Part II of a blog by Wetive Dlamini – chairperson of Hlumisa (the Eswatini Youth Climate Forum). Read more about the amazing experience she had as a youth representative from Eswatini at the recent COP26 summit in Glasgow. This article is part of our series focusing on the COP26 global climate summit in the UK
You can read Part I of this blog here.
I still don’t believe it; just the thought of it is still incomprehensible. My desire to attend the COP 26 climate change conference in Glasgow finally came to fruition and I was never ready for the exhilarating and educational experience ahead of me. During this conference, I got to rub shoulders with experts in environmental affairs and I met various dignitaries. The great thing about COP is that the unifying common interest amongst the participants is climate action and you end up forgetting that you are seated next to honourable ministers and government officials representing their countries. Ok, now let me take you through my experience at the COP 26 conference.
Let me begin by appreciating our focal person in Eswatini, Constance Dlamini as well as Deepa Pullanikkatil for ensuring that I was able to attend the sessions that address issues related to the needs of youth. On my very first day at the conference, I got to attend a session where former United States of America President Barack Obama made remarks to the youth climate activists on the work we have done and how we should continue making an impact in the world as we are the most affected. While sitting in the second row of the hall, breathing the same air as Mr Obama, I got to appreciate how he mentioned how climate change is politics and how cynical we the youth are about politics yet it cannot be separated from how we decide to take action, (for a moment there I thought he was talking to me because that’s so me). The downside of that session is that approximately 80% of the participants were not youth but I am hopeful that the message from Mr Obama will spark real action aimed at developing the youth in their respective countries…
Being in this session made me realise that it was important that I had chosen to take on the challenge of making this trip. My dream of being on stages delivering, representing and making an impact felt like a reachable goal as I watched Barack deliver his speech.
After the session with Barack, I was asking myself if it could get any better than this. I spent some time moving around trying to figure out the most relevant session I could join. I told myself that, “Girl, opportunities like this come once in a while so you better network here and build relationships.” I think the most outstanding conversation is one I had with Mr Williams from Australia which turned into a 2-minute elevator pitch. I presented to him a green business start-up that I am involved in back home and explained how we plan to make a positive impact through it. I was not ready for the question that came after on how much is needed to finance this project. I guess I had not prepared that far and well let’s just say there is room for improvement. I am still in communication with Mr Williams discussing how support Golden Ventures can be likely secured through a grant from the Australian Government.
Ok, now back to the COP 26 sessions, my absolute favourite session was one focused on science and innovation. The sessions provided solutions to some of the demands we wrote as green entrepreneurs in Eswatini. So, from the moment the presentation started, I was ecstatic because some of the items shared will be one of the things I advocate for in Eswatini. In this session one of the speakers addressed the importance of research in the development of innovations that seek to provide solutions to the climate change crisis, they mentioned how research brings about data, tools and tested procedures which provide for context specific information. I swear I wanted to scream “where have you been!?, because most of my failed and delayed projects resulted from poor research.
On one of the days, I joined Dr Deepa on the negotiation table of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Guess what, I was sitting next to the minister of tourism of Kenya and I got to ask him how Kenya got to be so ahead in most engagements and involvements in environmental issues especially climate change. I kid you not, in every panel there would be a Kenyan and I’ve also noted how a lot of these events happen in Kenya (in August I got to be part of Pan Africa Climate Justice Summer School which was launched and supported in Kenya). In response, the honourable minister stated that firstly, they have opened a lot of room for organizations that are involved in climate action both domestically and internationally. Secondly, he mentioned that the people of Kenya are being capacitated, informed and encouraged to advocate for climate action from the government to household level. While from the NDC negotiating table I noted that some countries now allow young people to represent them in the negotiations.
The session I think had the most impactful deliberation was on Gender and the Youth. Where some of the older people were complaining and raising their genuine concern with the young people expecting instant gratification, wanting things to be done now whereas change often requires time, this was stated in relation to young people being part of negotiations, advocacy and other related activities. They say we don’t want the development process where we are learning, observing and acquiring so that we have meaningful and impactful engagement. I loved that and I felt challenged as a young person to not necessarily doubt my potential but allow it to grow first and then become an important voice. Indeed, for Eswatini to make meaningful progress in addressing climate issues, the involvement of fresh ideas from the youth should be prioritized as much as educating and capacitating them for impactful results.
‘Work hard and play hard,’ they say. I spent the last day of COP26 exploring Scotland, took a 3hour train, passed almost 5 towns to Aberdeen for dining, then headed to Stonehaven for sightseeing where there is the Dunnottar Castle. It was beautiful, an experience I still dream of, the beautiful landscape reminded me that among all the amazing things that God is, he is also the creator, a master architect. The beauty of Scotland was not only in the landscape and structures but also with the people. I was fortunate to meet and listen to Emaswati living and adapting to Scottish life.
A lifetime opportunity indeed, who would have thought I’d meet the former President Barack Obama at age 23 in Scotland, Oh my God!