COP28: Greater ambition needed to secure climate and gender justice

13 December 2023

Commitments made at COP28 are a step in the right direction but greater ambition is needed to secure climate and gender justice for girls and young people.

Youth delegate Esther from Sierra Leone at COP28.
Youth delegate Esther from Sierra Leone at COP28.

Responding to the final outcomes of COP28 released today, Kathleen Sherwin, Plan International’s Chief Strategy and Engagement Officer, says: 

“The stakes are high for today’s and future generations of children and youth, in particular, girls and young women who are most severely impacted by the climate crisis.” 

“A transition away from fossil fuels is a start, but simply not enough. Girls’ lives are being devastated by the climate crisis right now. We need much greater ambition and urgency to deliver solutions that will make a real difference to the world’s children and youth, recognising disproportionate impacts on girls and young women. Without a firm commitment to phase out fossil fuels we are failing the world’s most vulnerable who are already bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. Additionally, we need decisions on timeframes and processes to deliver on climate finance.” 

The right to a clean, healthy, sustainable environment

Plan International does, however, welcome the language across the COP28 negotiations that emphasises the importance of respecting, promoting and considering human rights obligations. The inclusion of gender equality, empowerment of women, intergenerational equity and children’s rights in the Loss and Damage Fund and Global Stocktake texts is a critical step forward. The acknowledgement of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the right to health and right to development is also important to move forward a global approach to intergenerational climate justice. 

“The climate crisis is the most significant global, intergenerational, gender and social injustice of our time,” Sherwin continued. “It is therefore essential that a rights-based approach is reflected in COP28 decisions. Already, the consequences of our changing climate are infringing on the rights of the most marginalised communities in the world, and magnifying intersectional gender inequalities, especially for girls and young women. That’s why girls’ and women’s rights must be at the centre of climate action.” 

Education supports climate action

Plan International also welcomes positive outcomes in Global Goal on Adaptation on attaining climate resilience with reference to climate-resilient food production and supply, and against climate-related health impacts. Critically, the goal also encourages parties to broaden education to support climate action, whilst a Declaration for a Common Agenda on Education and Climate Change was also adopted at COP28. Yet the statements lack commitments to children and addressing the specific needs of girls and young women, and crucially means of finance and implementation are not defined. 

In the words of April, a Plan International COP28 youth delegate from Indonesia: 

“Girls are at the forefront of the climate movement. We are leading solutions to raise awareness and address our specific needs. I am happy to see the COP28 statement “encouraging efforts by Parties to broaden climate education, and to empower people, in particular children and youth, with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes necessary for active action to combat climate change.”  But on its own, this is not enough. It must go further to resource and commit to climate education that is inclusive of girls and young women, recognising our specific knowledge and agency, and addressing root causes of gender inequality.”  

Youth delegate April from Indonesia at COP28.
Youth delegate April from Indonesia at COP28.

A major breakthrough at COP28 is the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage Fund on Day 1 of the meeting. The impacts of loss and damage from climate change are already being felt every day, with children and youth facing growing economic insecurity, inequality, poverty, hunger, lack of access to education and health services, threats to livelihoods, risks of gender-based violence and the loss of loved ones.

More funding is needed

This decision is crucial for today’s children and youth, and future generations, with the economic and social impacts of loss and damage expected to grow exponentially over the coming decades. But while the announcement is a major step forward, much greater ambition to fill the fund is needed. Initial pledges made at COP28 total $770.6 million (USD), but this is way off the estimated cost of loss and damage, which is expected to reach at least $1 trillion (USD) by 2050.   

Georgia, a Plan International COP28 youth delegate from Australia, says: “Loss and damage is not a future problem. It is happening now. We urgently need governments to increase ambition to commit sufficient funding to address loss and damage. Funding must be accessible to girls, young women and their families who are disproportionately suffering loss and damage – including loss of homes, livelihoods and access to education and health services as well as increases in gender-based violence, disease, child, early and forced marriage and unions and unpaid care work for women and girls.” 

Youth delegate Georgia from Australia at COP28.
Youth delegate Georgia from Australia at COP28.

Plan International is committed to ensuring girls and young women in all their diversity can achieve their right to meaningfully participate in the climate policy decisions, processes and actions that impact them. While significant barriers remain, at COP28, youth effectively mobilised to influence the negotiations, raising their voices on their priorities, for climate action.

We welcome the major step forward at COP28 requesting an expert dialogue on children and climate change. Farah from Jordan says: “Children, and especially girls, are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. Climate action must respond to our needs. We have a right to be involved in the decisions that impact us. I support the COP28 request to the Subsidiary Body for Implementation, at its sixtieth session, to hold an expert dialogue on children and climate change to discuss the disproportionate impacts of climate change on children and on relevant policy solutions in this regard, engaging relevant United Nations entities, international organisations and non-governmental organisations in this effort. It is critical that this expert dialogue goes ahead.” 

Girls vital for decision-making

Plan International also welcomes the commitment to young people’s participation in the Loss and Damage Fund decision, which states that the fund will establish consultative forums to engage with stakeholders, including youth. Yet, much more needs to be done to ensure inclusive processes so that girls and young women, in all their diversity, are meaningfully at the table when it comes to climate decision-making. 

Youth delegate Nelly from Ecuador.
Youth delegate Nelly, an indigenous girl from Ecuador.

“As a young Indigenous Puruha from Ecuador, it is promising to see the COP28 Global Stocktake ‘calls on Parties to meaningfully engage Indigenous Peoples and local communities in their climate policies and action.’  But calls are not enough. Our meaningful engagement, inclusive of Indigenous children, especially girls and young women, must be sufficiently resourced with commitments to climate finance,” says Nelly, Plan International COP28 youth delegate. 

COP28 also provided space for much-needed dialogue on integrated humanitarian-climate action. The Global Stocktake recognition of ‘early warning for all’ is promising.

Highlighting the importance of action ahead of climate disasters, with the launch of a new charter, Esther, Plan International COP28 youth delegate from Sierra Leone (pictured above), emphasises: “As girls we are not passive victims of the climate crisis.  Through our girl-led networks we are leading climate action in our communities. But we can’t do it alone. Our voices and action must be connected to the processes, systems and finance which enable effective early action.” 

Plan International will continue to advocate in solidarity with children and youth, especially girls and young women, in all their diversity, to raise key concerns in climate negotiations, pushing for clear commitments, timeframes and accessible finance. We will build on the progress made at COP28 and ensure this translates into meaningful climate action for the world’s children most impacted by the climate crisis.