On Saturday 21st September 2019, I had the privilege of travelling to the United Nations Climate Action Summit as the UK’s nominated youth delegate. This summit, occurring immediately before the United Nations General Assembly that began on Monday 23rd September, was intended to offer a platform to young people to meaningfully engage with decision-makers to create a greener and sustainable future. As the UK’s youth delegate, my role at the summit was to share the views of young people from the UK with senior officials, advocating for positive climate action on your behalf.
The fact that I departed for the summit on Friday 20th September was significant for two reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, this was the day when over four million (yes, you heard that right – four million!) incredible people from across the globe took to the streets in protest, demanding urgent action in order to save our planet. Secondly, this was the day that the British Youth Council’s Youth Policy Group submitted its review on government policy in the areas of waste and recycling, climate change and youth engagement to the government departments responsible for protecting the planet. In this review, we highlighted young people’s environmental priorities and concerns while also recommending methods that the government could explore to engage more effectively with young people. It was the sentiments echoed in this report, and by young people on the streets, that I carried into the summit with me.
So now onto the summit itself! It was simply incredible. 1,200+ young people from over 120 countries all united by one purpose – climate action. At the summit, I attended workshops on all manner of issues, learning about the link between climate change and young people’s human rights, about the steps we are taking to transition to the use of clean energy and about how it is those who pollute least who are impacted most. I’ve summarised my key takeaways below that I would like to share with you all, to give you a flavour of some of the recurring themes that came from the discussions I was involved in:
Change is happening!
During the summit, I heard how major employers are becoming more environmentally conscious because this makes their businesses more attractive to prospective employees, how major polluters such as the shipping industry are committing to becoming net-zero in terms of their emissions and how the views of young people are being considered in policy-making decisions at the highest levels. It’s clear to me that the tireless campaigning and passion of young people is beginning to have an impact and create meaningful change. This makes it more important than ever that we continue to campaign, striving to increase the pace of change and change the attitudes of everyday people.
Individual actions matter – don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise!
Often, we fall into the trap of believing that our individual actions are insignificant, believing we do not have the individual power to create change. Being surrounded by young people from right across the globe and hearing about the impact they have had in their local communities really highlighted to me how one person can make an impact. You never know who is watching, so we must continue to always lead by example and inspire others to change their ways. The most powerful demonstration of this can be seen through the story of a young woman who requires no introduction. In August 2018, Greta protested outside the Swedish parliament alone. A year later and 4million people joined her. You’re never too small to make an impact on the world. As climate activist and avid explorer, Robert Swan pointed out: ‘the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that somebody else will save it.’ So, don’t wait for other people to lead, be advocates for change within your own lives – then you will automatically inspire others!
Young people are not only being heard but are leading the way – we need to keep at it!
The event, held at the UN HQ, began with a panel of leading youth activists from around the world (featuring the one, the only Greta Thunberg) who were discussing their priorities for the planet. Interestingly, the UN Secretary-General (the most senior official within the UN) joined the panel as a ‘keynote listener’, sending a powerful signal that the UN was open not only to working with young people but to actually allowing them to drive conversations. This theme continued throughout the day, with young innovators pitching technological solutions to the climate crisis, such as the storage of data inside plants (how cool!) to panels of industry experts. The fact that the UN is ready to work alongside young people to drive change is a positive sign and is something that should give us hope. We are leaders in this fight, and we have to keep leading!
So, they’re my takeaways. But, how can you get involved? Remember that small individual actions can have a global impact. Your actions matter as much as anybody else’s does. Why not ditch the car and walk when you can? Could you commit to having a day each week free of single-use plastics? Try shopping for second-hand clothes to reduce the amount of ‘fast fashion’ items to the landfill? Or how about lobbying the decision-makers of our country, and of our world, to encourage them to create pioneering climate policies? We can all have an impact, and each and every one of us has a part to play. Let’s go save the world! (literally!)