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Supporting young people to transform biodiversity policy

By Bright and Esmeralda, Global Youth Biodiversity Network, 21st July 2023

In March we shared reflections from Catherine Bryan, trustee of Synchronicity Earth, about her experience attending COP15 as a funder. She described how important young people were at the conference, and we invited two of those young people – Bright and Esmeralda – to contribute their own reflections on their experience in Montreal, as well as their thoughts on the role of funders in supporting young people to influence policy outcomes that will affect the rest of their lives.

Hello! We are Bright (Thailand) and Esmeralda (Belgium), two young environmentalists working with the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN). Last December, we attended COP15, the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, together with many other young people of our network. This was not the first summit where youth was represented. However, our voices were never as strong as at COP15, where the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was decided on.

We prepared for this event way ahead of time, by consulting youth on their priorities on the topic, by organising capacity-building training for our community, and by campaigning and meeting up with partners and decision-makers. Participating in COP15 was, therefore, a grand finale for us. GYBN accredited 400 young people and provided funding to help 130 to attend (representing 119 countries in total), making youth participation at this summit an unprecedented success. We were finally able to meet face-to-face and worked with excitement and joy on policy, campaigning, exhibitions, dialogues, and media and press. After pushing so hard, we achieved our main goal: most of our priorities were approved by the policy-makers and now form part of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

COP15 left a huge impression on young individuals, including myself (Bright). As a youth delegate, I could see that participating in COP15 helped us maximise our contribution to biodiversity conservation (both as individuals and collectively); it also  helped influence our understanding of what actions are most meaningful. At the same time, it opened up our perspectives on how varied the needs and contexts are around the world. We left ready to thrive together.

Here are also some of the testimonials from my fellows:

“Being involved in this kind of diplomatic space is a very useful tool to meet authorities or some of the world leaders, that would not be able for us to meet in other ‘normal’ circumstances.” – Nicolas Bellot from Bolivia

“I felt and still feel like I am part of the global biodiversity family and that my small ideas, stories and actions matter towards the global fight to bring back nature to the recovery path while influencing a world where all people live together in harmony with nature.” – Irene Kananura from Uganda

Scores of young people at COP15

These amazing achievements were only possible thanks to our tremendous fundraising efforts, and to the trust that partners put into our work, before and during COP15. As part of the fundraising team, I (Esmeralda) can only be delighted that so many partners valued youth participation in the UN Biodiversity negotiations almost as much as we did! Youth organisations like ours often experience difficulties to gather funds — less than 1% of environmental philanthropy goes to youth environmental justice work — and this support was absolutely essential to complete the work we undertook on the long road to COP15.

Our impact was even greater thanks to the trust funders put in us, namely the freedom of selecting youth delegates, organising events with our own agenda, promoting the values of our network, and lobbying for our own priorities. Also, the flexibility in managing the funds we received allowed us to maximise youth presence at COP, which helped us push our ideas, and counterbalance the big players in the biodiversity negotiation process, who tend to promote ideas against our priorities. In addition, many funders collaborated with us on projects, way beyond their financial help, which eased the logistical processes, connected us with more actors, provided technical expertise, and increased our impact on the ground.

Nevertheless, the challenges we faced with funding were significant, and, at times, frustrating. With most of the funding being confirmed very late or even after the project, we were forced to rely on our personal funds to make purchases. Additionally, the short-term nature of the funding meant that we had to seek out new sources continually. Finally, even if we are passionate about our work, we can’t remain unpaid for the countless hours we spend on these projects, and too many partners are still reluctant to fund core costs. Despite these challenges, we persevered and remained committed to our cause, knowing our efforts made a real difference in the world.

From this experience, we would like to share with you some principles that could guide good collaboration between funders and youth organisations:

  1. Co-development of the partnership terms: Youth organisations often face specific challenges, such as not being registered, not having steady cash flows, etc. These aspects need to be taken into account, and this can only be ensured through the co-design of the partnership. Payment timelines, expectations about the outcomes as well as the reporting process need to be clarified beforehand.  This will spare time and misunderstandings during the project execution.
  2. Support of structural needs: Youth have big projects that can only have a long-term impact if organisations receive core funds. In order to remain coordinated and to be able to conduct essential activities such as strategic plans, fundraising, policy or community building, we need a steady team that can take over those tasks. Relying only on volunteer work is not sustainable.
  3. Trust-based approach: We value “by youth – for youth” work, and need funders to trust us because we know best how to empower our community and ensure meaningful youth participation. Too many projects led by bigger organisations are still tokenistic. Trust young people and give us the means and the opportunity to transform the world.

Kittikun Saksung, or Bright, is a coordinator of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN), for which he established a Thailand chapter and also coordinates the regional level of GYBN Asia. Prior to this he spent four years as a Youth Engagement and Climate Change Officer at UNDP in Thailand and worked at the Asian Circular Economy Academy organized by UN Environment and Chulalongkorn University.

Esmeralda Wirtz is a Belgian environmental and social justice activist. After studying cultural anthropology and environmental sciences, they worked for a protected area and started a community compost in their neighborhood. They are now working on biodiversity conservation and policy together with the Global Youth Biodiversity Network.

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  • William Wilson says:


    At The Borrowed Earth Project
    we have produced a new short 6 minute film on Biodiversity and Climate Change specifically to inform youth climate activists about the issue of biodiversity, but also what is being done about it and how they can help.
    We would be happy to arrange showings for the Global Youth Biodiversity Framework.
    William Wilson

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