As shared at the 2017 National Adaptation Forum Opening Plenary
It took me awhile to recognize that as a youth my voice is important and should contribute to mobilizing change. Even now I often struggle with that and find myself constantly frustrated with how youth voices are not being valued or involved in different spaces.
My most recent and vivid experience with this was when I was in Marrakech for COP 22, the international negotiations on climate change. At COP, everyone is given a badge with a different color on the bottom, dependent on their role there. Mine was orange because I was an observer. The negotiators and country representatives had badges with pink.
Everyone was milling about together in the same places, so it was easy to approach the negotiators if you wanted to, so my friend Justin and I started a “Pink Badge Challenge” to see who could talk to more of them each day.
Because it is hard to just walk up to people and talk to them in settings like that, we started a video project around the question “Why are youth important in these spaces?”
We talked to a lot of folks and got some really great answers. This made me feel really good and gave me a lot more hope about the continued involvement of youth voices in professional places – especially those that are traditionally dominated and run by adults. Unfortunately, that hope only lasted until I started to dig a bit deeper.
When I got great answers I started following up with questions like; “if youth are valuable and necessary to this work, specifically, how are you involving them?” Not a single negotiator could answer this.
This was really frustrating and extremely disheartening, because I see this play out in so many spaces. I see a direct parallel with the politics here. Many politicians cite youth and grandchildren as their motivation for caring about issues like climate change, but yet they don’t actively engage youth in their efforts.
Although this was frustrating and hard, it was a clear example to me of the work that needs to be done. It was motivating for me and helped me identify a lot of the reasons I have struggled sometimes to get involved and stay involved in the fight for climate justice.
With my story in mind I urge you to think about how you are involving youth in your efforts to combat climate change and to think more deeply about the future that we can create when we work together.