The United Nations jealously guards who and what are allowed in the so-called Blue Zones at the yearly conferences of the parties (COPs), where world leaders meet to discuss climate change. The Blue Zone is a restricted area within each COP venue.

So, last November at COP-27 in Egypt, it was supposed to be a big deal when the UN permitted a Children and Youth Pavilion in the Zone. Although organizers boasted 116 other youth activities at the COP, it was the first time the UN gave children a space so close to the official negotiations.

"We will convene young experts and climate advocates globally to showcase the groundbreaking initiatives led by youth around the world and accelerate and integrate our engagement in real climate policy discussions," the COP-27 youth envoy, Dr. Omnia El Omrani, announced beforehand.

While the pavilion was unprecedented, the United Nations has given children the stage before. Young people have a worldwide network, YOUNGO, to provide input to delegates at the COPs. Some of the United Nation's most wrenching moments have been speeches young people have given to hundreds of national and international officials at plenary sessions.

In 1992, 12-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki became "the girl who silenced the world for five minutes" when she addressed the UN's first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. She listed the planet's many environmental problems, from the disappearance of species and the ozone hole to child poverty and starvation.

You don't know how to bring back an animal now extinct. And you can't bring back the forest that once grew where there is now a desert. If you don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it," Cullis-Suzuki said. "Parents should be able to comfort their children by saying, 'Everything is going to be all right, it's not the end of the world, and we are doing the best we can. But I don't think you can say that to us anymore. Are we even on your list of priorities?

In 2019 at age 16, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg spoke at the UN's Climate Action Summit in New York. A moderator asked what message Thunberg would give on behalf of the world's youth. "We'll be watching you," she said. The hundreds of delegates chuckled. But she was not joking. Angry and on the verge of tears, she scolded them:

This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!
You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

Last November's conference marked 30 years since nearly 200 nations agreed to confront climate change. It took 23 years to reach the Paris climate accord. At COP--27, delegates were asked to commit to phasing out fossil fuels, the most fundamental step in solving anthropogenic global warming. They refused. This "shocking dereliction of duty," as the journal Nature called it, took place against the following backdrop:

  • The World Meteorological Association (WMO) reported the adverse consequences of global warming are accelerating "faster than they ever have on record." The Weather Network warned lives "depend on how quickly governments and industries respond."
  • Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology observed, "The latest scientific reports have underscored, once again, the imperative of acting now to radically decarbonize the global economy. Remarkably, however, recognition of the need to reduce fossil fuel production is entirely absent in the treaties and decisions that form the basis of the international climate regime." The world should act to "leave the majority of remaining fossil fuels in the ground."
  • As COP-27 began, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BloombergNEF) pointed out that G-20 nations had failed to phase out "inefficient" fossil-energy subsidies, as they promised to do in 2009 and again in 2021. They had even agreed on what "inefficient" means. Instead, they allocated $3.2 trillion for fossil fuel production from 2016 to 2020, encouraging investments in new infrastructure they may have to abandon for the world to wean itself from coal, oil, and natural gas.
  • Most nations do not yet require financial institutions to disclose the risks that climate change imposes on their investment and lending activities.
  • More than 4,000 "significant entities" in the world's 25 highest-emitting countries have committed to achieving net-zero carbon. But only 20 percent meet the minimum criteria for "robust" plans. Absent any uniform standards or reporting requirements, net-zero-carbon pledges are hollow commitments ripe for greenwashing. In fact, some of the world's largest oil producers have committed to net-zero carbon but plan to increase oil production.

The world's poorest people bear the physical brunt of climate change, but psychological impacts have the heaviest impact on parents and children. Last year, Morgan Stanley advised investors about a growing trend where couples decide not to have children because of climate change. Some adults said they didn't want children to suffer the impacts, while others thought fewer children would help save the planet.

Researchers found that half the teenagers and young adults in the survey said climate anxiety was interfering with their concentration, eating, sleeping, studying, and relationships. In addition, health professionals say climate anxiety produces grief, rage, helplessness, hopelessness, and sorrow.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) found last summer that 40 percent of respondents said the impacts of climate change made them reconsider whether to have children. The effects "extend to our very sense of hope," and "young people's futures are up in the air," one official said.

At a youth meeting before COP-26 in 2021, Thunberg said world leaders "invite cherry-picked young people to meetings like this to pretend that they are listening to us. But they are not - they are clearly not listening to us - and they never have…All we hear from our so-called leaders is 'blah, blah, blah.'"

With very few exceptions, she's correct. There are many goals, but goals are not deeds, and promises are not achievements.

So, if world leaders are not listening to the young people who will live in future determined at COPs, to whom are they listening? Perhaps it's the hundreds of oil and gas lobbyists who attended these conferences, including 636 at COP-27, up 25 percent from COP-26. The fossil industry's delegation was larger than any country's except the United Arab Emirates.

Civil society representatives complain about the "undue influence of polluting interests." Three months before COP-27, a coalition of 126 civil society organizations warned the United Nations that "Climate action will continue to fail to meaningfully address the climate crisis as long as polluting interests are granted unmitigated access to policymaking processes and are allowed to unduly influence and weaken the critical work of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change)."

We in the United States are very familiar with the undue influence of oil and gas companies. For example, from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, 2022, oil and gas companies spent more than $90.4 million to deploy 689 lobbyists to Congress. In addition, as of Oct. 16, the companies had contributed nearly $93.5 million to political candidates and political action committees in that year's congressional elections.

"The time for hedging bets has ended," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said. "Even in the short-term, it doesn't make political or economic sense. Yet we seem trapped in a world where fossil fuel producers and financiers have humanity by the throat."

"Blah, blah, blah," Ms. Thunberg will say. Who can blame her?