What is 'youthwashing' and is COP26 guilty of it?

·3-min read
Just like "greenwashing" on environmental issues, young people are now experiencing "youthwashing," whereby young people are invited to events with an important political scope, such as COP26, while their voices are simultaneously minimized.

While you've no doubt heard of "greenwashing," "femwashing" or "pinkwashing" -- terms to denounce marketing or political strategies supposedly committed to the environment, feminism or LGBTQ+ rights -- young people are no exception to the phenomenon, it seems. Indeed, the concept of "youthwashing" has been highlighted by the COP26 climate conference, which runs until Friday in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

Getting young people involved in the fight against climate change was a theme at COP26, Friday, November 5, when "Youth Empowerment" was on the agenda.

Several young climate activists received personal invitations to attend the conference in Glasgow. The famous Greta Thunberg of course, but also Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate, and Belgian activist Adelaide Charlier. They were joined by young people from all over the world who are members of youth associations for environmental protection, such as Youth For Climate.

At first glance, it could seem like a good thing that this impressive panel of young people came from all over the world to attend the high-profile UN conference that ends this Friday, November 12. Especially since these young people are not mere guests, but are speakers, invited to share their opinions. But, look a little closer, and you could wonder whether the voices and concerns of these young people are really being heard within these very institutional events, governed by the world's highest echelon of political leaders.

This is a question that many of these young activists have been asking themselves since the beginning of COP26 and in spite of its "Youth Empowerment" day. "Young people are present, but we have the impression that we are mainly there so that the politicians can fill their 'youth quota'. We don't really know to what extent our words will be taken into account and listened to," commented Manon (member of a French youth delegation invited to participate in the COP26) during a live event organized that same day by L' Académie du Climat .

"Glasgow must deliver solutions and implementations -- and we must fight to build platforms for meaningful youth inclusion," said the 20-year-old British activist Phoebe Hanson, who made a speech at COP26 as part of the "Youth Empowerment" theme.

Like "greenwashing" on the environment, young people are now experiencing "youthwashing," the fact of inviting young people to events with an important political scope, such as the COP26, while refusing to give them the place they deserve in the debates and decision-making processes.

The phenomenon was already denounced by young environmental activists a few months earlier during the pre-COP26 youth event staged by the UN in Milan in September.

The objective of this youth summit was to integrate young people's proposals into a document in preparation for the Glasgow Conference. An initiative that did not fail to arouse the skepticism of Greta Thunberg, who said: "So-called leaders have cherry-picked young people to meetings like this to pretend they are listening to us, but they are not listening."

Léa Drouelle

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