The 17th U.N. Climate Change Conference of Youth (COY 17) - held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, is the youth precursor event to COP27, organised by YOUNGO, the official Children and Youth Constituency to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This event aimed to serve as a capacity building forum for knowledge and cultural exchange to prepare youth for inclusion and participation at COP 27.
I am Taylen Reddy, a 22-year-old intersectional climate activist from Durban, South Africa. In May 2020, right at the dawn of the covid-era, I founded Zero Waste Durban. We are a non-profit organization working towards establishing sustainable solutions to the plastics and waste crisis in Durban with the inclusion of pushing for corporate accountability and implementation of regulatory policies. I am also a 2022 Global Youth Ambassador for Break Free From Plastic, having attended COY 17 with support from the amazing people at BFFP. Zero Waste Durban was recently registered as a core-member of Break Free From Plastic!
I had high expectations for COY, expecting to learn a lot about sustainable solutions and ways that we, as public citizens, can do our part towards meeting the 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). I was also, however, cautious of Greenwashing that could take place, as it does happen so often at large events such as this – especially with Coca-Cola, the number one plastic polluter in the world as a sponsor of COP 27. My main aim was combating false solutions to the plastic crisis such as sessions held at the conference by a recycling company with the largest facilities in the MENA region – promoting recycling as the main solution while boasting about their sales of recycled bottles to the world’s biggest plastic polluters. My greatest experiences at COY 17 came from networking and meeting new people from all over the world, many of whom were familiar with BFFP and the work we do to call out the top polluters. I feel that I gained a lot of experience at public speaking and interacting with like-minded people, as well as people with a different outlook on certain issues. I was interviewed by a professor at a Swedish university as part of a research project where I detailed INC-1 and the Global Plastics Treaty, highlighting the importance of it and the link between plastic production and climate change – from the extraction of fossil fuels to produce the plastics, right until challenges with the disposal of most plastics.
One of the biggest issues I had with the event was the prominence of plastics – found everywhere, from the food that was sold to attendees (sandwiches, wraps and salads) all packaged in single use plastics, to beverages sold in PET bottles and coffee in cups with plastic lids. There were also a few planning issues, where some sessions were cancelled or postponed and the new venues were not made clear to participants, causing confusion.
Overall, the conference was great for getting groups of young leaders from all over the world actively engaged in discussions regarding the climate crisis. It also brought people from many different cultures together, giving them a space to share their experiences and knowledge so we can all fight towards the same goal – climate justice!
Upon arriving back in Durban, I was thrown into the chaos of preparing for the BFFP Global Day of Action and release of the 2022 Brand Audit Report. COY17 gave me a fair outlook of what to do (and more importantly, what not to do) when planning a large event as Zero Waste Durban hosted a ‘Trashiversary’ Party and return to sender action for Coca-Cola – who were about to be named the world’s top plastic polluter for the 5th year in a row. You can read more about our event in an upcoming blog post by BFFP Senior Ambassador, Rafael Eudes.