Two out of three young Belgians are worried about climate change, according to a study carried out by 26-year-old Esmeralda Wirtz, Belgian UN Youth Delegate for Climate. The young environmental management graduate will be taking their concerns to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 25), held from December 2 to 13 in Madrid, as part of the official Belgian delegation.
What will you be doing at the COP 25 in Madrid?
Throughout the year, I carried out a survey of more than 600 young French speaking Belgians, aged 16 to 30, to find out their opinion on climate and biodiversity. I am going to present the results of this study at the COP. I do not have the right to speak in the name of Belgium, but I hope to share their message through YOUNGO, the voice of young people at the COP. I will also participate in the Conference of Youth (COY), organised three days before the COP.
What were the results of your study?
Two out of three young people feel very worried, in fact extremely worried by climate change. Only 2% of the people I surveyed said they did not feel concerned. Furthermore, half of people interviewed said they feel personally in danger if biodiversity continues to decline. They believe politicians and businesses must be the ones to provide solutions to climate change and the collapse in biodiversity. Young people are ready to change their way of life so it has less of an impact on the planet, but the urgency of the situation means decision makers and the biggest polluters must put in place efficient, systemic and planned measures.
Why was it important for you to participate in the COP?
I work on the ground, on small projects at a local level, and I wanted to see how climate governance works nationally and internationally. It will allow me to explain to young people what goes on and how it works. It will also mean young people’s actions can be more efficient and recognised nationally, and eventually globally.
What will be your message at the COP?
We are facing huge challenges, both in terms of climate and biodiversity, which in Belgium affect almost all young people. It is important for us to make sure we have a viable future, where the next generations can live as we do. It is about justice; fairness and democracy.
Why do you think it is important for young people to have a voice in these types of meetings?
It is important because the decisions taken will have an impact for a very long time. We need to make sure the decision makers have the highest possible ambitions.
Are you optimistic about the outcome of these negotiations?
Yes, I’m optimistic. The Paris Agreement was a strong signal that Member States want to act. But I do not think the action happens at the COP: there are a huge number of initiatives on a smaller scale which make the difference; and I hope the COP will support them and move fast enough to respond to the climate challenges.
Interviewed by UNRIC