International conferences such as the UN Conference of the Parties (COP) or the Paris Peace Forum used to be annual gatherings between heads of state, policymakers, business leaders and other organizations. This changed this year when, for the first time in its history, the World Economic Forum welcomed a group of young people to take part in the high-level dialogue taking place in Davos in January. Among them was Melati Wijsen, a 19-year old changemaker from Bali, Indonesia. At the age of 12, Melati and her sister founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags, a local project aimed at banning these single-use plastics on the island. Melati, along with Clémence Alméras, Policy Officer at Institut Montaigne for Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development, give their insights on the recent involvement of the youth in international meetings.
In your opinion, why is it that young people are more and more visible in international high-level conferences (World Economic Forum, Paris Peace Forum, United Nations Climate Change Conferences, etc.)?
Our presence during these conferences definitely makes a difference. We are living in a very special time where one message can reach millions of people with the click of a button. Our generation knows how to mobilize and share our story like never before, we have a very strong message to deliver: the urgency of time and the catastrophic changes in our environment. All of this forces us right into frontline activism that brings us to all sorts of different places: whether it is the front of a classroom, on the streets or, as we are fortunately now part of, world leaders’ gatherings and big conferences. These gather scientists, world leaders, CEOs, and for the first time in the 50 years of the World Economic Forum, young people. People at the top are aware that young people are unstoppable which is why they need to include us in order to advance.
There are different ways to answer this question. As Melati stated, today, young people have more tools at their disposal to enhance their visibility: mainly the Internet and social media. This acquired visibility gives them more power in the sense that they can reach out to people they would not have access to otherwise and thus make their claims go global.
Last but not least, for their elders to see such young people taking the stage or taking action in their school, their hometown, etc. can constitute an emotional trigger. One cannot forget United Nations Secretary General António Guterres’ speech at the COP25 opening ceremony when he said, before an audience of women and men of his age, "do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?". Though this movement may represent a bigger than ever gap between generations, political and economic leaders are not left indifferent by this mobilisation, probably because their children are chiefly affected and concerned by climate change.