An Interview with 3 COY16 Volunteers

With COP26 and COY16 on the horizon we took some time to chat with a group of volunteers helping to put on the youth conference in October. We spoke with Julieta, Zvezdana and Zi Han about their experiences with COY and their journey into climate activism.

Climate strike march - Glasgow - 24 September 2021
Climate strike march - Glasgow - 24 September 2021

How did you get involved with COY?

Julieta -  I got involved by an open search in my country for country coordinators, I am a country coordinator. And then working in COY I got to meet more people. I got to express my interest in a broader look at climate change and I became a communications coordinator. It was just being in the circles of climate change and looking to volunteer as well.

Zvezdana -  I found out about COY mainly because I was really active in model UN at university and high school so I found out about COY through people I met at model UN. I joined comms because at the time I didn't know much about communications and outreach but now one year and six months later I’m a coordinator so it was a pretty cool journey.

Zi Han -  So for me I got involved with COY because I’m the Executive Director of the climate action society at UCL. And I wanted to find an opportunity that was more global in nature, because for us it's more about coordinating events in our own campus. And that's why I was very interested to find out that Strathclyde and COY16 had this collaboration and I ended up joining it from there.

Why did you get involved with COY?

Julieta -  You always feel like you're never doing enough when it comes to climate change. It's always a fight against time and to big corporations we are just little grains of sand and the goal of actually helping people become more involved and becoming more involved myself and ensuring that this conference is as inclusive as possible and as powerful as it can be. That was my goal.

Zvezdana -  I think, for me it was mainly educational primarily because I didn't know that much about climate change, when I first joined. I had a broad idea of what it was and what it meant but climate justice was still something that was very much unknown to me, so it was mostly out of curiosity, but also because the people who are working within COY were so welcoming and so open with sharing their ideas and their knowledge and their experience, so I think I really decided to stay with COY for so long, purely because of that.

Zi Han -  It was mainly because I was interested in youth engagement of climate change. So previous to COY I was kind of involved in YOUNGO, which is the youth constituency to the UNFCCC. And I thought that COY is a great platform for us at YOUNGO to get involved in, and also because I do feel that with a lot of these kinds of global issues COY is actually quite a rare but very positive platform for youths to contribute directly to these issues, I know that COP has a Youth Day, but that the fact that this conference is specifically lead by and also features youth is kind of the main reason that I wanted to join.

How important do you feel COP/COY is to help Scotland achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

Julieta -  Well, if we actually achieve the goal of being the most inclusive conference yet, it will be crucial, our goal is to truly bring all the global South to the discussion, not necessarily in person, but make sure their voices are represented, and are heard because climate change affects those with less resources first. And we've already seen that in many countries. So, if we truly achieve this goal of being inclusive, of making sure everyone is represented, it could be game changing, especially now, when we are so close to a point of no return, especially with the last IPCC report. So, making sure everyone, especially the youth, because we are inheriting everything that is happening right now, so if we make sure that we are all represented, and we are all heard, maybe just maybe, something can change and the future could be a little bit brighter and less scary. I think it's now or never. We really need to represent and just make sure, everything is done correctly.

Zvezdana -  I think, when it comes to COP, specifically, this is a really big moment in the history of climate justice and in the history for a better climate. For the fight for a better climate, we're still going through a global pandemic and I think the way that the world works will shift and be clearly seen in a political sense at COP. I think the need for changes is obviously clear, like we're now aware that climate change doesn't just affect the global south, it affects the whole world in a way that I think many countries, especially in the global North didn't even expect it to affect it that much, but you look at what has happened in Germany and parts of Switzerland and you know the Netherlands as well, like it's a huge catastrophe, so I think I'm really, really hoping personally that countries will come together and realize how pressing of an issue this is especially in the light of the pandemic and in the light of you know the economic situation in the world as well. It would be great for COY to counterbalance the COP you know to be able to to make her contribution on the youth side because I think as much as COP insists on representing the youth and helping the youth, we are the actual youth that will come together.

Zi Han -  I'm very much inspired by the fact that if I'm not wrong Scotland has committed to reduce gas emissions to net zero by 2045, which is, I believe, five years ahead of UK general strategy so definitely COY and COP being set in Glasgow has the geographical significance, in terms of the impact that it has on sustainable development in Scotland. And my second point is that, personally, I am working on a global youth statement which I can talk about later on, but to echo what has been said before, just now, the global youth statement really tries to kind of include voices from not only all around the world but also direct its demands to a whole range of UN agencies and organizations such that our voices will be heard on a high level basis, so I think that's the first step to a more ambitious objective of trying to take action for these SDGs.

Climate strike march - Glasgow - 24 September 2021
Climate strike march - Glasgow - 24 September 2021

Why should people get involved with COY?

Julieta -  Youth are in a position, we are in a very specific position because of time and space right now, so the youth will inherit every decision or inaction that is currently taking place. On the other side we know what the future is, what is a stake right now, because, especially in the global South we know what it's going to happen to us if we don't act, right now, so that is why it's so important for the youth to get involved, because we will see a different future, we will see a different world and our children are already going to live in a completely different world than their grandparents, so it is now time to act. Especially for the youth, because we will see the change, we will see the oceans rising, we will see the ice caps melting. Our parents probably will not, our grandparents will not, it's us in a completely different world. Every generation will live on a worse earth so it's our job to make sure that that doesn't happen or at least stop it, or you know just extend the time a little bit.

Zvezdana -  What COY will give delegates and volunteers as well as equipping them with the right tools to fight for a better climate and fight against climate change, is a platform for the youth to learn from other youth from their peers, who come from every single place on earth. I don't think I have ever worked in such an international environment before in the sense that you really have that sort of spirit of cultural exchange and there's so much you can learn from people who work in there, you know immediate communities to help. I mean, for example, I recently watched an amazing documentary about how indigenous communities, for example, especially in Southeast Asia, use these techniques of working to prevent climate change in their small communities in ways that are steeped in tradition and their traditional cultural approach to it as well. And that's, for example, something that I learned through COY, because the film was recommended to me by someone who's from there, so it's just kind of like this exchange of ideas that provides you with the tools to actually tackle climate change.

Zi Han -  I think for me, and to also echo what both of them have already said, it's a lot about learning from people and engaging with people in the climate space. Because, as I think a lot of us in climate realize, there are a lot of different ways to advocate for and take action for climate change and some of these styles can be different and even contentious, for example, I've met climate activists from extinction rebellion and other organizations that are all about that radical action but also I’ve met people who are more interested in high Level advocacy, for example, UNFCCC and I think COY gives you the perfect platform to kind of engage with these different types of individuals and action styles, so that you find your best fit in terms of how you want to contribute to this cause.

What is your favourite aspect of the conference?

Julieta -  I think the people! We have created an incredible network of volunteers from all over the world. We are in different parts of our lives, studying different majors. We have people with PhDs, people who are just graduating high school. We have different interests and goals in life, you know? We have people marching the streets, as well as people in high level engagement and it’s really incredible to meet and actually get to talk to all these people and hear their life experiences.

Zvezdana -  Not to get too cheesy, but I would also say the people for me too. Especially because I joined COY right at the beginning of lockdown, around March or April. For me, it was so amazing to have that kind of support system and to get to meet people throughout this time, you know, to exchange ideas and talk with people. I really think it enriched me personally and I  feel like that’s what we need today and in general, especially in climate change. I feel like sometimes the lack of climate consciousness in certain countries or communities can make you feel isolated from other people and it’s great to know that there are other people who feel the same way and who are fighting for the same things.

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Zi Han -  I think for me it’s the magnitude or the scale of impact COY has and will continue to have in terms of climate space. Everyone involved in COY, whether they are a country coordinator, or like me in programs, have the same common cause of climate change. I think COY encourages people, not just in the COY team, but everyone who actually engages in some form or another, for example filling our global youth statement. I think for them to actually take a look at what their country or city is doing for climate change from a grassroots level is very important. Ultimately climate change is an issue that requires a kind of global cooperation. It’s great that we have, you know, 400 or 500 delegates and volunteers at a conference, but I think that in order to create real change, we need to mobilize popular support and I think COY is the perfect platform to kind of get everyone on board.

What advice would you give young people who are passionate about finding solutions to climate change?

Julieta -  Well in my opinion, it’s always getting involved! Find any resource you have near you, any climate change group. There are so many different groups, with many different variations. There are intense everyday work groups and others that are more policymaking groups. You can find your people anywhere, it’s just a matter of looking and finding the right fit for you. So just keep searching and getting involved and if you can’t get involved due to time restrictions, then try and make small changes in your life.  Travel via public transport or cycle to work. Change your diet, as much as you can of course, as we all have different dietary restrictions. Just these small changes can make a difference, but also look at the bigger picture. See what you can  do for your city, your country and the world in general. Remember whatever way you can help is good enough! Don’t feel pressure to make all the changes at once. Just do whatever you can one day at a time.

Zvezdana -  I think another important thing is that whatever interests and passions you have or whether you’re studying, there’s always a way to incorporate that with the topic of climate change and sustainability. So I think if you have a passion try to think about it from a climate change and a sustainability  point of view and go from there. I think it starts on a personal level. If you can’t join a group or volunteer, then try and educate your family and friends. Try to find as much information to read and watch as you can. I think today it’s so easy to find a lot of information online, or in earlier years through other people. I think there hasn’t been a time where it has been as accessible to become conscious about climate change as it is today and to keep up to date with what’s going on. Maybe this is just me, because I’m studying International Relations, but I think another important thing to do is keep up to date with what’s going on around the world. I know sometimes it can get depressing, but it’s really important that we keep up to date.

Zi Han -  Yeah I definitely agree with that! I think the best advice I could give is to get involved with COY. It is an unfinished project and it’s always a work in progress, so we always want people who can help in whatever way. And to add to that, I think it’s very important that you find your own niche in the climate space, depending on your own interests and experience. I think it’s very easy to get daunted by the scale of the challenge, like when you read maybe an IPCC report and you think “oh, it’s code red for humanity”, but I think ultimately it’s about finding specific areas where you can make a change. Just the global statement alone has like 15 themes and almost 100 subthemes, so I think it’s definitely an inclusive space for everyone. You know I think trying to create change from a microlevel and then slowly going up would make you feel a lot more energised and motivated, so that’s why I’d recommend it.

What changes would you encourage people to make to their lifestyle to contribute to a more sustainable future?

Julieta -  Well like all three of us said, it’s a matter of finding whatever way you can to help and not putting pressure on yourself  and trying not to feel the weight of climate change. Climate guilt is very real, especially in the youth. It’s a phenomenon that’s being more and more explored, because we are the ones that feel responsible, we are the ones that change the products we use, the food we eat, how we travel, you know do everything we can, meanwhile there are incredibly huge corporations that have introduced zero changes to their businesses. So see what you can do, try and stop feeling guilty and talk to people about it. Go to whatever group and ask: “Hey I’m interested in climate change, what can I do?”. Get involved and see whatever your limitations are and where you can get more involved and help.

Zvezdana -  Yeah I think the most important thing to fully understand is to not let yourself feel guilty or ever feel intimidated by the scale of things.  I think even the smallest step is a step in the right direction and it’s obviously a lifelong thing, so we can’t solve our problems overnight, we can’t solve climate change overnight. I think, again, that incorporating small steps in your daily routine that will make you feel better and will make the environment better, then I guess it’s the right way to go.

Zi Han -  Yeah I very much agree with what’s been shared. I mean I am personally quite involved with the high advocacy processes, but I believe that ultimately it’s more about integrating sustainability into everyday life and making lifestyle changes that would actually enable you to contribute to addressing the issue.

What is your main goal going into this year’s COY?

Julieta -  Well, I guess our main goal is to be as inclusive as possible and to actually contribute to change, because we can create a million youth statements, but if we just create them and let them be, nothing is going to change. By creating these youth statements and by being super local, because this is the first year that we have national coordinators and we are creating national youth statements and then a global one which contains each nation, so basically 100 plus countries being represented in one global youth statement, and then that statement being presented to COP by our focal points at YOUNGO, this is what we want to do. To be true facilitators of change. So by creating this huge document we want to make sure that this reaches COP and thus reaches every single president or world leader. So the idea is to actually create, be facilitators of change, be part of the positive impact and then bring back all those positive elements back to our countries, so making sure that something is going to be done. It’s not just the representation or the most inclusive COP ever or whatever, we actually want to make sure that all the voices are going to be part of the decision making, that is our main goal. To be actual change!

Zvezdana -  On a more I guess technical scale, for me, a big goal is to just make COY happen because I mean we won't go into detail about this, but you have no idea how many hurdles we have encountered so far, I mean behind the scenes it's like a constant struggle. From even the smallest of details to all the tiny technicalities of making a conference of this scale happen, especially in these times. I think, once we get there, once we get to Strathclyde, once we're there at the venue it's going to feel amazing to just see all the work come together. I think really making our voices heard in the high level of negotiations is obviously one of the main goals of the conference as well.

Zi Han -  I think on a similar note, for me, it's about including the youth at the core, at the heart of what climate change really involves. I think, going back to my previous point on youth engagement with climate change, a lot of times the youth are included in the discourse but their views are not actually incorporated on a high level basis and we are really trying to push for that, by, for example presenting our youth statement to the COP26 Presidency or having different working groups at YOUNGO that present the policy positions. And essentially create a coordinated response, or coordinated kind of position towards climate. And this is important not only because, in terms of climate justice, youths are going to be the most affected by climate in the long run, but also because I do believe that youths have so much more to contribute. In terms of you know, the skills and the knowledge they bring to youth engagement, you know in climate is definitely something that I think is my key message.

Climate strike march - Glasgow - 24 September 2021
Climate strike march - Glasgow - 24 September 2021

Any final thoughts or things you want to highlight?

Julieta -  I guess just get involved, that is the main goal, getting more power, where you can, especially if you're in college, we are finding our way into the world. When you just graduate you can feel very lost and very adrift so finding these small niches are extremely important.  Just find your people, find what you like and where you can help. Introduce it in your life and just keep adding to it. They are building blocks and when one day you're going to look back and see all the new changes, like all the changes that you introduced in your life and you're going to be so happy and so proud of yourselves. Try to get involved, whatever way you can.

Zvezdana -  And my last thing would just be don't lose hope and I think we should be optimistic at the end of the day, because we're humans, but I really just do think just don't allow yourself to get lost in all the negative things and try to look for the positives and try to be that positive thing in your environment and in your life even on a small scale.

Zi Han -  I guess, for me, finally, would just be kind of a message to anyone who kind of might feel that their community or their voice is not conventionally represented in climate discourse. I think, including those voices, for example, from the global South, from women, from indigenous groups. I think that's really very, very important in terms of achieving an inclusive COY and COP. And I think, regardless of your background everyone has something to contribute so ultimately it's about believing in yourself and making the first step towards creating change.


These three volunteers made some really great points about how important it is to just get involved. So if you are a beginner, novice or expert in all things climate change remember your voice matters. Strath Union has a host of resources to help you make your mark with climate campaigning and volunteer opportunities.