Mirna Inés Fernández Pradel is a member of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN), an international network of young people focused on preventing biodiversity loss and protecting nature. In an interview, she shared lessons from her work to elevate youth voices internationally and expressed her hopes for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 summit in Montreal.
Why is youth engagement around biodiversity important to you?
I believe that the full and effective engagement of young people in decision-making processes about biodiversity is key to delivering policies that protect the diversity of species, ecosystems, and genetic resources that we have, and ensuring the well-being of the communities who depend on these.
Youth all over the world are not only extremely worried about the socio-ecological crisis that we are facing but taking bold actions to halt it. They are taking to the streets and raising their voices to demand social-ecological justice. They also lead projects for biodiversity conservation, restoration, sustainable management, and awareness. All of this happens most of the time with very little or zero funding or institutional support.
This reality needs to change in the near term to allow this generation to lead the path toward transformative change.
Could you describe a project that you are currently working on?
The Global Youth Biodiversity Network has been working since 2018 on enhancing youth engagement in the development of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. We have designed and developed regional workshops to empower young people to engage in the implementation of the CBD in their countries, and now we have a network of more than 40 national chapters and more than 500 member organizations in 172 countries rallying youth voices for a just and ambitious new global biodiversity agenda.
Besides the regional consultations we held, our national chapters also developed national consultations which have helped us gather the youth perspectives and priorities to inform this upcoming Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Our work as the GYBN policy team is to systematize and analyze the outcomes of these consultations and come up with global youth priorities that represent the views of our community. As of now, these main priorities are intergenerational equity and full and effective youth participation, transformative education, and rights-based approaches for people and nature.
Finally, we are at the last stages of the development of the Global Biodiversity Framework and we are focused on the capacity development of our community to engage as much and as meaningfully as possible in the policy discussions around it, and to become key allies for the implementation of the new global biodiversity agenda. We are expecting more than 250 youth delegates from GYBN and other youth organizations at COP15 in Montreal and we hope that they will feel that their voices are not only heard but also that they will lead some of the key discussions about the real and false solutions for biodiversity and climate. We believe in their strength and commitment to shaping a better future, founded on justice and equity for biodiversity and all people.
How did you get involved in the Global Youth Biodiversity Network?
I met the GYBN co-founders, Christian Schwarzer and Melina Sakiyama, at an International Youth Conference prior to the CBD COP10 in Japan. By then, they already had the idea to start a youth platform for participation focused on biodiversity negotiations. At that time, I was focused on youth campaigns at the national level in my country advocating for protected areas under the threat of mega-projects. A couple of years later, in 2012, I participated in the GYBN international kick-off meeting in Berlin and this idea became a reality.
At the CBD COP11 in Hyderabad, India, GYBN officially assumed its role as the official platform to coordinate youth participation at the CBD. I started getting more and more involved, realizing that understanding the commitments our countries make at the international level are very helpful to push for the results we need at the national level. Now I am one of the two GYBN policy co-coordinators and a co-founder of the GYBN Bolivia chapter, and I keep trying to link this international advocacy with the work in my country with Indigenous Peoples, civil society organizations, and youth on environmental issues.
What life lessons has your work taught you?
I learn and get inspired by the commitment and empowerment of the youth team at GYBN and the global youth community we represent every day. I realized that regardless of the power imbalance in these discussions, we can still win because our discourse isn’t tied to a job position or to private interests. Our positions have the strength of hundreds of young peoples’ vision and values behind them, and that is really empowering.
My work at the local level to support Indigenous Peoples and civil society organizations, and with our national chapter Kaaijayu-GYBN Bolivia, has also taught me a lot. I can witness the struggle for socio-ecological justice in a megadiverse country like mine, which is dependent on an extractive-based development model. And I see how the elders, the women, and the youth in each community are the ones who don’t give up, despite being the most marginalized in decision-making processes. That gives me enough reasons to not give up myself.
The state of the global environment is concerning. What gives you hope?
The new generations give me a lot of hope. They are fearless, committed, and kind. They don’t tolerate racism, harassment, or any form of power abuse. I believe that when it’s time for them to take over the decision-making, they will perform better and deliver fair policies and actions for all people and nature.
What do you hope to see happen at COP15 in Montreal? What will make the summit a success for you personally and for the Global Youth Biodiversity Network?
There is very little hope for how COP15 will come up with the ambitious, fair, and inclusive global agreement we all need. The discussions leading up to this global summit have been rather slow and shown very little ambition to change the status quo. I hope this somehow changes at COP15. I hope that our country representatives will listen to the voices of youth, women, Indigenous Peoples and local communities and take bold decisions that will safeguard their rights and support their collective contributions to biodiversity conservation and sustainable management.
COP15 will be a success if rights-based approaches for people and nature are prioritized over profit and corporate interests. If we leave the summit with a global agenda comprised of goals, targets, and indicators that can measure the quality of the national efforts for conservation, sustainable use, and fair sharing of the benefits arising from biodiversity for all rights-holders, and which doesn’t give any window to more false solutions, we would have achieved our goal.