mansee.in

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