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UN youth delegate Dennis Jansen gives young people a voice in the climate debate

The goal of alumnus International Studies Dennis Jansen (24) is to make the voice of young people heard in the climate debate. In November he is going to el-Sheikh in Egypt, where the Climate Change Conference is being held.

Jansen was always interested in how the world works and why it works that way. On a tour of Asia he saw a lot of inequality and that affected him. This was one of the reasons why he decided to study International Studies in Leiden.

As a student he was still working out what he wanted, he explains in an interview. ‘What’s important to me? How can I give shape to that? And can I already make changes in my own life?’ During a minor Jansen did research in Kenya and had a lot of room to focus on sustainability. When the pandemic broke out, he decided to postpone the next step and look for something else instead. This is how he discovered the UN Youth Delegate Programme and ended up being elected. He has held this (voluntary) position for two years and will pass on the baton after the climate conference.

'Young people are looking for a way to make their voices heard. It’s great if I can help.'

From school children to ministers

Jansen’s mandate as a UN youth delegate involves speaking to young people and gaining input from them. He does so by teaching, speaking at events and having discussions with people. ‘I want to hear what is important to young people, what keeps them awake at night... anything really. I try to bring this up in discussions with ministers, for example, or within delegations. Young people are looking for a way to make their voices heard. It’s great if I can help.

‘This work involves lots of things that came up during my studies and that I benefit from a lot now, like cultural differences, finding a middle ground and representing various interests. My degree has definitely helped me with this.’

This year’s Climate Change Conference is in Egypt and as always for the most part the host country sets the agenda. Many points on this year’s agenda are extra urgent for African countries: the topic of ‘loss and damage’, for example. He explains: ‘It’s about how countries can create more climate justice if those who are responsible for the problem have a fair role in its solution and those who experience the impact of climate change are not left to deal with it alone. This often happens to African countries now. It’ll be a hot topic at COP 27, the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.’


COP 27 isn’t just about negotiations; the voice of ‘ordinary citizens’ is also an important aspect. Protests are being organised, like the climate march last year in Glasgow that a staggering half million people took part in. Jansen wonders how this will be in Egypt: ‘I hope there will be freedom for young people and other people who aren’t at the conference to speak out.’

The conference itself is hard work for the youth delegates. Jansen: ‘The negotiations start early and go on until late and we want to be part of everything and share our findings. I’m trying to represent young people’s interests in various ways in the climate negotiations.’

From what he saw at the conference in Glasgow, Jansen has gained a lot of respect for negotiators. Is it something he’d like to do himself later? ‘No, I want to be involved in a different way in places where it’s really happening.’ The alumnus has earned his first degree but hasn’t finished studying yet. ‘I’m doing the Master’s in Sustainable Business and Innovation and want to focus more on businesses. I hope I’ll be able to play an important role within businesses that want to achieve sustainability.’

Text: Nynke Smits

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