Fiji's Sivendra Pacific island nations first sought assistance in 1991 through planned United Nations climate negotiations to deal with anticipated "loss and damage" from rising seas and other climate change impacts. Michael was only one year old at the time.
This year, the 32-year-old expert in disaster risk management and development, who recently earned his PhD, will work as a formal negotiator for his country on "loss and damage" and other issues at COP27 in Egypt.
Michael, one of 60 newly trained youth from 27 countries acting as full-fledged climate negotiators at the U.N. talks this year, remarked, "They are negotiating our future, so it is only fitting that we be present."
As the inaugural class of the new Climate Youth Negotiator Programme, they aim to "bring the power of the streets and young people to more experienced negotiators," according to co-founder and former Swiss negotiator Marie-Claire Graf, 26.
Young people have been at the forefront of green protests and activism outside the halls of power for a long time, with many of them being passionate about climate change action and possessing ever-impressive expertise and credentials.
In an effort to spur lagging action on climate threats, a growing number of individuals are now entering these corridors in an effort to move beyond their still-too-common token inclusion on panels and into positions of direct influence on policy and politics.
They do not view themselves as inferior tablemates.
"Because of my age, I am listed as a young negotiator. But I'm as capable a negotiator as anyone else, "Michael, who holds a Ph.D. in development studies and a master's degree in public policy and economics, is currently writing a chapter on loss and damage for a book.
"We have grown up with climate change," he said, pointing to the increasing frequency of flooding in his island community in the South Pacific.
We are currently experiencing the era of climate change.
The 2019 push to train a new generation of climate diplomats grew in part from the experiences of Swiss negotiator Graf at COP25 in Madrid.
As a 23-year-old student of sustainability and politics, she led Switzerland's negotiations on efforts to boost developing nations' capacity to reduce emissions and adapt to a warmer world.
However, despite being asked by the Swiss president's office to assume the position as the most qualified candidate, Graf was rejected by older negotiators from other teams who doubted her abilities due to her age.
She stated that this fueled a desire to increase the number of young diplomats on teams and to ensure that they were extremely well-prepared not only for complex subject matter, but also for the strategic and emotional aspects of negotiation.
Since July, the Youth Negotiators Academy, founded by Graf and three other women after COP26 in Glasgow, has connected a first cohort of sixty aspiring negotiators with global experts through online classes.
Archie Young, Britain's chief climate negotiator, stated that he had instructed the trainees on everything from the importance of empathy and listening to overcoming setbacks and, if necessary, escaping a difficult situation.
"When you consider negotiations, you imagine a zero-sum game between us and them. However, this cannot be applied to climate negotiations "He emphasised the significance of cooperation in resolving a global issue.
The youngest member of Young's own negotiating team is 22 years old and recently graduated from college, he said.
Graf stated that the training programme for negotiators had helped some participants overcome cultural barriers, such as the reluctance of women or young people in some societies to speak in front of older male colleagues.
"It is difficult for a young person. Even if you are outgoing and confident, you will sweat and experience anxiety "notably when in the limelight, she stated.
'A FRESH MIND'
The initial participants in the Climate Youth Negotiator Programme report that the advice has been a tremendous aid in bolstering their confidence to play an active role in the negotiations.
Guadalupe Rivas Royg, 33, who works for Paraguay's National Directorate of Climate Change, acknowledged that she struggled when she participated in her first United Nations negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland, last year.
"I lacked experience," she declared. "I had no idea how to do anything, including how to turn on my microphone to speak."
"This time will be different," said Rivas, a lawyer with a master's degree in sustainable development who will negotiate for Paraguay on climate finance.
She believes that an influx of young negotiators can help shake up the negotiations and provide a fresh perspective on what is not working and how it can be altered.
"I am of sound mind. I'm new to this system, so I'm curious about how things work and why we're still doing them this way "In a telephone interview, she stated.
Evelyn Addor, a 32-year-old trainee negotiator from Ghana who works for a forest NGO, plans to bring the voices of rural communities on the front lines, which she knows well, into the "loss and damage" negotiation rooms at COP27.
Addor, who will be negotiating for Ghana for the first time, admitted, "It's very intimidating." The stage is expansive.
But "Being a member of civil society provides me with a vastly different perspective on what policies should entail. I want to represent the daily community members with whom I work "she said.
Graf stated that trainee negotiators were selected in part to add more diverse perspectives to the discussions - Seventy percent of this year's group are female, thirteen are from indigenous communities, and one is non-binary.
Some are receiving financial assistance from donors to the training academy in order to attend COP27, as well as assistance with visa arrangements.
"So many young people have lost or are rapidly losing hope in this decision-making process," said Graf. Since thirty years ago, the same people have attempted to resolve the same problems, with women and young people underrepresented in the efforts.
Now, "we hope to bring about change by bringing in young, well-trained individuals," she added.
"IT IS NOW OUR TURN"
One of them is Hanadi Al Rabai'eh, a 28-year-old Jordanian chemical engineer who will negotiate on a wide variety of issues at COP27, including finance, adaptation, and gender issues.
Rabai'eh, who graduated at the top of her university class, is employed by Jordan's Ministry of Environment. She asserts that the climate threats facing her country, ranging from floods to rising temperatures, are evident and require collaborative efforts across fields, including water, agriculture, and refugees.
She added that Jordan is a leader in renewable energy in the Middle East, with nearly 30 percent of its electricity coming from solar and wind power.
Rabai'eh stated that she cannot wait to take the microphone at COP27 and predicted that she could become Jordan's environment minister in ten years if she works hard.
"Now it's our turn as youth to confront climate change, to implement adaptation and resilience initiatives for our countries," she said.
"We will be the future leaders who implement the decisions we are currently negotiating."