The Time I Delivered a Speech on Behalf of YOUNGO

The Time I Delivered a Speech on Behalf of YOUNGO

Hi, it’s me again bringing you more content on just transition. On the 5th of December, YOUNGO was invited to participate in an Open Dialogue with the Polish presidency, centering around the theme of “just transition”. Aimed at engaging key stakeholders, the open dialogue was first initiated during COP 23. According to my YOUNGO peers, the Fijian presidency worked closely with different key constituencies to set the agenda for the dialogue session. There was no such opportunity for collaboration this time around.

Photo taken by Syaqil.

With all the action happening on the COP 24 floor, I joined the intervention drafting session on a whim. I was taking a breather in the computer room with some of the MYD members after a morning of informal consultation meetings. Syaqil mentioned that he would be joining the open dialogue speech planning. At the time, I was in a writing rut so I decided to come with. With fellow YOUNGO members, we started drafting the speech without a clue about the format or the layout of the session. The only guidance we received from the Secretariat was the following 5 questions:

1)    What does Just Transition mean for different stakeholders?

2)    How can Just transition policies contribute to the long-term goal of the Paris Agreement?

3)    For which of the recommendations of the SR1.5 will the imperative of a just transition of the workforce be particularly relevant?

4)    How can different stakeholders contribute to these policies?

5)    Can we identify common areas among different constituencies and stakeholders that help to achieve a Just Transition?

We immediately jumped into identifying what Just Transition looks like for different YOUNGO members, and had an hour-long dialogue on our concerns about the future. Although we strayed from writing the actual speech, I felt connected at the core with fellow youth representatives from around the world. The exchange kept the passion for climate action glowing in my core. It’s easy for the older generations to sit around and talk about future ramifications of inaction. But, we the youth will be the ones without sustainable jobs and experience the lack of socioeconomic mobility brought on by a transition into a low-carbon economy. Unanimously agreed that our key messages will touch upon increased ambition, to keep the youth and future generation when planning for a transition, and to involve youth in decision-making processes.

The result of our brainstorming can be found below.

Good afternoon everybody.

My name is Tan Cai May from Malaysia, and I am speaking on behalf of YOUNGO.

Formally recognized in 2009, YOUNGO serves as the official voice of young people from around the globe in the climate negotiations under the UN Climate Change. It is an independent volunteer-run structure comprising a membership of more than 200 youth-led, youth-focused NGOs, working in the field of climate change and environmental sustainability.

YOUNGO is delighted to see that steps are being taken to continue the open dialogue platform started at COP23 – we would have appreciated this even more if the room was set up with a square table, which is more conducive for dialogue. YOUNGO played a key role in the collaborative agenda setting of last year´s dialogue at COP23 and is willing to continue such approaches towards this and future UNFCCC sessions to further strengthen the relationship we have built.

We appreciate the Polish Presidency’s assertion that just transition holds a variety of meanings across different communities. To children and youth all over the world, just transition concerns among other challenges: healthy and clean work environment, labour rights, job opportunities, social security, and community resiliency.

We, as young people, identify intergenerational equity as the central theme to just transition. Transition involves a change, and we, the young people want to play an even more active role in this process of change. The children & youth are the future and we want to shape our future together with you. Meaningful participation of young people in negotiations and policy-making processes is key in attaining a sustainable and just transition.

We would like to take this opportunity to point out that ‘just transition’ is only mentioned once and in a vague manner in the Paris Agreement. We believe that it should be properly addressed in the negotiations considering that climate injustice is what’s pushing people to refuse the transition towards a green economy. Furthermore, there should be clear guidelines on how to assure just transition in the process of keeping the temperature increase below 1.5°C.

We, as children and youth, will continue to pursue opportunities in the workforce that endeavour to create pathways towards limiting greenhouse gas emissions using available innovative and technological approaches, in order to achieve climate resilient development and meet long-term goals of the Paris Agreement. The IPCC Special Report shows that there is no time to wait. We need to raise ambitions immediately, and we need to have a transition starting today. We, as children and youth, have been taking action and will continue to do so. We are already creating change and we urge you to join us in this process.

Thank you for your attention.

As the presenter, I was grateful for the opportunity to speak on behalf of YOUNGOs at COP 24. However, there were great points from our discussion that did not transfer over into the speech, and I would like to highlight some of them.

First, we would like current leaders to acknowledge that our generation will not be as well-off compared to our parents’ generations. Natural resources are depleting at a high rate, and we will have to face the accumulated climate change effects. Our discussion also highlighted the unprecedented effect of exporting externalities to developing countries, where communities are more vulnerable to climate change effects and socioeconomic externalities of modern-day consumerism. In regards to the green technology and clean energy aspect of just transitions, my peers and I agreed that outcomes from the decarbonization movement need to be accessible and affordable to all. We recognized the developed-developing divides and hope that transition issues will improve the disparity rather than exacerbate it.

At this point, we don’t know if the outcomes of this ‘dialogue’ were documented and presented to world leaders negotiating our future. But why wait on others to do something about it.

Written by: Cai May

Edited by: Mike

Just Transition Already Lah

Just Transition Already Lah

Day 2 of COP 24 kickstarted with much buzz around “just transitions”. Just transition has been described as a just and ethical process to shift to a low-carbon economy, keeping in mind the implications towards socioeconomic, energy and environmental systems. The need for just transition has come up primarily as an environmental justice issue in civil rights movements, before being included in climate change discussions over the past few years.

Got to take the YOUNGO seat during the official opening ceremony.

Within the just transition movement, there are groups advocating for the acceleration of low-carbon efforts, and there are groups that call for less ambitious mitigation. Communities experiencing climate change effects and suffering from distributional inequity are coming forward to call for better management of mitigation efforts as the economy undergoes changes. Thematic movements include energy democracy, food sovereignty, and sustainable job opportunities. In the other camp, we have the traditional coal miners and shale frackers who are still relying on fossil fuel extraction to put bread on the table. The tension going forward with decarbonizing the economy has been brewing all these years especially in labor union strongholds of Europe. The gilets de jaune protests are still happening in France as we speak.


The chatter on just transitions in COP 24 came from both sides of the transition story piece. In the beginning of the conference, CSOs were critical towards the Polish presidency’s message (based on my experience at that one pre-COP CAN strategy meeting I attended but still!) In the month leading up to COP 24, the Polish Presidency’s released a three-pronged strategy for the conference, one of which underscores for an ethical and fair shift in market. These key strategies were reiterated during the presidency’s opening speech on the second official day of COP.


COP 24 President Michal Kurtyka delivering the opening address. Photo by Andrzej Grygiel/EPA-EFE.

While the preceding Fijian presidency underlined just transitions for all and especially vulnerable communities that are at the frontline of experiencing climate change effects, the Polish presidency honed in on just transition matters in the coal industry. COP 24 president Michal Kurtyka gave a powerful speech on working together towards a low carbon future, tying in a message on balancing climate action and human behavior. To quote: “How do you tell a population of 5 million in 70 cities in the Silesian region to move on?” This sentiment was shared by the mayor of Katowice, Maric Krupa as he talked about the achievements of the city and how far they have come. Reigning in the message in for the third time, the Polish environment minister Henryk Kowalcyk called for more social cost consideration in decision-making concerning decarbonization. Clearly, Poland was ambiguous about their feelings on transitioning.

Before I continue, I would like to clarify that by no means I am anti-just transition. My take is but a critical lens on what the Polish presidency has to say about just transitions in the COP space because it does reflect on their intended outcomes of COP 24. But I digress. The Solidarity and Just Transition Silesian Declaration was presented by Kowalcyk during the opening ceremony and contains language that is more accommodating towards the Paris Agreement and climate action efforts than I expected. While Katowice takes pride in going from “black to green” in the Upper Silesian region known for its coal production, I think that the Polish presidency, in upholding this model city, fails to address just transition in practice. My Uber driver laid down some quick facts about Upper Silesia for me, as we drove towards the city from the airport. Apparently, there are some 20 (27 as of 2014) coal mines still in operation in the Upper Silesian coal basin, accounting for ~ 74% of coal mining activity in Poland and producing up to 330 million tonnes of coal within the 2010 – 2014 period. The model city, it seems, managed to transform because the region needed a place to grow their service sector and it just so happened to be Katowice. My driver continued to lament about the satellite cities and the collective challenge to “go green”, citing the legacy of a coal-heavy economy. “Mining runs in the family… it’s all they really know how to get an income.”

Coal at the Katowice Pavillion.

During my daily commute to Katowice, I couldn’t help but notice the power plants puffing away in the vast, open fields in between station stops at towns. How is it that countries like Poland wean off coal? To think of it, the transition will happen if you want it or not, it’s the justice aspect that you’ll have to consider. When I dropped by the Katowice pavilion, I thought the whole coal display was distasteful in contrast to the reality of the industry’s future. Soaps and coal pendants available at the nearest tourist information center is not going to get coal miners out of a dying industry, the political will to provide transitional platforms will. Until alternative industries flourish and potential employees undergo suitable training, the Upper Silesian region will only bask in the shadows of monumental “progress” in hosting COP 24 and the climate action success attributed to it. Just transition already lah…

Written by: Cai May

Edited by: Mike

My First Day at COP24

My First Day at COP24

On this cold December morning, I peeled myself out of the warm bed and prepared for my first day of COP24. It was my 3rd full day in Poland, having attended the second and third day of COY 14, and newly reunited with my lost suitcase just the night before. I held myself to have somewhat low expectations going into COP, believing that maybe I could trick my mind into enjoying cheap thrills of satisfaction. Did it work? Of course not. I saw a cloud of confusion looming ahead, but you know what? I packed my umbrella.

I departed from the sleepy town of Dąbrowska Górnicza with two other delegates from Duke University and reached the Międzynarodowe Centrum Kongresowe in Katowice early. The 25-minute train ride propelled us forwards by 20 years of industrial revolution, passing by two power plants and mostly unpaved roads, and into the gleaming city of Katowice. Our tram ride from the station was quick. The Katowice convention center was like a shiny beacon, beckoning throngs of people from all directions. As crowd of attendees grew larger, I could feel more butterflies coming to live in my stomach. Up to this point, I have only read and dreamed about COP. Never have I been more satisfied to have my official badge scanned at the entrance, as I (basically) combusted internally out of sheer excitement.

I made it! COP24 in Katowice, Poland

After checking in, I explored the conference layout It was nice to see the shiny new exhibition booths, the neatly lined chairs in the big, empty plenary, the empty coat racks, and the eager, fresh faces of attendees. The only events scheduled for the day were opening plenary sessions for COP, CMP, CMA, APA, SBI, and SBSTA. We managed to score tickets to attend the opening plenary for COP, CMP and CMA, courtesy of the Climate Action Network. It was surreal being able to see agenda items come to life on the floor, as opposed to reading them on paper and thinking about them conceptually.

Although I was seated in the observer section, I was able to pick up on the reality of negotiations and how bureaucratic the procedure was. Being able to observe the official procedures of plenary sessions gave me context to grapple how “negotiations” actually happen. The session provided context to the agenda items that I read off my computer screen. Agenda items require many subgroup discussions and outcome reports, and then further discussion with the larger body, before being sent off to high-level plenaries. I could see how a potentially substantive push from a Party could be watered by the many layers of deliberation and finalization by power dynamics and the urgency for ‘collective’ decision-making. With that said, I was still extremely excited to attend the plenaries to track subsidiary body agenda items, and observe the decisions go from table to paper!

4 of 5 of the MYD delegation – Shaqib, myself, Varun and Syaqil, in the plenary hall.

My first day experience taught me an important lesson to stick to what I am interested in learning, because COP24 has various events running throughout the day. The first day alone gave me an overview of the week to come, because the agenda catalog was not your simple grocery list. As I begin my first big COP week, I am frantically pouring over every relevant article I come across to offset my feelings of inadequacy. Rubbing shoulders with important and significant stakeholders did not help either. But like I said, I did bring my umbrella along.

Written by Tan Cai May
Edited by Mike Campton

Malaysia’s NDCs – In my feelings

Malaysia’s NDCs – In my feelings

*Plays Drake in the background*


Prior to COP24, I attended a strategy talk session organized by the Climate Action Network (CAN), where they gave an overview of NGO engagement strategies and expectations of negotiation items coming out of COP 24. Having followed the SBI, SBSTA, CMA and APA progress during Bangkok, I am wary that Parties will be able to finalize the Paris Rulebook. Now dubbed the Katowice Rulebook by our Polish counterparts, the rulebook is essential to the implementation of climate goals and ambitions attributed in the Paris Agreement. However, in this short blurb, I would like to shift the focus away from what we want to happen at COP and put things into what it means to Malaysia.

During the side event discussions in the Conference of Youth (COY 14) and the CAN meeting, I noticed the emphasis placed on engaging local stakeholders and policy makers. As COP 24 commences, the focus will be on implementation standards on the international stage. However, the real action will take place on the ground. Youth and civil society organizations (CSOs) voices echoed that we definitely need to be aware of the outcomes of the PAWP among other things, but more importantly, we need to make sure the promises will be implemented by individual Parties.

One of the groups I facilitated during COY 14 – a source of inspiration to do more.

So, how do you hold your government accountable?

Step one: You dig around for past legislation and policies relevant level governance (ie. Malaysia, Petaling Jaya, your bandar/community)

Step two: You look at what has been plated and the actions carried out under the stated objectives (ie. Sustainable Petaling Jaya 2030’s goals on a cleaner, greener sustainable city and its free city bus programs)

Step three: Identify areas of success and what could be improved (ie. You liked the bus but you want more bus frequency at the stop in front of your office)

Step four: Submit your suggestions (ie. Go to community meetings, write to them, gather support from people who share similar views as you)

Step five: Follow up!

I took the liberty of looking into Malaysia’s history of climate legislation and policies, partly because I am not well-acquainted with Malaysian law and policy. I found that within the legislative framework, the only relevant statutes have focused solely on fuel and energy supply. Additionally, climate change only popped up on the agenda in the 2010s. The earliest legislative literature is the 1990 Electricity Supply Act that provides guidance on how to regulate energy supply and the energy industry to provide fair and equal access to electricity nationwide. 2013 amendments were introduced to improve minimum energy performance standards (MEPs) for selected electrical appliances, including household utilities. 17 years later, the Malaysian legislature started to regulate biofuel blends under the Malaysia Biofuels Industry Act (2007). These Acts are important in constructing accessible, accountable and efficient energy infrastructure in Malaysia. However, the push for renewable energy took place rather recently, with the formulation of the Renewable Energy Act in 2011 and the Sustainable Energy Development Authority Act in 2011. On an executive level, Malaysia’s five-year development plans have also included strong energy focus, complementing the existing legislation. The 8th to 10th Malaysia Development Plans led to the culmination of the Renewable Energy Act and SEDA Act in 2011.

Around this period, the 6th Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, tabled the climate change agenda under his administration. In 2009, he announced in COP 15 and 2014 UN Climate Summit that Malaysia will commit to a reduction of up to 40% of carbon emission intensity of GDP by 2020, using a baseline of 2005 conditions. Stepping up to climate action ambition, Malaysia released its National Policy on Climate Change through the then Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. The framework emphasized on mainstreaming climate change, and strengthening institutional and implementation capacity. Even though there are 43 actions and 10 strategic thrusts listed in the policy, actions taken so far have not been substantive.

We observe a similar dynamic with implementing Malaysia Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), published in 2015 as part of Malaysia’s statement of ambition before the ratification of the Paris Agreement. Pledging to an unconditional intended reduction of 35%, the government has not moved forward in aligning Malaysia’s policies for completion before 2030. With the recent change in the Malaysian government, Pakatan Harapan in the PH Manifesto pledged 40% of carbon emissions reduction by 2020, and an increase of renewable energy from 2% to 20% by 2025. However, we have not seen significant  measures to implement these administrative measures.

Our minister will be attending the second week of High Level Segment negotiations next week. Even though Malaysia has not made big splashes as a stakeholder at COPs, I would like to know clearer goals and plans she has on climate action in Malaysia. As a signatory to the Paris Agreement, Malaysia should hit the ground running moving towards goals of 2020, 2025, 2030 and beyond. YB Yeo Bee Yin, I would like to see a specific and integrated policy framework to address Malaysia’s ambitions in relation to the Paris Agreement and to Malaysia’s own part to become more sustainable.

Written by Cai May

Edited by Varun