Behind the scenes of PreCOP26 and Officine Italia
As we have been hearing often lately, we are the last generation to have the concrete power to do something against climate change. The problem is that […] there is still a lot of work to do. Luckily, in the last few years, young people mobilised and committed themselves to ‘enlightening’ consciences and souls. Climate change and sustainability find themselves inside a broader dilemma on intergenerational equity and, thus, a dialogue between generations is inescapable to be able to find real solutions. Young and adults, older and newer generations represent the perfect bond: favouring and fostering the dialogue and confrontation among them is fundamental so as to be able to build a better future, for everyone.
When we talk about COP, we refer to the ‘Conference of Parts’, meaning all those 197 nations who signed the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) in 1994 with the goal of reducing emissions and caring for the planet and the ecosystem.
COPs are annual events: the first one was held in Berlin in 1995, while the last one was in Madrid in 2019. Since Covid prevented it from happening last year (as it was supposed to), this conference was planned to be held from the 1st to the 12th of November in Glasgow, Scotland (UK). Why have we heard so much about it?
That is due to the partnership the UK has made with Italy to foster this event: while the conference itself was located in the United Kingdom, Italy had the task of organising what has been called PreCOP – i.e., all those events in preparation of the real Conference of Parts, which saw the involvement of many different areas of the social strata (students, professors, experts, …).
This year’s Conference of Parts has seen world leaders involved in what is considered to be the “last, best hope” to try and tackle the issue of climate change, finding feasible and viable solutions to be applied as soon as possible, knowing that this time no postponing is possible (and has already been criticised by many).
From the 28th of September to the 2nd of October, Milan was filled with events concerning an ever-pressing issue: climate. Youth4Climate was a network of events – specifically directed towards young people and to the leaders of tomorrow – which coordinated many different activities with a shared goal: raising awareness, addressing problems, finding solutions.
Some 400 youngsters (18-29 years) met up to discuss about what they would like to see from the COP26, giving prompts and starting points to engage in debate.
Do realities that see young people engaged and that organise this engagement exist in Italy?
Yes, they do. One is for sure Officine Italia, which was born as a virtual event in 2020 with the aim of favouring the proliferation of ideas and of supporting the development of proposals. With the concept in mind of being “stronger together”, this association is constituted of a flexible and keen team which wants to build a better future for everyone (“a bright future designed by youth”).
I parallel events that were organised during the Youth4Climate program, promoted by Officine Italia in cooperation with Politecnico di Milano and Vodafone: ‘Italy Goes Green’. I was able to reach out to the team of the association and ask them a few questions which I deem to be insightful about these topics and the behind the scenes of the PreCOP26 [the interview was carried out before the end of the COP26 in Glasgow].
How did you think of the initiative? Can you briefly explain what it was about?
When it was announced that Italy – and, particularly, Milan – would host the PreCOP26, we instantaneously thought it could have been a unique occasion for our Country. 2021 is turning out to be ‘the year of Italians’ and we believe it to be fundamental for Italy to take a strong stance on topics such as sustainability, digitalisation and inclusion – topics on which we are still quite behind compared to other European countries.
As Officine Italia (inside the schedule of All4Climate) we decided to propose an inclusive and engaging initiative: strongly believing in the power of “dialogue” and of questioning the reality around us, we based ourselves on a project carried on by NYU (‘100-questions initiative’), applying it to the Italian context. During the summer we launched a platform of question-sourcing on the Italy Goes Green website, where everyone could pose their own transformative question (a question which aims at challenging the status quo and at stimulating a deep reflection on the topics around which the question is built). All the questions received have then been re-elaborated by 50 young adults divided in 10 tables during the physical event which was held on the 1st of October at the Vodafone Theatre. These 10 transformative questions have been transmitted to delegations participating in COP26, hoping that “big” policymakers are going to be able to find an answer to them.
If you were to look back now, would the results exceed your expectations?
The day when we decided to propose this initiative, none of us would have expected the results we actually reached. Climate change is a crucial topic in which any kind of contribution is vital: involving youth is key to addressing the main challenges of the battle against global warming.
The interest and support of Vodafone Italy and Politecnico di Milano have been the first proof that what we were doing was going in the right direction. All the sponsors of the initiative endorsed us in our mission to create more innovative, inclusive and sustainable solutions.
Moreover, ‘Italy Goes Green’ has been the first physical event of Officine Italia: reuniting all together and having been able to see faces, glances, smiles and enthusiasm is indescribable and has exceeded any expectation we may have had.
According to you, which are the three most important outcomes of this initiative (both for the participants and for their addressees)?
The principal goal of ‘Italy Goes Green’ was showing how a collaboration among third sector, education and firms is possible and, over all, indispensable to try and tackle a complex problem such as the one of climate change. Having been able to gather 50 young people all together at the Vodafone Theatre, keeping into consideration all the difficulties linked with the health situation, was a great success and a great occasion of meeting and networking, building together concrete results. With the idea of sending the transformative questions to Glasgow – to the attention of political leaders and decision makers that are going to have to rough out a possible path towards concrete sustainability – we have had a great echo on all of our communicative channels.
We, as young people, must be promoters of this change.
After the PreCOP has ended, with the subsequent COP in Glasgow, do you think some sort of education and of awareness-to-be-raised initiatives are still needed today? Through ‘Italy Goes Green’ you decided to invest in youth, do you deem it important to direct these messages also to older generations?
As we have been hearing often lately, we are the last generation to have the concrete power to do something against climate change. The problem is that – even though newspapers, experts and associations such as Officine Italia are trying to sensitise the public opinion to important topics – there is still a lot of work to do.
Luckily, in the last few years, young people mobilised and committed themselves to ‘enlightening’ consciences and souls; for sure, young people are a source of inspiration, but education and teaching are still crucial, and it’s fundamental, above all, to try and involve as much as possible even people that are less young.
Climate change and sustainability find themselves inside a broader dilemma on intergenerational equity and, thus, a dialogue between generations is inescapable to be able to find real solutions. This is why, with ‘Italy Goes Green’, we were committed to involve 50 young people, but we also deemed it necessary to have on our side managers, teachers, firms’ representatives and sponsors of the project. We need competences, experience and wisdom, but also courage, optimism and innovative perspectives. Young and adults, older and newer generations represent the perfect bond: favouring and fostering the dialogue and confrontation among them is fundamental so as to be able to build a better future, for everyone.
Much can be inferred from these answers. For sure some could argue that each one of us – as an individual – cannot make that much of a difference and, from a certain point of view, this may lead to considering policymakers and leaders the first to be held responsible for not tackling this issue. This sounds too much of an excuse.
The logic underlying statements such as ‘my action won’t matter, I’m too small of a person to have relevance’ is linked to the idea of free-riding. There are always (hopefully) going to be people that are going to fight our fights and claim our rights and scream against what is wrong; then why don’t we all join them?
Having our voices heard is the driver of change, but change must start within us and from us: disassembling those routines to which we stick day after day can be hard, especially if we want to eradicate them completely. Still, starting points can have smaller goals that – summed up – are going to give back a huge result.
Change can start from individuals, we must all adopt habits and customs that may look as “sacrifices” in the beginning but that, with time, will subtly insert themselves into our routine and to which we will eventually get used.
Unfortunately, what we are facing is a much bigger problem and it is linked to the society we live in and that we cannot repulse.
We must not give in. This is fundamentally rooted in breaking the systemic behaviour around avoiding tackling the climate crisis.
As Marika Moreschi (from TheVision) said, “our seitan steak won’t be enough to save the world”, bigger problems lie elsewhere, but we have the power to choose, and we should definitely choose actions that lean towards what is a righter direction.