Young people are showing the world how to integrate bottom-up democracy into climate action

During this last week of the COP26 in Glasgow, YOUNGO used e-voting technology to elect their focal points for the global north and the global south. YOUNGO is a non-profit organization representing the Children and Youth constituency to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This represents the first worldwide e-vote in the context of the UNFCCC and demonstrates powerfully how democracy can be included in the climate action agenda.

The young people behind YOUNGO, the umbrella organisation for youth NGOs, have made it their mission to increase representation where they can. During the COP26, young climate activists worldwide were invited to vote for their representatives using an e-voting platform, coming down to 3000+ voters in each of the two elections. The vote increased inclusiveness, as it made it possible for members across the world to make their voice heard, even for those that didn’t have the opportunity to be physically in Glasgow.

The election used, an open-source and transparent e-voting solution, providing secure and verifiable ballot marking, return and tallying. The e-voting platform is powered by the blockchain Tezos, allowing for partial decentralization of the results. The election, therefore, happened in an environmentally conscious manner. In contrast to highly energy-intensive blockchains (such as Bitcoin), Tezos uses delegated proof-of-stake to verify transactions, resulting in substantially lower resource consumption and making Electis a future-proof way of electronic voting.

YOUNGO’s election is the first to bring forward representatives specifically elected for the COP, in sharp contrast with the governments present at the COPs, which have seldomly, if not never been elected on the climate change issue. It will therefore impulse new legitimacy in future discussions, hopefully pushing governments to seek a clearer mandate from their own electorate in the coming years.

We strongly believe that COPs will be structurally more effective the day it will host, alongside governments, representatives specifically elected on climate change. YOUNGO’s election is a first step in that direction.” (Gilles Mentré, Co-founder of Electis)

Climate Change and Democracy

It has been lively debated whether democracy today can deal with the climate crisis; some have argued in support of “eco-authoritarianism”, and some have warned against it. However, it currently doesn’t look like authoritarian regimes, not restricted by election cycles and able for long term planning, are doing a better job of mitigating climate change than democracies. At the Conferences of Parties (COPs), citizens are represented by their governments and all decisions are taken under unanimous consensus. However, governments lack a clear mandate from their electorate. On the one hand, this is because not all leaders at the COP are democratically elected. But, on the other hand, even in the democratic states, it is questionable if the governments have been clearly elected on environmental issues. Even more, one can debate if they can adequately represent the younger generations on the climate change issue, who often are not eligible to vote (yet) in their home countries — despite being the ones that will feel the impacts of climate change the most.

During the COP26, young people across the world have shown great engagement in climate advocacy. They are demanding change in a political system that has been notoriously under-delivering when it comes to climate action. So is the problem too much or too little democracy? Rebecca Willis of the Guardian suggests “doubling down” on democratic initiatives by fostering public deliberations and minimising influences of corporate interests. Another way to increase democracy in the fight for climate change mitigation is to make the climate conference more inclusive, and the voices of vulnerable people heard.

“We have seen tremendous leadership from young people in and around COP26. The real drive to secure our futures comes from the children and young people. As the leaders of the future, children must be listened to.” (Kirsty McNeill, Executive Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaign at Save the Children)

Youth participation increases legitimacy and democracy

Despite the lack of democracy, especially for young people, youth participation has increased or at least been getting more and more visible during the last years. The UN includes Civil society actors in the negotiations in a system of civil society stakeholders. One of them is YOUNGO. A position statement was created during the COY16 (Conference of Youth), presented at the COP26, representing the views of over 40,000 young climate leaders from across the world. However, despite the UK presidency’s ambition to make COP26 the most inclusive COP of all, youth leaders and organisations’ take away were overwhelmingly disappointing, noting that the voice of young people has not been heard.

“We can’t keep doing this again and again and not getting results. Give us a seat at the table so we can secure our future.” (Dorothy Kazombo Mwale, youth climate activist from Malawi)

As demonstrated by YOUNGO’s global focal point elections during the COP26, young people seem to be committed to pushing forward the fight for climate justice by not abandoning democracy but by doubling down on it. Unfortunately, the mere participation in the civil society engagement framework of the UN has not proven effective enough for young people to force the grown-ups in the room to act in their interest. A combination of advocacy, institutional engagement and democratic legitimacy might lift youth movements to another level for COP27.



Electis is on a mission to build better democracies through advanced voting technologies.

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Electis is on a mission to build better democracies through advanced voting technologies.