Youth engagement at COPs

How can youth and in particular Swiss Youth for Climate's delegates make a difference in these international events?


COPs are organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is government-driven process, which means that only governments can take decisions, but we can join as observers as part of the civil society. Observers fall into nine groups with diverse but broadly clustered interests or perspectives, called constituencies. 

We have been engaged in various constituencies (see below the existing UN constituencies) but mostly in YOUNGO (= official youth constituency of the UNFCCC for Youth NGOs). Constituencies are important as they are the formal entry point of our views. Furthermore they also allow us to write submissions, to propose interventions, and to meet high-level individuals such as the Executive Director of the UNFCCC, Patricia Espinosa. Leading up to COP, our participating members invest a few days to meet and prepare the SYFC COP strategy.

The nine constituencies are: 

  • Business and industry NGOs (BINGO)
  • Environmental NGOs (ENGO)
  • Farmers
  • Indigenous peoples organizations (IPO)
  • Local government and municipal authorities (LGMA)
  • Research and independent NGOs (RINGO)
  • Trade union NGOs (TUNGO)
  • Women and Gender
  • Youth NGOs (YOUNGO)

Why be engaged? And what is the actual power of youth in these conferences?

SYFC delegates have been part of every COP since 2015, which was COP21 in Paris. Year after year, our delegates joined the people, governments, and organizations writing the future of climate politics as observers. At COP24 in 2018, we had the honor of being represented in the official Swiss delegation as civil society. Marine, our representative in the Swiss delegation was not a formal negotiator, but nevertheless was elected as the formal representative of Swiss civil society at large. Her role was to advise and support the delegation and to share with a Swiss civil society perspective on the negotiations.

Last year, at COP25, we likewise had the pleasure of being represented by Marie-Claire Graf, who was appointed by the Swiss federal council as a member of the official federal Swiss delegation to negotiate on behalf of Switzerland. What does this mean? Unlike Marine, who served as a representative, Marie-Claire was an official negotiator, leading discussions on Action for Climate Empowerment and Capacity Building. She also assisted the negotiations on Technology Transfer and Gender-Related Matters. That was the first time this important and powerful position was granted to young adult in the Swiss delegation! Since COP25, Marie-Claire has been serving together with @heeta_lakhani from India as Global Focal Points for YOUNGO.

What’s a “Global Focal Point”?

Focal Points liaise between the youth members of YOUNGO and the UNFCCC. They work as moderators, collect the inputs from young people all around the world and engage in translating them into proposals to the UNFCCC and the UN delegates. Normally, the Global Focal Points serve for one year and new pioneers are elected during each COP. However, due to the corona pandemic, COP26 got postponed and with it, their mandate was extended for another year, making them the focal points in charge of the longest mandate ever.