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Millennium Fellows' takeaways from COP28



Angela Zhong, an alumnus of the Millennium Fellowship, Class of 2021 attended the COP28 last fall. She is an undergraduate at Harvard studying economics and environmental science public policy. Angela is originally from Houston, Texas, and was inspired to get involved in climate work after facing several environmental health hazards and natural disasters.


"This November marked my second anniversary in the international youth climate space! My first event was the Conference of Youth 16 ahead of COP26 in 2021. Being back at COP again in 2023 provides a pivotal setting to reflect on my engagement. In the past two years, I have been so fortunate to meet youth from around the world, advocate for the causes I believe in, and learn about various theories of change. I think that my experience, while accelerated by a gap year spent at many conference halls, is one that is universal to the youth who are participating in this year’s COP28.


I could talk at length about the sheer learning that takes place by being in proximity of so many of the best minds on climate, or the immense struggle to demand institutional change during a crisis. I would highlight those as some of the key takeaways of being at the COP in general. But I would like to focus on something that this specific COP28 has imprinted on me: the sense of community that I am grateful for.


I hear that, a decade ago, youth participation at high-level conferences such as COPs was scarce. Today, “youthwashing” is still most definitely an issue. The polity of the Blue Zone where the negotiations that happen are still not representative of the constituencies that are supposedly served. I cannot count how many times I was invited to contribute to the conversation as the only person under 35 and for the sole purpose of justifying why young people’s presence is necessary. It is a frustrating and unfortunate reality.


But even in these past two years, I have seen change. I have received faith and in turn have more faith that these heavy, heavy doors are cracking open wider.

During my time in Dubai, I was fortunate enough to reconnect with old friends and newly connected with many leaders from around the world. I also met up with other youth who were attending for the first time and had no idea what to expect. I am somewhere in between those two ends, and I see a bit of myself in both of those versions. 


Having been at COP three times now, I am more familiar with the language surrounding the types of strategies youth use to mobilize (direct actions, interventions, bilaterals, and more). I understand what it means to ask questions like, “What are you following?” and answer with terms such as “Article 6.2.” I even share my knowledge by participating in panels like this one, something that I was not comfortable with doing at the start. 


But, flying over Glasgow as I draft this blog, I still vividly remember how overwhelming the experience was as a nineteen-year-old, making my first international solo trip and not knowing if this was even real.  After repeated confirmation, I can assure those who have not yet been that this world is real – a venue where youth gather, strategize, educate, inspire, and create change."


 

Thank you Angela for sharing your COP28 experience with the community. Connect with Her on LinkedIn. Alumni, share your stories with us here: (alumni@mcnpartners.org)


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