By Joan Howe
COPENHAGEN, Denmark, 10 December 2009 – Hundreds of children, including eight UNICEF ‘Climate Ambassadors’, wore vibrant orange-and-green t-shirts celebrating ‘Youth Day’ at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) here today.
Watch the video in RealMedia
Youth-focused side-events took place outside the closed-door negotiations of government parties, turning the spotlight on the concerns of young people from around the world. The message of the young delegates was clear: “It is late, but not too late.”
Youth Day sessions covered topics from education as a catalyst for action to agriculture and intergenerational dialogues on disasters.
Climate Ambassadors from Bolivia, Haiti, Zambia and Bangladesh spoke passionately about the impact of climate change on the lives of people in their countries. The young people agreed that decisions made over the next week will have a lasting impact on future generations.
“The earth is not a gift but something borrowed, and we have to give it back to future generations,” said Darwin Peña, 17, from Bolivia.
Youth taking action
Marie Moïse Louissaint, 16, from Haiti and Kondwani Banda, 17, from Zambia are part of a youth movement that has helped raise awareness and involved affected communities in taking concrete steps – such as tree-planting – to mitigate the devastating effects of deforestation and over-farming.
“I believe that we, the children, can do a lot for our respective communities,” said Kondwani. “Let’s get out there and spread environmental information. It may just be turning off a light bulb or telling one friend about climate change but it is a step – a step towards a beautiful, sustainable and renewed future. Thus I urge you to start now. Let’s not wait for the leaders because it begins with us!”
Government representatives at the conference confirmed that the voices of young people are making a difference in the fight against climate change.
Maldives Environment Minister Mohamad Aslam praised the public demand for leadership expressed by the “voters of tomorrow.” He credited young people for inspiring COP15 to focus on agreements that highlighted positive targets and what can be done.
‘The defining issue of our time’
To a standing ovation, Ruchi Jain, 23, a member of the Indian Youth Climate Network, described the strength of people coming together to raise their voices and bring a message to governments around the world. She spoke about the “fragile and honest” trust she had in the leaders gathered in Copenhagen.
Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Yvo de Boer pondered quietly before replying that trust needed to be earned.
The Director of the UN Climate Change Support Team, Janos Pasztor, confirmed that for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, climate change is “the defining issue of our time.” Because future generations will be the most affected, he said, young people need to be heard by leaders at COP15.
In the deeply felt push to galvanize efforts against climate change, Thomas Spencer, a youth delegate from Germany, told the panel of leaders “the first ever global generation” recognized the gravity of the challenge. He added that they also know positive change is possible.