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Bringing youth voices to COP26

IPR Head of Policy Programmes and Communications, Amy Thompson, shares her experience of producing ActNowFilm and amplifying youth voices at COP26.

Amy Thompson is Head of Policy Programmes and Communications at the University of Bath Institute for Policy Research (IPR), and one of the producers of ActNowFilm - a youth voices film project from the IPR and Cambridge Zero, as part of the COP26 Universities Network, and supported by the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate (GAUC).

We spoke to Amy about her experience producing the film, and bringing youth voices to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).

Addressing climate change

I am lucky enough to live in a place surrounded by nature, and each day I witness countless birds ferry to and from their feeders. It’s a scene I am so lucky to witness, and one I am increasingly conscious of as it may prove a real rarity for future generations.

Rapid loss of biodiversity, in a world being ravaged and destroyed because of manmade climate change, is not something any of us should accept. Addressing climate change is something I believe we all have a responsibility to do.

Joining the COP26 Universities Network

About a year ago, I joined the COP26 Universities Network and volunteered as Co-Chair of Climate Exp0 - the official pre-COP academic conference held in May this year. It was an amazing experience, working with an incredible team of more than 80 international colleagues.

In planning the conference, we knew we wanted to focus on three audiences – academics, policymakers and students. But we didn’t know how students would like to be involved, nor did we want to make assumptions, or be seen as guilty of ‘youth washing’.

So we ran a survey, and received an overwhelming response from over 700 UK students expressing an interest in contributing to the conference.

We wanted to find real and impactful ways for these youth voices to be heard, and that involving young people was essential. We achieved this at Climate Exp0 through various strands – such as student-led sessions - but we wanted to do more.

Amplifying youth voices

In collaborating with Katie Parker from The Centre for Climate Repair at the University of Cambridge, affiliated with Cambridge Zero; the Cabinet Office; and the COP26 Universities Network, we sought to build on the momentum of Climate Exp0, and amplify these youth voices on the road to COP.

We knew we wanted to create an accessible opportunity for young people from across the world to have their voices heard in meaningful and genuine ways, and to bring those voices to the negotiators and world leaders. The opportunity had to be open to all – as everyone’s voice matters – and we needed a simple way for people to take part.

Together we designed the ActNowFilm project, where young people - aged 16-30 - were asked to submit a video of them talking about - or showing how - climate change was impacting them. We asked them to share their direct experiences of climate change, what they were doing about it, what pledges they wanted to make, and what messages they wanted to deliver to COP.

‘I have been blown away by the talent, dedication and commitment of all the young people I have worked with on this project. They have taught me so much.’
Amy Thompson IPR Head of Policy Programmes and Communications

Producing ActNowFilm

We recruited an international team of young people to work alongside us on the project – this is a youth voices project and we needed young people’s guidance. Around 30 young volunteers got involved in project management, communication, filming, directing, editing, promotion, media work, and even music composition. I have been blown away by the talent, dedication and commitment of all the young people I have worked with on this project. They have taught me so much.

We also worked with a number of international youth organisations and the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate (GAUC), who were instrumental in helping us to reach out and tell young people about this project and how to get involved. We are so thankful to each and every organisation who helped us.

To get involved, young people were asked to submit their films between June and September this year. We encouraged their films to be shot on mobile phones and welcomed submissions via a variety of social media channels.

We were overwhelmed by the response, having received over 140 clips from 35 countries. Each submission was registered and watched by our team, with clips categorised and transcribed so we had a deconstructed script of what young people wanted to say.

Our approach to producing the film goes against any filmmaking best practice – we didn’t plan what the film would say, or what the key messages were, or how many people would feature – because this film is young people speaking about their experiences. Rather than constructing a story, we wanted to hear what young people had to say, in their own words.

The journey to COP26 and beyond

We were lucky enough to find Octopus Films, a sustainably run film production company, who worked with us on ultimately bringing this film to life. Trailers for ActNowFilm were shown at New York Climate Week, COP15, and during the Voice Track of the GAUC Climate x Summit. We also pitched our idea as a COP26 Green Zone event and were delighted to have been selected to present live at the Science Theatre Stage.

It has been an absolute privilege to work on this project. I have seen first-hand how climate change is affecting young people from across the world; and how they have experienced more extreme weather events in their short lifetime than I have.

I’ve also seen how they are already taking positive and personal action to address climate change; how they view the climate emergency as the responsibility of not just individual countries, but of a global village that we must work together – now. Their understanding that things need to change, and their energy to drive those changes are incredibly powerful. We must listen to, and work with, them.

Everyone involved in ActNowFilm has shown immense talent, passion and courage, resulting in a brilliant, important film. I hope, like me, you will listen to their voices and be inspired to take action.

ActNowFilm trailer

Watch the trailer for ActNowFilm.

Learn more about ActNowFilm

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