Interview with COP26 Delegate, Marina Melanidis

Marina Melanidis, Forestry graduate student at COP26
Marina Melanidis

Meet Marina Melanidis, a graduate student here at UBC Forestry who recently attended the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland!

Marina also holds a B.Sc. in Natural Resources Conservation from UBC Forestry. She is a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholar, a Students on Ice alumnus, and has recently been named as one of Canada’s Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leaders and Top 25 under 25 Environmentalists.

Previously, Marina has worked on conservation and climate change at home with the BC Provincial and Canadian Federal government, abroad as a research exchange fellow in India, and with the United Nations as an intern with the UN Environment Programme.

We connected with Marina to learn more about her work promoting climate leadership amongst youth and her experience as a youth delegate at COP26.

Q: Tell us about yourself!

“I’m Marina Melanidis the founder of Youth4Nature (Y4N), a youth-led, global non-profit organization that is mobilizing young people around the world to lead on solutions for both nature and climate that are grounded in community and justice. Y4N is a dynamic global community of young people leading on the intersections of nature and climate through knowledge-sharing, storytelling, and capacity-building.

I’m also a master’s student at UBC Forestry, examining the narratives and governance of “nature-based solutions” in international environmental governance and on-the-ground conservation.”

Q: What led you to Glasgow?

“I went to COP26 with Y4N’s Global Youth Delegation. We were officially a group of 12 young people from 11 countries, mostly from the Global South, but several other Y4N community members joined in on our work while at COP!”

Q: How was your COP26 experience?

“COP26 was a really challenging and inaccessible space, and we faced many barriers to get there, and even more to fully participate once we were there – we often had to fight for access to “high-level” decision-making spaces, and faced a lot of tokenism and youth washing, whereas representatives of fossil fuel corporations made up the largest delegation at COP26!

Despite this, we did some incredible things. One of our biggest accomplishments was launching the Global Youth Position Statement on Nature-based Solutions with Global Youth Biodiversity Network and YOUNGO, which was the result of a consultative survey that incorporated the views of over 1000 young people from 118 countries about NbS.

The result: NbS holds the potential to break down silos between nature and climate, but is vulnerable to greenwashing and co-option that puts biodiversity and people at risk. Young people commit to calling out false solutions and will not tolerate polluters using “NbS” to delay decarbonization and cause harm.

I was also able to appear on Sky News to express my frustration over the barriers youth faced at COP26 and the inaction of governments.”

Q: What are some key takeaways from the conference that you would like to share?

“I am tentatively excited about the commitments made to halt deforestation and provide $1.7 billion in funding to Indigenous communities for their role in protecting forests – however, commitments like this have been made before, and I will be waiting to see what real policy follows up and whether this funding actually makes it to Indigenous communities on-the-ground.

COP26 made what we already know crystal clear: that change does not happen unless we demand it, and that the real solutions and the real hope are on-the-ground, in youth, in nature, and in frontline communities.”

Marina Melanidis, Forestry graduate student at COP26

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