Student Energy Summit amplifies youth voices alongside COP28

by MMC
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United Arab Emirates

Beniamin Strzelecki is a youth advisor on climate change to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and co-chair of the World Energy Student Summit which precedes COP28. According to him, the major issues for young people concern climate change mitigation, reversing the damage and the nuanced question of the rights of future generations.

Even if climate litigation helps curb fossil fuel interests, current legal frameworks are insufficient, he says. News from the academic world: “How we can better respect the rights of future generations is a philosophical question, but it is also deeply achievable. We are actively considering how this can be better reflected in international law, but also in national legal contexts.

These and other questions will be debated by 650 young people from more than 100 countries at the Student Energy Summit, the world’s largest energy event for young people, which takes place every two years at a different university around the world .

This year the summit is being held in the United Arab Emirates from November 28 to December 1, hosted by New York University (NYU) in Abu Dhabi, on the sidelines of COP28 and under the theme “Reimagining the future”.

The summit goes beyond debate, to provide a global platform that helps prepare young people for careers in the energy transition, interact with each other and with public and private sector leaders, and showcase young people underrepresented voices in the energy sector.

A little context

Beniamin Strzelecki, aka Benji, is originally from Poland and graduated in civil engineering from NYU Abu Dhabi in May 2023. Its co-chair is Mira Aljallaf, a mechanical engineering student at NYU Abu Dhabi, who is Emirati. They have been working on the summit since spring of last year.

During four years at the university – known for being a pioneer of sustainability in higher education in the UAE – Strzelecki was involved in several capacities with student and university sustainability initiatives.

For example, he actively supported the recently launched climate action plan at NYU Abu Dhabi, served on the student sustainability committee, and was a student assistant in the Office of Sustainability and Stewardship for over a year. He has also co-led student groups, including Green House at NYU Abu Dhabi, a very active student interest group around sustainability. Last year, Strzelecki was part of the UAE delegation to COP27.

Since graduating he has been a policy lead at the Global Renewables Alliance, an industry association for the renewables and energy sector, and is now considering postgraduate study in energy and sustainable development.

Strzelecki was selected to become a youth advisor on climate change to UN Secretary-General António Guterres through a comprehensive selection system. In this role, he serves on the Youth Advisory Group on Climate Changewhich was first convened in 2021 by Guterres as a platform for young people at the highest level of decision-making in the United Nations system and the intergovernmental sector as a whole.

The group is also working to raise awareness at the UN “of the priorities that young people see in the areas of climate action and energy transition”. The Youth Advisory Group meets with the Secretary-General four times a year, as well as other members of the UN leadership.

Each cohort has a two-year term and includes seven young people, five representing each of the five UN regions, one representing small island states, and one representing the UN host country. Strzelecki represents Eastern Europe. The young advisors are of different ages and areas of interest: Strzelecki’s particular area of ​​interest is the energy transition.

“We’re helping them keep their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the youth climate movement and work together to advance the Secretary-General’s Acceleration Agenda. If implemented, he said, it would put the world on track to achieve net zero emissions globally by 2050.

The Student Energy Summit

The Student Energy Summit has taken place every two years since 2009. It is held under the auspices of Student Energy, a youth-led international NGO based in Canada. Every two years, a group of students is chosen to host the summit. In early 2022, NYU Abu Dhabi successfully applied to host the 2023 summit.

“Since the COP is taking place this year in the United Arab Emirates, we decided to place the summit back-to-back with the COP,” Strzelecki said.

The Student Energy Summit is important for young people. “We have many fantastic young professionals, students, entrepreneurs, researchers and innovators who are putting a lot of effort into working on startups, organizations and youth networks to advance the energy transition.

“Most of the time, they do not receive the appropriate recognition or support, and do not have the opportunity to engage with leaders and decision-makers in the energy sector. Our event is a platform that, firstly, recognizes and celebrates these young people and gives them the opportunity to showcase their work and, secondly, connects them with decision-makers.

“It puts them in a room with ministers, CEOs, mayors and leaders of the philanthropic sector, to present their ideas, expand their networks, return to their countries and harness these new resources to further increase their impact. » said Strzelecki.

He added: “This is something we have seen repeatedly during previous editions of the summit, where young people arrived energized and left inspired, and went on to launch new businesses in partnership with people met during the summit. They left motivated to take on new roles as policy makers, government officials and others. This is why the summit is important.

“It’s not just about these three days. It’s about bringing people from all over the world together and changing their lives. Of course, this year is unique because we are hosting the summit on the sidelines of COP28. And we want to give these young people an even bigger platform.

“We will have more decision-makers than ever at this year’s summit. And we will also bring our delegates to the COP28 venue in Dubai to give them visibility at the world’s most important climate conference.

The big problems

What are the critical climate change issues that young people are identifying and advocating for on various platforms, including at the United Nations?

Naturally, Strzelecki says, some of the key areas that young people are most interested in are those that affect younger generations more than current generations: “That’s the crux of what we’re facing when it comes to climate change,” says -he. News from the academic world.

It focuses on the three areas of climate change mitigation, combating climate-related loss and damage, and the rights of future generations.

First, young people are demanding more ambitious mitigation measures. “We are unfortunately seeing countries and private sector companies backtracking on their climate commitments.

“We need to see a faster phase-out of fossil fuels and fossil fuel subsidies to achieve clean energy systems by 2040 worldwide, in both developed and developing countries, as well as ‘to faster decarbonization of high-emission sectors, notably steel, cement, concrete, aviation, maritime transport.

“Unfortunately, the current design of the energy system and the lack of concrete measures, particularly on fossil fuel subsidies, pose a significant obstacle to a faster shift away from polluting energy sources,” he said. .

The students’ second theme is “loss and damage” caused by climate change, which Strzelecki said was an important topic at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Earlier this month, a COP meeting in Abu Dhabi agreed on a draft framework for a new UN fund to help countries recover from climate loss and damage, which will initially be hosted by the World Bank.

“Yet many decisions still need to be finalized,” he explains, “and sufficient funds are needed to truly offset the damage caused by climate change. And we must ensure that those who have contributed most to the climate crisis pay their fair share to support those who are most vulnerable and least responsible for the catastrophic impact of the climate crisis.

Strzelecki continues: “The third pillar is more nuanced. This is the question of the rights of future generations. Climate litigation has mushroomed in different jurisdictions and is a powerful tool to control fossil fuel interests and policymakers, stop some of the most outrageous fossil fuel expansion projects, and force governments to accelerate climate action and reduce climate change. their support for fossil fuels. fuel industry.

“That said, current legal frameworks are not fit for purpose. » The people who will be most affected by the climate crisis, children and young people, are very poorly represented in current legal systems due to the limited resources available to them, and the unborn have no legal status.

“They can’t sue the current polluters. By the time they are born and old enough to sue, the people most responsible will be gone and the climate crisis will be so advanced that it will be very difficult to return this planetary system to where it was 150 years ago. .”

It is imperative to find a way to better respect the rights of future generations, he says.

Criticism of the holding of COP28 in the Gulf

Criticism has been raised over the holding of COP28 in the Gulf, a major fossil fuel production area, as well as the appointment of Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber – CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and diplomat climate veteran – to the post of president. designated 2023 summit.

Strzelecki disagrees.

“We have seen many countries in the region being at the forefront of developing various technologies and approaches to climate action and energy transition,” he says. The United Arab Emirates’ Masdar, for example, is one of the world’s largest developers of renewable energy.

“The UAE has committed to planting 100 million mangroves to strengthen this essential ecosystem here. There is certainly a history of countries in the region, including the UAE, working to develop renewable energy.

“Holding a COP here opens up valuable conversations in this region which, as we know, has one of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions – but which is very intentional about acting accordingly and chart a path to achieving net zero emissions by 2050,” concludes Strzelecki.

“It’s easy to have conversations in countries that have had enough resources for decades to reduce their emissions. And there is value in taking this conversation to places where it is not easy – provided we see real commitments from the host country and other partner countries.

Email Karen MacGregor: macgregor.karen@gmail.com

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