Youth 4 Nature at COP26 Glasgow by Beth Mercer-Taylor
Yesterday five youth at Cop26 upturned my idea about nature, climate and the broader environmental and social crises we are living within. At the University of Minnesota, I know the idea of “Nature Based Solutions” (NbS) through the work of the Natural Capital project, which in my own simplification of the work is the idea that nature has value for us humans, and that nature’s value can be researched, quantified and maximized. That is one approach, and one still prevalent in global efforts around climate change, but from youth organizations working in a coalition, I learned another way, grounded in equity, indigenous knowledge and wary of overemphasis on carbon and commodification of nature.
At COP26 in Glasgow, days carry themes, and nature was the theme for Saturday November 6, 2021. As the activities of mitigating carbon and adapting to a changing climate do not necessarily protect or restore natural systems, nature does require its own focus, which it has only had, at least at the annual Conference of the Party events, since 2015, the year of the Paris Agreement. Nature itself seized the day with blustery winds riffling tent fabrics of temporary structures at the Scottish Event Centre (SEC). Outside, Glasgow’s streets thronged with tens of thousands out in the rain marching for climate justice, some dressed as pollinators or sea creatures asking for a habitable planet.
I was happy to be invited to a COP26 event on nature day by someone I know to be a serious nature expert, namely Associate Director of the Cedar Creek’ Ecosystem Reserve, Forest Isbell. Forest manages major biodiversity and carbon research projects at Cedar Creek, conducts his own conservation research and teaches ecology. He had been seeking out biodiversity events and connections at COP26 all week. I ran into him at an agriculture and climate event at the COP26 space for the US government, where we were joined by Virajita Singh, the Associate Vice Provost for Equity and Diversity and a Fellow in the Center for Sustainable Building Research.
Virajita and I joined Forest to find the Nature pavilion, with all the events posted at Nature4Climate’s website and hosted by earthday.org. We aimed to go to the youth panel to launch the Global Youth Position Statement on Nature-Based Solutions. The nature pavilion featured full-size trees, a plant wall and beautiful murals of nature and people, all brought in for just the 12 days of the conference. The panelists took to their high stools and those present in the room were encouraged to put on the headphones connected to the microphones – the standard way to run events at the Conference of the Parties. In instances of translation being needed, translation would be available on another channel.
The panelists introduced themselves, their ages (all in their 20s), various backgrounds and countries and discussed how had all worked on the survey of youth, the newly released statement and on preparing for this panel. Three panelists were live in the room, and two joined remotely on zoom. They joked with each other and with friends in the audience and really seemed excited to be part of this event. The space was full with about 50 attendees, many with the kind of “Climate Justice” stickers and patches that would have fit in well at the marches.
The key takeaway for me was that Nature Based Solutions, with local leadership, safeguards, standards and appropriate funding, can holistically solve climate crisis, ecosystem degradation, inequality and injustice. The united youth voice of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network, YOUNGO and Youth4Nature, with the indigenous knowledge and perspectives of over 1,000 youth from 118 countries (survey participants), shows us a way forward that addresses environmental crises and human rights.