It’s Monday, November 30, and young activists are filling a void created by the U.N.

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COVID-19 delayed the United Nations’ annual climate summit by a whole year. But it hasn’t stopped youth climate activists from holding their own version of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26).

Since November 19, more than 350 youth delegates from 146 countries have been convening virtually for Mock COP26, a virtual summit meant to fill the void created by COP26’s postponement. For several hours each day, they’ve attended online workshops, panels, and discussions as they craft a formal statement of policy demands. When the conference ends on Tuesday, they’ll deliver the statement Nigel Topping, one of the “High Level Climate Action Champions” that the U.N. designated to engage with stakeholders and promote climate action ahead of COP26.

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An environmental law nonprofit has been helping the delegates polish their demands into a legal document that could, hypothetically, be adopted into law by the delegates’ home countries. But even if that doesn’t happen, Iris Zhan, a 16-year-old climate activist who helped organize the conference, said she hopes it will send a clear message to world leaders: Center the needs of the global south, don’t allow fossil fuel interests to direct the conference, and, of course, listen to the youth climate movement.

“If COP was youth-led,” she said, “we would make so much more progress than we have in the last decade.”

Joseph Winters

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