There are twelve different colours in the colour pencils pack but one stands out for Melissa Obeng-Kyereh, a 12 year old Ghanian girl. She barely looks up and dares not stir up any conversation, but her eyes light up every time someone mentions her name. Melissa is fixated on what she is working on, like every child here, who has drawn something on a piece of paper; a message they would love the world to hear. For Melissa the message is “plant more trees”.

“I would want my message and that of the other children to reach everyone who comes here and motivate them to act to minimise climate change,” says Melissa.

The Grade Six student says she has participated in climate actions within her community but not one as big as this. The last major event for her was being part of a video recording by United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF, that was used during the commemoration of the World Children’s’ Day in Accra, Ghana. Despite her shy nature, she’s a fighter, a silent but powerful voice that understands what needs to be done to save the world.

“I am here to get out of my shell, to build my confidence so that I can speak about what really matters.”

The Children & Youth Pavilion located at the Blue Zone in COP27, Egypt
The Children & Youth Pavilion located at the Blue Zone in COP27, Egypt

Melissa is one among, at least 7 children from across 7 countries in the world, who have got a chance to attend COP27. Not only is it a historic moment for her but also for the world, as for the first time a dedicated space that would help amplify the voices of children and youth in global climate change conversations was created. A space within the multitude of people, all adults, that creates an atmosphere for the children and youth to freely voice out their opinion. The pavilion is hard to miss given its colourful branding and its huge logo, that is plastered on its sides. The space within is  not only decorated with colourful small sitting cushions but also with eye catch imagery upon which powerful statements on environmental conservation have been written. That, as if to remind everyone that comes here , of the playful climate warriors that now have a seat at the table on conversations regarding climate change.

14 youth-led entities organising the pavilion; the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Save the Children and UNICEF among others. According to a report by Save the Children titled; Generation Hope: 2.4 billion reasons to end the global climate and inequality crisis, there are at least 774 million children globally who are facing the double threat of climate disaster and crushing poverty. That, is just one in three children globally.

“They bring in lived experiences and stories from their homes, because a lot of the conversations here are very technical and they are data orientated. So we need lived stories so we can measure and when we say people were displaced, a child will say, ‘I am one of them, I can’t go to school’, so that we can see the urgency,” says Xoli Fuyani, an environmental educationist from South Africa.

It is such experiences that have given young people like Melissa a voice at COP27.

“I want my government to firm up policies to curb illegal mining because when there is rain and there are floods, these places fill up and get into people’s homes and there is nowhere else to go,” adds Melissa.

While Xoli Fuyani points out that some of the children may not really have a clear grasp of climate change and its effects, there are those who have dedicated their time to participate, after learning about climate change in their schools or even from their parents.

Ismail Amr at the Children & Youth Pavilion at COP27 in Egypt
Ismail Amr at the Children & Youth Pavilion at COP27 in Egypt

17 year old Ismail Amr  AboELMagd is one among them. He is an environmental activist in his country, Egypt. He says, “Every country should have their own youth delegates. For example, here in Egypt we have none. We must have our opportunities because we are the future leaders. Big businesses are still destroying the planet because of money.”

Karen Wanjiku from Kenya has lived the talk. At only 9 years of age, she has planted more than 10000 tree seedlings and shared platforms with global leaders passionately advocating for a better and cleaner environment. She also maintains a tree nursery with at least 30,000 tree seedlings.

Karen Wanjiku at the Children & Youth Pavilion at COP27 in Egypt

Karen Wanjiku at the Children & Youth Pavilion at COP27 in Egypt

“Children can start to act on climate even at school through cleaning up and being part of the environment club, like I am. People also need to stop throwing plastic bottles everywhere, they clog our water bodies.”

Xoli Fulani, who also represents a group of climate mothers who are advocating to put voices of children at the forefront of climate action says that while the presence of children at the UN Climate conference was a step in the right direction, the pavilions where delegates and observer organisations share their stories at panel discussions, side events and exhibits should me made child friendly, as the place could turn out to be exhausting for their young minds.

“Kids are very curious they want to touch, you don’t want to be confined in places where you are limited about what you could do. We want to bring kids into these spaces, we also need to think about the environment, are there playing areas for them, at least make rooms where they can engage with not just words but also their hands.” A situation that could probably be the reason as to why the children are not present everyday of the conference. But on those days where they are, they will spend their time in panels discussions with other leaders and policy makers, and some time at their pavilion with other youth delegates.


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Raquel Muigai

Raquel Muigai is an award winning journalist passionate about Science, Health and Human Rights storytelling. Her work in these fields has earned her recognition by the Media Council of Kenya as well as continental recognition in Africa. Her love for science reporting has allowed her to cover health and climate climate conferences in various countries, including the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP. Raquel has over 5 years experience working in various capacities in several newsrooms in Kenya, and is now a Multimedia Reporter at Africa Uncensored.

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