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COP26: An interview with the Chief Operations Officer of the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens

At the climate conference The Gaudie talked to Ms Katrin Harvey on youth and women empowerment, leadership, and climate change

by: Isti Miskolczy

The Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens was established in Vienna in 2018 by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former president of Austria Heinz Fischer with the aim of empowering women and young people to live in a world in which human rights are universally respected and the sustainable development goals are achieved through shared responsibility. With several local, national, and international projects and cooperations, the centre is trying to equip the next generation of leaders with a “global citizenship mindset”. At COP26 The Gaudie had the opportunity to talk to the centre’s COO, Ms Katrin Harvey on their goals, programmes and of course, the conference itself.

Katrin Harvey (left) and Isti Miskolczy (right) at the COP26 Action Zone.

Photo courtesy of Anttoni James Numminen.

IM: Here are many other international organisations and NGOs working on achieving universal human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals. Amongst them the Ban Ki-moon Centre has been founded relatively recently. Why did you feel the urge to establish a new institute in 2018?

KH: Our founders wanted to establish a centre that continues with Ban Ki-moon’s twin legacies which are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement (both agreed in 2015). They wished to do it in a way that would not just empower women’s and young people’s leadership but also help those who are already in leadership to apply a global citizenship mindset and to make decisions based within a sustainability framework. To do this, we are adopting a two-way approach. On the one hand we are working directly with decision-makers, governments and stakeholders and supporting them as they become more SDG-aware. On the other hand, we are also working with young people and women who have leadership potential but need this “last push” to become confident not just in their leading skills but also in speaking up for the Sustainable Development Goals and the aims of the Paris Climate Agreement.

IM: How exactly are you trying to provide young people and women with this “last push”?

KH: We have mentorships, scholarship programmes and fellowship programmes which are usually conducted in cooperation with partner organisations. For example, previously we co-convened a programme with an organisation called “Muslim Youth of Austria” through which we helped young Muslim women who were facing difficulties in getting into work and building their careers by pairing them with influential women in Austria. This year we have been working with a project called ‘ENLIGHT’ led by the universities of Bordeaux, Gent, Gottingen, Tartu, the Basque Country, Galway, Groningen, Uppsala, and Comenius Bratislava, where we very much focus on the cooperation between university professors and young students. We also have a large advocacy programme called ‘Mission 4.7’ through which we are hoping to get more governments and organisations onboard for integrating global citizenship education into all curricula.

IM: Do you have any exciting programmes coming up in 2022?

KH: Many of our programmes will continue in 2022 – including the ones mentioned above – but unfortunately, I cannot tell you any details yet. However, at the end of October we launched a young women adaptation programme. This is an online executive training for African young women on adaptation to climate change. It is a very recent and exciting programme in which we are cooperating with the Global Commission on Adaptation and numerous other partner organisations.

We have picked 30 African young women out of over 480 applications whose training will last until next March.

IM: Speaking of youth and women – how do you think COP26 is affecting them?

KH: I think it is not about COP26 effecting young people but the other way. I think young people heavily impact and influence the conference. They are doing a really great job. They are being loud and heard and I believe that is exactly what they should be doing. The youth are the ones that constantly need to check and demand changes from the world leaders.

IM: Like Greta Thunberg for instance?

KH: Yes. I remember thinking at COP24 in 2018 in Katowice about what this ‘young kid’ is doing here. I saw her on Instagram but at that time I did not know who she was, but now she is such a great leader who attracts so many people. I watched her arrival to Glasgow on TV, it looked insane. She was surrounded by so many people; she could hardly move. It has been absolutely inspiring to see what young people have been doing in the last years regarding climate change. However,

I think there should still be more opportunities for young people and women to become more involved in the discussions and negotiations at the COP conferences.

IM: From this perspective: what are your expectations of this year’s conference in particular?

KH: One of the major things we would like to see at COP26 is an improvement in the justice component of women’s empowerment and gender inclusivity.

Climate justice means the need to include voices that are not heard otherwise.

We have seen in the plenaries and in the different negotiations that there are hardly any women in the rooms. Bringing women into the room and the conversation, supporting climate leadership from women, by women and for women, that is really important. So is hearing these voices, because often the ones that are last heard are the ones that are suffering the most in terms of climate change.

IM: Protests are obviously great opportunities to make voices heard. Have you seen any?

KH: Yes, but actually I was hoping to see more protests already at the beginning of the conference, especially around the World Leaders’ Summit. There has been a little group of African activists protesting outside the main entrance as well as a youth group standing in silence and a couple of individuals with signs, but I was expecting more demonstrations. At my first COP in Copenhagen in 2009 there were a lot more, louder protests going on outside the venue. Maybe they are still coming, who knows.

The representatives of the "Sudanese Communities Scotland" are holding up signs against the military regime of their country outside the main entrance of COP26. They demand stopping the violence and the targeting of human rights activists. (Photo courtesy of Isti Miskolczy)


The interview was taking place on Tuesday, the 2nd of November before the large protests attracting tens of thousands of people later that week on Friday and Saturday.


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