"Your voices are being heard, I really believe that, sorry you don't feel that" – that was the message US Special Envoy on Climate John Kerry had for a group of young climate activists he met with privately at COP26, in a meeting convened with the help of an Irish student.

Mr Kerry told the campaigners, led by University College Cork student Alicia O’Sullivan, "your movement and the things that you’re saying are on the lips of everybody here in discussions, people all talk about responsibility to your generation, the future".

Ms O’Sullivan brought along fellow young climate campaigners from the US, Philippines, Zambia and Kosovo to the meeting at the US delegation office at COP26.

Mr Kerry set up the meeting with Ms O’Sullivan to hear from her and her fellow delegates from World YMCA about how they feel COP26 is going.

She told him: "We all really feel as a collective, even though we come from extremely different backgrounds and experiences of climate change, is that this conference is particularly inaccessible."

The group voiced a concern that many sectors of society, including young people, are being locked out of negotiations.

Ms O’Sullivan said that while she has a badge that says 'observer’ she feel she has not been able to do that.

Mr Kerry said that Covid-19 has governed a lot of what can and can’t be done at this year’s event, and has contributed to people not having access they want to rooms where negotiations are taking place.

Referring to his years as an anti-war veteran during the Vietnam war, Mr Kerry said: "I was once in your shoes, trying to protest something that was going on that wasn’t being listened to, so I understand exactly where you’re coming from."

However, he said that when it comes to COP26: "Nothing has been as energised as this, and you guys have really helped energise it."

Mr Kerry told the panel of youth across the table: "There are passionate, deeply committed people at the table here, not everybody is in the same place, but I will tell you that this is moving things more rapidly and bigger than I have seen, and I have been at this since the very first COP back in 1992."

"I know there have been criticisms, saying it’s just talk but you have to talk to make an agreement.

"Unfortunately, countries have different interests, people come from different places, and so you have to work through those differences, I think this has been a pretty damn good model of banging away for hours and hours staying up until the wee hours of the morning, and trying to find solutions.

"You have to create accelerated research, as we did with vaccines, as we did with going to the moon and now we have to do that about saving the earth.

"We have private sector, business, at the table in way they have never been at the table, and by the way, some young people resent the fact that some corporation or other is at the table, but I got news for you, no government has enough money to do what we need to do, we can’t.

"If we’re going to transition, when you’re going to have clean air, electricity that’s not made with fossil fuels, if you’re going to have a sustainable circular economy, it takes a massive transition in the trillions of dollars of expenditure.

"We all know we have ten years, ten critical years, so this process will grow."

Ma Magda Gana, from the Philippines, told Mr Kerry that it’s not just about young people at the table, but young people being consulted on decisions being made.

Rebecca Nkunde, from Zambia, said: "we’re not looking to take anything away from the older generation because we need you, we need your wisdom. We just need you to carry us along, and take us with you."

US youth delegate Shakil Karim said after the meeting that it was great to sit at the table with Mr Kerry, and it was even better that the US was back at the table and participating in COP after former president Donald Trump pulled out of the process.

To finish the meeting Mr Kerry said that "perception is reality" and if the young people feel they are being left out, then, he said, "we need to do more".

"I’d love to figure out how we continue to work to bring your voices to the table, you’re here, you’re at the table, here’s the table," he said.

We need your consent to load this comcast-player contentWe use comcast-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences


Speaking to RTÉ News about the announcement that China and the US will work together to cut greenhouse gas emissions and whether it will give the talks momentum, Mr Kerry said: "We hope so, obviously, everybody is working hard now to come to an agreement on the decisions, and I am quite confident that we can find unity, it’s always a difficult process at the end, but everybody is working hard."