COP 28

First-year represents youth voice for sustainability on a global stage

February 23, 2024


The first time Farah Sertovic got on an airplane to leave Bosnia and Herzegovina, she was headed to Egypt for COP27 — the United Nations’ annual climate change conference that draws the highest-profile researchers, policymakers, and other global leaders in the field.

A year later, as a University of Richmond first-year, Sertovic was back in the air, en route to Dubai for COP28. Within 85,000 attendees, she was among 1,000 youth ambassadors.

“Youth ambassadors provide the voice of the younger generation,” said Sertovic, a sustainability activist. “We do not find a lot of my generation in the places where big decisions are being made about future steps, where legislation is being made.”


As a first-year international #URichmond student from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Farah Sergovic (@farah) made her mark at @COP28UAE in late 2023. Here’s a peek into her experience as a youth ambassador at this global conference!🕷️ #urichmond #cop28 #firstyearstudent #internationalstudent #spiderpride

♬ original sound - University of Richmond

Her trip was funded through the Zayed Sustainability Prize, created by the founder of the United Arab Emirates to support changemakers. In Bosnia, her boarding school, the United World College, had earned the prize for eco-friendly practices. A teacher recommended Sertovic as an COP ambassador, leading to a resume, application videos, and a passionate letter.

At her first COP, she found an open forum when talking with other attendees. “It allowed me to have a space to express myself. And I feel like the organization that I was with noticed that, and I got placed in a few rooms with some higher-ranking representatives,” she said, noting she met the UAE’s prime minister and members of the royal family.

In her second year, Sertovic visited exhibitions to learn about projects under way across the globe and deepened her network. She also spoke on a youth panel preceding COP28 on how small changes can add up to big impacts.

“You can discover what you want your future to be like and network with people in fields that you want to be in,” Sertovic said. At the conference, nations made commitments to move away from fossil fuels and fund smaller nations in sustainable development “We’re all getting connected to build a stronger network, which is able to make our world a little bit better in the future — and a little bit less warm.”

In Dubai, she also was invited with several other ambassadors to join in a South African school’s vocal and dance performance during the Zayed prize’s latest award ceremony. Donning costumes to showcase their national heritage, the students “showed people that there is cooperation,” she said. “We’re here to make impactful change.”

Sertovic traces her activism to volunteering with her hometown’s Protectors of the Environment, which would clear rubbish and plant flowers in return. “That was the first time I saw that small change could make big echoes,” she said. “That transferred into my life.”

The environment at her boarding school reinforced her interest in sustainability, when she found herself assigned to the recently constructed eco-aware house. A local first, the house uses 100% renewable energy, along with other environmentally friendly features.

Sertovic chose to attend college in the United States, where liberal arts universities are more common. At Richmond, she is exploring several majors to gauge how she could integrate sustainability into her professional career. “I do have an idea, and it includes having the position to be able to make impactful change,” she said, “because I definitely think that’s what the world needs right now.”