'COP 26 is a youth-washing project', according to young activists participating in the conference

Young activists participating in COP26 have expressed their concerns that the talks are turning into a ‘youth-washing’ project – designed to showboat young voices but not to listen to them.

With Youth Empowerment day on Friday, young women participating in the conference have highlighted that more needs to be done to ensure the voices of the young people across the world are taken seriously.

The term youth-washing refers to young people’s voices being used in a performative way without paying attention to them or acting on concerns raised by this group.

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Participating in COP26 in the blue zone, 25-year-old Laura Young, AKA Less Waste Laura who is on a journey to live more environmentally friendly, said: “I’ve heard a lot of young people inside this space talking about youth-washing which is actually really interesting because up until this COP we’ve had lots of opportunities for young people to engage but people are quite skeptical about how influential that’s been.

20-year-old climate change activist Phoebe Hanson in the blue zone of COP26 in Glasgow.20-year-old climate change activist Phoebe Hanson in the blue zone of COP26 in Glasgow.
20-year-old climate change activist Phoebe Hanson in the blue zone of COP26 in Glasgow.

“In the blue zone, which is the kind of inner space, when you look around, we are significantly younger than most of the people here and COP has been happening since before I was born and these discussions have been happening for all that time. World leaders are triple our age in some cases.

"I think one of the problems is there aren’t enough young people inside and that needs to be addressed.

"One of the big pioneering groups of the climate change movement is young people and when you step out of the blue zone and outside into the streets of Glasgow, it’s young people who are there."

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20-year-old climate change activist Phoebe Hanson also shared concerns around youth-washing at COP.

Ms Hanson, who also has blue zone accreditation and works alongside mock COP26, said she does not believe her voice and other young people’s voices will be taken seriously at the talks.

As a key-note speaker at a ministerial summit on Friday, Ms Hanson still believes this is the case: "I don’t believe that as young people everything we ask for will be listened to.

"I think COP will need to be radically reformed if we are going to address this crisis in a way that we desperately need to.

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"This is definitely youth-washing because, yes, we have youth empowerment day but what does that mean?

"Young people still aren’t being listened to and being given the powers.

"We are still the advisory bodies and we do not have the literal passes to make real change.”

Another concern is that young people from the global south are not being included in climate crisis discussions that will affect them the most.

Ms Young said: "There are a lot of people from the UK. There aren’t a lot of people from the global south.

"That’s to do with a variety of things like vaccine inequality, covid, visas and the price but that still doesn’t really make it okay.”

Ms Hanson added: "There are young people every day who are worried about drowning in their own bedrooms, or who have lost families or livelihoods to the climate crisis. Those people should be here.”

Both young women hope delegates will leave the inner bubble of the blue zone and ‘go out and listen’ to the young people striking in Glasgow.

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