Hundreds of youth from around the world are descending on Montreal to attend COP15 — the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Representing ourselves, our communities and sometimes even our countries, young people are preparing to bear witness to the negotiations about to unfold within the walls of the Palais des congrès.

Many of my peers are inhabited by a crushing sense of what's at stake. After all, what happens this December will both set the tone for the next decade of global nature protection and likely decide the fate of thousands of species currently on the precipice of extinction.

It feels like we’re stuck in a car that’s barrelling toward the edge of a cliff and we’re hoping the driver can hear our cries to slow down.

But what if more of us had a hand at the steering wheel?

What if youth were no longer resigned to waiting to see our generation age into our turn as the decision-making majority? Waiting to be invited into politics? Or waiting to be old enough to vote?

COP15 presents a powerful opportunity to build — and not just imagine — that future.

Among the targets countries will have to negotiate in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, one in particular has gained significant attention from youth organizers and other civil society groups.

Updated on Dec. 5, but still yet to be adopted, Target 21 aims to “ensure the full, equitable, inclusive, effective and gender-responsive representation and participation in decision-making, and access to justice and information related to biodiversity by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, respecting their cultures and their rights over lands, territories, resources, and traditional knowledge, as well as by women and girls, children and youth, and persons with disabilities and ensure the full protection of environmental human rights defenders.”

Target 21 would require all #COP15 party countries to guarantee young people’s participation in domestic environmental decision-making, writes Claire Warmels

If its most generous interpretation is agreed upon this December, Target 21 would require all CBD party countries to guarantee young people’s participation in domestic environmental decision-making. The target would require nations to provide youth (and Indigenous Peoples, local communities, disabled people and women’s groups) with a seat at the table — or in other words, a hand on the wheel.

What would this look like in practice?

Bridging the democratic deficit for youth in environmental decision-making can be done in a number of ways.

An emerging favourite among youth organizers here in Quebec takes the form of a permanent youth climate committee in the National Assembly — one that would be representative of the diverse regions of Quebec and members of the First Nations and Inuit communities of Quebec, and be consulted ahead of decisions made by the Council of Ministers, the ministries and provincial government agencies about projects set to impact the environment (including the climate that young people and future generations will inherit).

Though this prospect may seem far away, the Quebec National Assembly has actually already unanimously voted in favour of examining the creation of such a committee.

The victory came this past April following coalition work by youth delegates from Génération climat Montreal and those of the Delegation des Generations Futures (supported by Oxfam-Quebec and L’Ecothèque) and months after the former delegates first proposed the vision to Quebec leaders in Glasgow during COP26.

The delegations recently met again for a youth consultation, asking young Quebecers to express their vision of what this potential permanent youth climate council ought to look like. Among other important findings, the consultation brought to light a key fact already familiar to many of us who work with youth: that young Quebecers are motivated, politically knowledgeable and ready to make our voices heard.

Momentum is now building in favour of moving from the examination phase to the creation phase of the permanent youth climate committee.

COP15 presents the perfect impetus for Quebec to act on a common-sense, trans-partisan consensus, model the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework targets here at home and provide young Quebecers with the means to fully, equitably and effectively participate in environmental decision-making.

Claire Warmels leads Génération climat Montréal, a project launched by the YMCAs of Quebec that seeks to amplify the diverse voices and interests of young Montrealers during international environmental summits.