The first-ever Cop youth envoy, Omnia El Omrani, says she is proud of the many “firsts” for young people at the 27th UN climate summit hosted by Egypt this year.
Cop27 host Egypt appointed a youth envoy for the first time, set up a dedicated Children and Youth pavilion in the UN-managed blue zone, and allowed young climate negotiators to participate in actual climate negotiations, rather than just in informal simulations.
“This was not a token position,” Dr El Omrani, a plastic surgery resident at Ain Shams University in Cairo and a climate activist, told The National.
““The Cop27 Presidency gave me the space to share the needs and challenges youth face and to integrate their perspectives into our work. We did a lot of firsts, which makes me very proud.”
With the conference scheduled to conclude on Friday, Dr El Omrani said she was happy with the positive feedback she received and is looking forward to passing on the baton to the next youth envoy at Cop28 in the UAE.
Despite an impasse in the negotiations and the world’s most famous young climate activist Greta Thunberg shunning Cop27 as a “greenwashing” forum, other young people have made waves at the event.
Earlier this week, 11-year-old Indian climate activist Licypriya Kangujam confronted UK Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith on camera, asking him when his government plans to release detained climate activists.
Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, 26, slammed world leaders in a speech on Tuesday for continuing to back new fossil fuel projects.
Libyan Revan Ahmed, 12, was the youngest member of the Unicef delegation to attend the conference and appeared alongside Ms Nakate for a discussion on how to protect African children from the climate crisis.
Activists protested and made their voices heard, especially during the Youth and Future Generations Day on November 10.
The ‘health argument’ for climate
Dr El Omrani, 27, first started working on the intersection between climate change and health issues as a second-year medical student.
She joined the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), a network of more than 1.3 million medical students in 130 countries, and learnt about public health-related issues.
But the event that pushed her to advocate for action against climate change was experiencing Hurricane Irma in 2017 during an internship in Miami, Florida.
“I saw how climate change affected the health of the people, both physically and mentally,” she said.
She attended her first Cop (Conference of the Parties) with the IFMSA in 2018 at Cop24 in Warsaw.
She was then appointed as the organisation’s liaison officer for public health issues and went to Cop25 in Madrid as the delegation head to represent medical students globally.
Specialising in the “health argument” against climate change, she has held several advisory roles, including as a member of the Youth Sounding Board of the European Commission, of the WHO Civil Society Group to Advance Climate and Health, and Women Leaders for Planetary Health.
At Cop26 in Glasgow, she was a speaker with the UN High Level Climate Champions.
It was at Mena Climate Week in the UAE in March where she met the Egyptian presidency, and in July she was announced as Cop27 youth envoy with the role “to facilitate the meaningful and sustainable engagement of young people”.
Cop27 goals achieved
Dr El Omrani had three goals at Cop27 that she feels she has achieved: to build the capacity of young people to be able to participate meaningfully and make the most out of their presence at the talks; to create intergenerational dialogues and “break the silos” with policymakers; and to elevate the work of young people.
In recent months, she has travelled the world, meeting with dozens of African young people in Gabon and young people from all over the world in New York.
To prepare for Cop27, 1,100 young people from 149 countries attended Coy17 (Conference of the Youth) that preceded the conference in Sharm El Sheikh.
At Coy17, delegates were trained to understand the complexity of the climate negotiations and the agenda points. They also developed a global youth statement that was presented for discussion on Youth and Future Generations Day.
The young climate negotiators programme allowed delegates from 27 countries - including Argentina, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Nepal, Nigeria, Peru, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK - to participate in the talks.
“Having a young person negotiate on behalf of their country means that our needs and our perspectives can be integrated at the very root, in the negotiating room,” Dr El Omrani said.
“This is really a drastic change from what I’ve seen at Glasgow,” she added.
The children and youth pavilion has been bustling with panels and activity, including the painting of a mural of young women activists by Indian artist Shilo Shiv Suleman.
“The youth pavilion has been tremendous,” Dr El Omrani said. “It’s so inspiring to see that space. It’s so inspiring to see many Egyptian youth as well, active and out there.”
While young people may not yet have a full seat at the negotiating table, it is a start.
“It’s a very good bridge to what youth engagement can become at Cop28."