Rising for Nature: Youth at the UN Climate Action Summit and New York Climate Week

By Hailey May, Communications Lead, Youth4Nature.

Youth4Nature is an international initiative focused on empowering youth to act on our biodiversity and climate crisis using nature-based solutions. It creates meaningful opportunities for young people through knowledge-sharing, capacity-building and storytelling.

Youth4Nature delegation at UNCAS

The United Nations Climate Action Summit (UNCAS) and New York Climate Week were held in New York City, USA from 21–25 September. Youth4Nature was fortunate to send a delegation of 12 young professionals aged 22–30 from 9 countries and representing all 5 UN Regional Groups. From community reforestation and seed collection in the Brazilian Amazon, researching nature-based solutions in the Netherlands, and waste repurposing for economic development in Kenya, all delegates were selected for their demonstrated experience working with Nature-based Solutions in their communities and desire to open up opportunities for other youth around the world in support of NBS to our climate and biodiversity crises.

Over the course of a week, our delegation sat in the meetings of the Nature-Based Solutions track, gave over 13 speeches and presentations including at the first-ever Youth Climate Action Summit, UNCAS, and at the UNDP, organized and ran 3 full by-youth, for-youth workshops, and ran a multi-day storytelling exhibition with an estimated in-person engagement of over 800 people.

Our programming included three youth-led workshops organised and facilitated by our team. The first workshop started off in the morning of Monday, 23 September, titled: “Mobilizing for Climate & Ecological Justice: In Conversation with Youth “Juliana” Plaintiff Xiuhtezcatl Martinez”. This conversation was in partnership with Our Children’s Trust and the Youth V. Gov movement, where 21 young “Juliana” plaintiffs are suing the United States federal government to defend their rights to a healthy and prosperous future. We learnt many lessons on continuing to stand for nature when facing adversity, both through the judicial system and beyond.

Our second workshop, “Youth Empowerment in the Face of Climate & Ecological Breakdown” gathered together a dozen young professionals to evaluate our methods of thinking on nature and climate solutions, and exchange ideas on our work as community members and leaders. Many youths in the room had established their own non-profits or had experience in governance schemes, and we discussed best practices for building on our respective nature and climate movements for over an hour. The main takeaways from this workshop were that we must tailor our campaigns to respect regional diversity, and that collaborative effort is vital when making an effective change as young people.

Youth4Nature panel in the Summit

All three of our workshops were held in Nature’s Climate Hub; and the final event coincided with the last day of the Hub, held at the Central Park Zoo! This internal, invitation-only workshop focused on bringing together members of our network to share their insights as we establish the direction of our organisation into 2020 and beyond. The intimate crowd allowed for an in-depth discussion on critical aspects of our growth, including partnerships, funding, engagement, and diversity.

It was a week full of learning and engagement on NBS and the direction of the youth movement as we attempt to merge the former with the latter. We were fortunate to share our stories, and hear those of others over four days. Through storytelling, we were able to connect others to the work of young people around the world, as an excellent example of the power of narrative. For a more detailed overview of our time, please find our own blog here.

Marina Melanidis addressing officials at UNCAS

There were many times where we were among a handful of youth in a room of one hundred people; however, none was as clear as in the general assembly hall of the United Nations. Our Project Lead Marina Melanidis delivered a speech to the high-level officials as a part of UNCAS. After outlining our organisation’s mission to amplify youth voices and giving examples of our work, she asked for everyone in the room over the age of 30 to identify themselves. Nervous laughter followed, and the vast majority of those in the room reluctantly raised their hands. Only a few hands remained lowered, and for that moment, the reality of the lack of representation of young people in governance decisions was made evident.

As young professionals, our experience in New York was made possible through this characterisation as “youth” and through the growing youth movement. What we quickly determined, however, is that this space that we occupy must be secured, widened, and opened up to allow for even more voices to be heard. This thought was echoed in our conversation with Dr Tim Christophersen, Coordinator of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030. We discussed the importance of mobilising young environmental stewards to have a seat at the governance table, with Dr Tim agreeing to the critical role that youth will play in what is being called the “Super Year” of 2020 and the Decade to follow. In accordance, UNEP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have reached out to the youth constituency of the UN (YOUNGO) to promote the input of young people in the consultation process under the Youth Consultations for the Strategy to UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030.

There are educated, experienced, and passionate young people already at work implementing nature-based solutions globally. Their expertise is invaluable in governing our shared future, and we look forward to moving forward into a world of support for nature-based solutions and youth mobilisation.

While it is difficult to neatly condense our individual experiences at the UN Headquarters and New York Climate Week, what we agreed upon as a delegation is this: Nature-based Solutions are rapidly gaining momentum, and youth are rising to advocate for and implement them.

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