The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award for Young People is an international youth award founded in 1956 by the Queen. It was started to provide a way for young people who are not able to undertake traditional physical challenges, due to disabilities or other reasons, to experience adventure and develop their skills. The COP26 conference will be introducing a new climate-related equivalent that will replace the old one when it expires at the end of 2020.
The COP26 award has already drawn criticism for the fact that it is not clear if everyone at COP26 will be able to participate. It may be possible to achieve the Gold Medal without ever having left Europe, which some see as defeating the entire purpose of introducing an award related to climate change in Bonn. Participants must spend 30 hours doing climate-related activities in order to receive their medal. However, the COP26 website states that Every participant is free to choose which activities are best suited for them and does not provide an exhaustive list of all criteria that must be met in order to receive your award. The COP26 organisers have also posted a flyer on their social media pages saying “We are looking forward to many participants using the COP26 Award at home!” which, on its own, may be a reason enough for some young people not to participate.
Last month, COP24’s President Michal Kurtyka told reporters that “the original award was about those who cannot go out into nature because of disability or social reasons. The new award will focus on the beauty of nature, how to protect it and how to maintain a dialogue with it,” a statement that would lead some people to believe he is talking about young disabled citizens. However, while this may be true for physically-impaired participants, COP24 has announced that they are opening up the award to “everyone under the age of 30” without any further distinction.
The COP24 website states that it’s possible to achieve different levels within the award, but doesn’t discuss the requirements necessary for each level, which is one of the most contentious points about this new version. It also fails to mention what would happen if participants don’t fulfill all the requirements. While COP24 has not announced what will happen if participants fail to reach the final level, COP26 have said that it’s possible to re-do activities in order to achieve a different level. This may lead some young people to believe that they can just do easier climate-related activities for 30 hours in order not to have to spend a lot of time doing difficult climate-related activities.
In addition to these issues, other groups have criticised the fact that COP24’s organisers are using the same infrastructure as a traditional version of the award without making any necessary modifications to make sure it works for all participants and creates an accessible environment. The move has been heavily criticised by National Award Centres in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The COP24 website doesn’t mention any physical requirements necessary to undertaking the activities either, although it’s likely that most of them will require some sort of mobility or fine-motor skills. Problems may also arise on site at COP24 itself for people with visual impairments who are unable to access the meeting without assistance. While COP24 does have guides in place to assist people with disabilities, this often isn’t enough for them to be able to access all the meeting’s facilities and activities.