Inspiring Intergenerational Action: A Conversation with Lebanon and Armenia’s Representatives to the UN Youth Climate Summit
Across the world, youth are mobilizing to take on the greatest challenge of our time: climate change. From global climate strikes to the first ever UN Youth Climate Summit, young leaders and activists are showing the importance of integrating intergenerational voices in climate action. According to the World Bank, youth under 25 represent 42 percent of the global population, making them a vital ally in global climate action. The NDC Partnership emphasizes the importance of utilizing a whole-of-society approach when developing and implementing climate solutions, and country members are stepping up to include youth voices in their consultation processes and climate action plans.
In September 2019, the UN hosted the first-ever Youth Climate Summit, which brought together youth from every part of the world to showcase climate solutions and engage with global leaders on innovative solutions and challenges to tackling climate change. Following the summit, Ralien Bekkers of the NDC Partnership Support Unit had the opportunity to speak with youth representatives Mary Awad from Lebanon and Hayro Hakobyan from Armenia.
What was your initial impression of the Youth Climate Summit?
Mary: I saw Olympians, entrepreneurs, students, tech gurus, and activists from all corners of the globe in one room for the first time ever. We all shared a common concern, but the youth were also showcasing real solutions. The Youth Summit was as inspiring as it was rich; the general feeling was everyone can contribute to the solution, and everyone should. The room was full of energy and expectations, which hopefully describes our generation for decades to come.
Sometimes when you work in climate change, and on climate change negotiations, you can feel discouraged when progress is slow. But hearing the voices of the new generation should be a constant reminder that hope still exists to solve the climate emergency. To be part of the first event of its kind and with a pool of young people who have one common belief and one common goal was inspiring and gave me a feeling of motivation and hope.
Hayro: It was a very symbolic Summit as it took place in the United Nations Headquarters, bringing hundreds of young leaders to showcase climate action and share their perspectives with the decision-makers, as the UN Secretary General highlighted, to define the issue of our time, climate change.
What did you see as key takeaways from the Youth Climate Summit?
Hayro: Reflecting overall on the Youth Summit, the key message was that youth fully understand the adverse impacts of human-caused climate change and at the same time the youth fully realize what world leaders do about climate change today greatly affects our futures and generations to come. The Youth Summit is creating a platform to hold today’s decision-makers accountable for accelerating the development of climate-resilient pathways.
Youth attendees presented on innovative tech-solutions related to Climate Information, Circular Economy, and Ethical Fashion. These were great examples of how youth can play a vital role in combating climate change through showcasing concrete youth-led climate change solutions.
I also had the opportunity to meet with youth delegates from the International Federation of the Red Cross. It was a valuable experience to exchange views with youth from Costa Rica, Micronesia, and Tuvalu on how we should tackle the challenge of climate change. Even though we came from all parts of the world, the main takeaway was that there is no time left for further climate talks or negotiations, and it is now time to act, particularly in the most vulnerable areas in the world.
Mary: What I greatly appreciated about the Youth Summit was that it was not an isolated event. It continued into the UN Climate Summit through action area panels such as Youth Engagement and Public Mobilization. This made a clear point that the youth should be at the table and play a central part in decision-making about climate action.
The first intergenerational town hall also took place, where young people addressed leaders such as Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed, and Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. For me, this discussion showed that not all answers are there, and the path forward is not that clear, which only reaffirms that there is still much to do.
Coming back home from the two UN Summits made me realize that there is still a lot of work to do to engage the younger generations in climate action. We need to teach youth about how climate could affect their present and future, and how their involvement is needed in all positions of society, from the community to the government. Increasing communication and enabling more conversation are the most important pillars to raise awareness and to strengthen the youth climate movement at the national and the international levels.
How is your country engaging young people in climate action?
Hayro: In Armenia, the Ministry of Environment recognizes the important role of youth in shaping the future. The Ministry is working with international and local partners to organize education programs on climate change. While the impacts of climate change are also becoming evident Armenia, we need to do more to raise awareness and address the existing information gap if we want to move towards more ambitious climate goals. In Armenia, youth are not only learning more about climate change, they also have opportunities to showcase their creativity and add value by proposing innovative solutions.
Mary: The Lebanese Ministry of Environment is working to involve the youth in finding solutions to environmental problems, to break down the invisible wall that exists between the government and the public and to work hand-in-hand. We are very excited to be mainstreaming sustainable development and climate change subject matter into school curriculums. This will build common knowledge and awareness for younger generations and get them to take an interest in shaping their futures.
In Lebanon, climate marches are small but are growing with the international momentum. The UNDP Social Good Summit took place in Lebanon just after the New York Summits, and youth was well-represented, mirroring the solutions presented by young entrepreneurs at the Youth Summit in the Trusteeship Council at the UN Headquarters.
If you could give the youth and global leaders one message from the Summit, what would it be?
Mary: We need to learn more, share more, and build knowledge on how to implement change if we truly want to steer our future in a different direction.
Hayro: These worldwide movements are showing that youth voices must be a part of decision-making if the world wants to move towards more ambitious climate targets.
As the NDC Partnership engages on the ground in over fifty countries towards the end of 2019, many are taking a whole-of-society approach to developing their NDC implementation plans with the support of the Partnership, and countries are increasingly inviting youth to be part of the discussion and part of the solution.
In Zimbabwe, youth NGOs focused on climate change, environmental sustainability, and sustainable development are implementing green projects and supporting the government in developing an NDC communications strategy for information sharing and awareness raising. In the Marshall Islands, students from all grade levels were the majority during the National Climate Change Dialogue in Ebeye in 2019, showcasing their ideas and solutions. A youth representative positions has also been formalized in the government’s adaptation working group, embedding a youth voice and perspective in government. In Grenada, students are part of the SDG Council, which reviewed the country’s NDC Partnership Plan as well as other key climate change and sustainable development documents. Kenya organized a youth climate change art and essay competition with 4,000 submissions and showcased the winners as part of an NDC Partnership event in 2018. In Colombia, national engagement of the NDC Partnership is connected with local action planning with direct involvement of the community – primarily young people with a genuine interest in climate change and environmental issues – resulting in a very specific project portfolio. And Namibia has requested support from Partnership members to undertake specific youth consultations on climate change.
The Partnership stands ready to support members countries in engaging young people and other key stakeholders as part of their NDC planning and implementation processes. Moreover, the Partnership is creating space for youth representatives and youth voices at its global events, including during the UN Climate Action Summit in New York and COP25 in Madrid.