COP27: More action needed to elevate the voices at the forefront of climate change: By Isabelle Zhu-Maguire

In categories: (Pacific leaders at the at the launch of the Kioa Climate Declaration) 

On an international scale, COP27 is being hailed as a disappointment. Despite the wins in the ‘loss and damage’ space, overwhelmingly COP27 has failed to act on mitigation and emissions reductions. 

Being a young person at COP27 is a bizarre experience. On the one hand I felt overwhelming gratitude – experiencing COP is a privilege and is genuinely life-changing. Yet on the other, I felt utter devastation – spending each day walking between panel events which all made it clear that climate change is already destroying communities worldwide. 

For me, this duality was the most clear when having conversations with those whose voices are usually marginalised. The honour of getting to meet these people is one most will never experience. But hearing their stories at the forefront of climate change was consistently anxiety-inducing. In this article, I want to highlight some of these marginalised voices so that you too can learn what these communities face and why inclusion of their voices matters. 


Indigenous communities (Photo of Yessie Mosby a climate activist from the Torres Strait) 

We spoke to some indigenous leaders from Guyana who told us it took them six days to get to COP27. They told us they undertook this journey because their communities are suffering at the forefront of climate change. 

This was a consistent theme throughout my time at COP27. I spent a lot of time listening to Indigenous leaders from the Pacific and the Torres Strait. Despite their homes being at risk of total devastation, they still show so much strength. Their willingness to retell their stories of trauma in an effort to get the world to act on climate change is nothing short of heroic. Yet, their frustration is clear. These leaders have been at the forefront of the fight for climate action for decades. Their stories and their knowledge hold the solutions the world needs. Yet their voices are almost always left on the margin. 

Furthermore, in many places, poverty is more common in indigenous communities compared to the rest of the population. This matters because these big climate conferences can be incredibly expensive. It is not just flights, accommodation and food – but it is 1-2 weeks spent away from work or education. This is something that many people cannot afford.  Hence, those on the margins are often unable to contribute to these summits. 


LGBT Community (Young people at a intergenerational round-table) 

This COP27 was a weird one for queer folks. From what I learnt, there is usually quite a large, visible LGBT presence at COPs. But this year, the community was silenced. This marginalisation in combination with the silencing of LGBT people at this year’s World Cup has made this community feel shunned. 

This is important as climate change often impacts queer people disproportionately. I heard one panellist speak about LGBT experiences in developing nations. They described that some trans people feel safer to risk their lives during natural disasters and stay in their homes rather than go to the disaster shelters where they may be beaten or killed. 

Because of this injustice, the LGBT community is at the forefront of the fight for climate action. This community is fighting for a better future for all, yet were made to hide themselves at COP27. 


Disabled community (Climate activists speaking at a panel about accessibility at UNFCCC processes)

The disabled community experiences climate change intensely. Often evacuation and rescue plans do not consider disabilities and members of this community are left in danger.  

Yet, I learnt that COP and other international processes are inaccessible to many in the community. Small things like uneven surfaces at COP27 made me, an able-bodied person, trip-over daily. But this inconvenience for me is a danger for others and makes participating at COP difficult. Even in intersectional climate spaces, the disabled community is often minimally talked about. Protests are often seen as the pinnacle of climate activism, yet these spaces are also inaccessible. 

But this community also wants people to not think of them as always vulnerable. They are not passive victims – rather they have no choice to be agents of change. 

Women (Young feminists at a morning women and gender constituency meeting)

I spent almost all my time at COP within civil society spaces. These spaces are dominated by women and feminine presenting people. Hence, it was shocking to me to read that the party delegations at COP27 were 63% male to 37% female (with others not even being considered in the count). 

Women and feminine people are at the forefront of this fight because they are at the forefront of climate change. In most countries, gender norms put women in positions where they have to cook and clean. They look after their families and so they intensely experience when there are shortages of food or water. Domestic violence against women and girls is increasing as a direct result of climate change as famine and disease cause tensions internationally. 

But with a majority of party delegates being ‘male’ – it is clear who is still calling the shots. Hence, there is still an ugly, patriarchal disconnect between those making the rules and those who have to experience the consequences of them. 

Youth (Asia-Pacific youth activists at a meet-up) 

I witnessed a panel where my friend (a youth climate activist) was very publicly talked down to by a government official from their own country. Whilst many countries claim to listen to youth, in reality, many still see us as children. Organisations and countries will ‘youth wash’ and pretend they are acting on climate change to genuinely protect future generations, but in reality, their authenticity only goes so far. 

And ‘youth washing’ is not a fickle issue. Youth today are the most educated and well connected generation to have ever existed. We are also the generations that are going to still be alive when the climate crisis devastates our world. It was heart-breaking to see delegates who were young children who were at COP. No child should have to worry about their future. But this worry means young people have no choice but to be radical and creative. We have the solutions, we are not naïve. If leaders listen to us, we would be able to progress to a world where the future is no longer in jeopardy. 


As cliché as it sounds, we are all humans. The ways we differ are small yet they are treated as if they are big. These communities are made of people. But they are people who are suffering the consequences of climate change now. These voices hold the solutions the world needs but the systems we have are actively marginalising them. If you are an ally of any of these communities, your role needs to be actively working against these systems to ensure these voices are centralised. 

If we want to keep 1.5 alive, this is no longer a time where we can rely on individual action. This is the time to speak out. This is the time for transformation.

Isabelle Zhu-Maguire