Voices are Still Missing at the Table of Climate Negotiations

We’re still not making the connections that matter on climate change, says Future Generations Commissioner for Wales Sophie Howe from COP 26.

The ceremony and chitchat of COP 26 has been drowned out by the echoes of young voices pleading world leaders to give them a lifeboat. 

Their rally cries ringing through the city of Glasgow must remind us of who we are responsible for saving from the wave of climate crises ahead of us. 

But it should not be young people who are banging on the doors of negotiators and policy makers – the leaders around the world should be on their knees begging to listen to the urgent yet hopeful message of our future generations. 

Climate justice is a racial justice issue and it’s a gendered issue, and our solutions, therefore, must tackle the climate crisis whilst addressing these inequalities.

The divide between the inside few and the outside many is clear at COP this year. The presence of young people in Glasgow is palpable, but my fear is that their vision and their needs are not being heard at the negotiation tables. It is about time that we have youth voices at the decision-making table as a priority rather than as a voluntary option for those who want the photo opportunity. Only then will we make progress for future generations and rebuild trust that leaders rightly do not currently have. That trust only comes through action. 

With just a few days to go until the end of the major climate conference, I thought it was a good opportunity to reflect on what I have witnessed during my time here and share my insights on COP 26 so far. 

Firstly, I worry that we are continuing to look at climate change in isolation and failing to see the connections between issues and therefore failing to create interconnected solutions. I particularly want more people to understand the links between climate emergencies and inequality. 

I’ve just released a report, Inequality in a Future Wales, in conjunction with Public Health Wales and Cardiff University, that found the poorest and most marginalised populations are least responsible for the production of greenhouse gases yet are the most likely to be exposed to its negative effects, be more susceptible to damage, and have the least resources to respond, cope and recover. Climate justice is a racial justice issue and it’s a gendered issue, and our solutions, therefore, must tackle the climate crisis whilst addressing these inequalities.

Secondly, I am realising that organisations and businesses are continuing to work in silos. It has become obvious that Wales is doing something different by tackling issues holistically, such as the introduction of a Climate Ministry in Wales which combines the environment, energy, housing, planning and transport portfolios to tackle climate change. 

Due to the Well-being of Future Generations Act, our collaborative and integrated ways of working should now be second nature, and our work to put the puzzle pieces together has turned heads at COP events this year. We need to see more of this collaborative working globally to ensure our decisions consider all aspects of our world and draw on the experiences and needs of all. 

I am glad to see environmental education as a key theme at this year’s summit. I fear that without communities whose skills are connected to their environment, we will struggle to keep up with the green revolution ahead of us, and miss the many opportunities to create decent jobs and improve quality of life and tackle inequality. I have a vision for Wales to become the most eco-literate and globally responsible nation in the world, as I set out in my Future Generations Report in March 2020.  Our new school curriculum in Wales is a good start, but I want our Government, and the Governments around the World, to act on our vision and be bold in our aims.  

It is clear that this vision has been adopted by people across Wales and I have been delighted to witness our communities thrive through eco education; just recently, my own daughter came home from school reciting Greta Thunberg’s ‘Blah Blah Blah’ speech. Across Wales we are seeing evidence of innovation in education. Schools in Anglesey have been exploring vertical farming with agri-tech programme Tech Tyfu, learning about new ways of growing crops without using soil. Additionally, our poet-in-residence, Taylor Edmonds, has worked with Llanrwst Flood Action Group to craft a poem to bring attention to the issue of flooding in their area through art and culture. You can watch the video of this emotional poem being read by young children from the local primary school, Ysgol Bro Gwidir, here.

We are in the midst of an ecological and biodiversity crisis on par with the climate emergency.

At COP, I have been inspired by nations around the world with similar goals – where the way they teach children is being adapted to embed climate knowledge and action. For example, Portugal has embedded climate action into their curriculum for all ages. The minister for Education for Malawi is really focussed on climate and gender, making sure that women are not absent from some of those skill opportunities that are going to take us into low carbon jobs- something the Welsh government need a greater focus on. The UK Government have also followed Wales’ lead with announcements to reduce carbon levels in schools and improve the curriculum around climate action.

There was a danger that this year’s COP would focus on decarbonisation and ‘net-zero’ promises and ignore other equally critical issues with the environment. We are in the midst of an ecological and biodiversity crisis on par with the climate emergency and we know that 60% of species are in decline. However, I have had many rich discussions with leaders about the biodiversity and nature emergencies in the past week, as well as positive news of the global agreement to stop deforestation by 2030.

In my remaining time at COP, I am looking forward to learning more from nations around the World. One of Wales’ well-being goals is to be globally responsible- we cannot do this without engaging people across the globe and hearing their stories. This coming week, I am excited to share a panel with young academics from the United States, sit down with a Youth Environmentalist from Kenya, participate in panel discussions with ministers from Italy, Zimbabwe and Indonesia, host an event on the power of culture in tackling the climate crisis, as well as work with ambassadors from Wales to ensure our story is shared with the World. 

This week, I will continue to talk about the pioneering work we are doing here in Wales to put the well-being of our planet and our people first. I was pleased to sit down with Patrick Harvie MSP last week as he leads on the enactment of Scotland’s own Future Generations Act. This is just another example of a small nation taking big opportunities to share ideas of well-being that will transform how we govern people across the world. I hope by the next COP summit, we will have more Future Generations Commissioners.  


All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Sophie Howe is the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.

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