Skip to main content
Climate crisis
Speeches and Discussions

Powerful people must step aside to make space for young climate leaders

Share this:
Photo: Tlhabi Monnakgotla
At the ActNowFilm Premiere, at COP28 in Dubai, Mary Robinson delivered opening remarks on the importance of young people’s involvement in tackling climate change and intergenerational dialogue.

Watch the ActNowFilm

Read Mary Robinson's opening remarks

I want to start by echoing the warm tribute to Saleemul Huq, so well deserved, and he is much missed here by so many of his friends. We feel the loss.

Thank you for having me here with you as we officially launch this exciting collection of intergenerational conversations through the ActNowFilm youth voices film project.

I am delighted to be here in my capacity as Chair of The Elders, the global network of independent leaders working for peace, justice, human rights and a sustainable planet. 

When Nelson Mandela founded The Elders in 2007, he issued a mandate for our work. The mandate given to us as Elders more than 16 years ago offers many powerful calls for action that I believe are still critical today as we consider tackling the existential threat of climate change

Firstly, Madiba said that it is “kindness and generous accommodation that are the catalysts for real change.” I want to bring those values to the fore as we begin our intergenerational discussions today. 

We need kindness and generous accommodation in the conversations we have with one another. If we are to stand any chance of turning the tide on the climate emergency, then we need all of us! We need all of our energy, all of our resources, and we need the wisdom and leadership of every generation. We need to create spaces and opportunities for honest conversations that are inclusive of all voices. That is why I so welcomed being a part of this film series.

However, as we see once again at this COP, the majority of those given seats at decision-making tables are older people. And - if we are being honest - it is still largely the case that it is men occupying those seats! 

We have made some progress but children and young people are still largely excluded from shaping their own future. Furthermore, we still have a long way to go in ensuring the voices of other marginalised groups are represented at conferences like this one. 

In our Elders’ mandate Mandela instructed us to avoid becoming “arrogant or arbitrary” and to ensure that we were focused on finding solutions to the shared global challenges that face us. These words would be well heeded by governments here in Dubai. 

We must avoid the arbitrary or tokenistic inclusion of young people in climate forums and processes. People in powerful positions must be prepared to step aside to make space for children and youth. Why? Not because the children are our future. Not because young people are the leaders of tomorrow. But because our children and young people are also the leaders of today! 

Young people already have the solutions to offer. The Elders support initiatives such as The Climate Youth Negotiator’s Programme which trains, connects, and empowers youth negotiators to participate meaningfully in the UNFCCC negotiations. I ask all of you here to check to see if your government is including young people in their COP28 negotiation teams. If they are not, then urge them to do so in the future.

I want to recount a final phrase from our mandate as Elders. 

Nelson Mandela asked us Elders to “support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair.” I want to ask the same of all of you in this room today. What is more, I want to ask this of our leaders – our heads of state and our governments. 

We must not delude ourselves. We face immense challenges in our world today, including the climate crisis. But we are not doomed yet!  We have a precious window of opportunity to create the change we need. But we need to work together, we need to work quickly, and we need to combine the energies, talents, and insights of every generation. 

I look forward to watching the film! 


Share this article

Keep up to date with The Elders’ COVID-19 digest:

Sign up to receive regular updates about The Elders’ activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will never share your email address with third parties.

Keep up to date with The Elders latest News and Insight:

Sign up to receive monthly newsletters from The Elders. We will occasionally send you other special updates and news, but we'll never share your email address with third parties.


I would like to find: