2020 may have put a halt to many events and conferences, but the momentum to pursue climate action never stops. We were thrilled to see more than 500 participants worldwide tune in live for our first episode of the monthly #Youth4ClimateLive Series on 26 June 2020. This inaugural session featured panelists Marie-Claire Graf of YOUNGO; Elizabeth Wathuti, Founder of the Green Generation Initiative in Kenya; and Selina Leem, climate warrior of the Marshall Islands. It was invigorating to hear them share their experience working in youth-government collaboration, promoting nature and advocating for vulnerable communities. In case you missed it, here is a recap of what went down!
Giving Youth a Space at the Negotiation Table
Our panelists agreed unanimously that there is a pressing need for young and grassroots voices to be represented in international conferences, and our leaders hear that. The session opened with addresses from Sergio Costa, Italy’s Minister for Environment, Land and Sea; Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change; and Alok Sharma, President of COP26. They encouraged young people to keep advocating for climate action and imagine a new normal that is more focused on sustainability. Sharma noted that COP26 would work with global partners to raise global action in five areas: clean energy, clean transport, climate finance, nature-based solutions and adaptation & resilience.
Marie-Claire Graf stressed that young climate champions want to be seen and treated as equals with political leaders and be involved in negotiations. Even though youth may not understand the technicalities of negotiation, they are able to bring insights from the ground and are full of energy and ideas. Furthermore, they are informed about the news and are absolutely willing to pick up the nuances of negotiation. Graf called for leaders to place more trust in young people. If they were allowed a spot at the negotiating table, youth would be able to better channel their energy into contributing, rather than wasting it fighting to be taken seriously. She added that there is something everyone – be they negotiators or observers – can learn from one another, and called for participants in international conferences to step out of their titles and approach one another as human beings.
Selina Leem echoed such sentiments and called for participants to ask conference organisers to invite members of vulnerable communities to be part of the conversation. Both she and Elizabeth Wathuti added that their hometowns are suffering disproportionately from the climate crisis and that these communities have a collective sense of urgency to save their homes that is not reflected at the global scale. Leem touched on the privilege other members of the global community have and urged them to speak up and help these communities in need.
Engaging Local Communities in Climate Action
Leem shared that her community has long used storytelling to cope with the trauma brought on by the climate crisis, and that the Marshall Islands Government is fully supportive of youth leaders speaking up on domestic and international platforms. Wathuti added that her work also involves engaging the community to develop a passion for nature that will encourage them to protect it for survival. Exposing people, especially children, to the wonders of nature can have amazing results. Wathuti shared that her work involves enlisting members of the community in reforestation to ensure food security. This is just an example of nature-based solutions, which Wathuti wants to become more widespread in the days to come.Wathuti also urged everyone to start joining networks on biodiversity conservation. We cannot leave anyone behind with this movement, she said, as the community can only depend on themselves to protect nature. While this sounds extreme, Leem commented that there is a need to be firm about the magnitude of the climate crisis, as lifelines of entire communities are at stake.