Climate change was top of the agenda at the Social Good Summit. Young thought leaders from all regions of the globe, including those honoured by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), spoke out on issues central to the climate crisis at the Social Good Summit.
Fourteen-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor, leader of the New York City climate march and founder of Earth Uprising, was among the first to speak. Responding to sceptics, as to whether they make a difference, she said: “It really has in the past year.” If oil companies see the strikes as the biggest threat to the oil industry, “then we are making a difference”, she said. On an emotional level, strikes help to fight climate anxiety, she added.
The day before, she and other young climate activists affiliated with the Fridays for Future movement were named UN Champion of the Earth award.
Discussions throughout the day touched on the far-reaching implications of climate change, which some say are too often little understood. Indigenous communities spoke out about the implications that diminishing natural resources and extreme weather events have on the shifting roles of women, who may need to go further for water, for example.
Or on biodiversity loss. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Coordinator for the Association of Peul women and Autochthonous People of Chad, explained that Lake Chad is evaporating at an alarming rate, with biodiversity loss impacting wildlife and migration routes.
A session on women’s health touched on the surprising connections between climate change and reproductive rights. Alaa Murabit, UN High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth and a Sustainable Development Goals Advocate, said: “What is a woman’s issue, when we all living in the same world?” Having agency over reproductive rights is the first step in empowering women in the world in general, including around decisions which will impact the environment, she said.
Sessions touched on the clothes we wear: Mara Hoffman, President and creative Director of the Mara Hoffman brand, spoke of the difficulties in redesigning the fashion industry to change the way products are sourced and to close the loop on fashion waste. Sustainability is an evolving concept, she said.
Omar Itani, this year’s UNEP Young Champion of the Earth winner for West Asia and Founder of FabricAID, reiterated that changing the whole business model of the fashion industry, from suppliers to price points, will take time.
“But fashion is the one industry where we don’t need to wait for corporates,” he said. “We need awareness, and people need to understand the immense impact of the fast fashion industry.
“It’s for us to decide what to consume, and they [fashion houses] will follow. It starts from us. Clothes are such an intimate thing to us, they are our character and we don’t want our character to be polluted. But if we consume less, we can make a difference.”
Jayathma Wickramanayake, the United Nations Youth Envoy, spoke on the power of youth mobilization and said that system change is also needed.
While young people are increasingly conscious that the way we live, the way we travel, what we eat and what we wear must all be reconsidered, there are limits to what individuals can achieve, she said.
“Individual change is great, but that is not enough. To tackle the biggest crisis that our planet has faced and continues to face, we need to change systems, especially our economic and political systems that put profit over people and planet,” she said.
“Until that system change is done, these young people will sacrifice their education, their childhood, hopes, dreams, and keep fighting so that we are all pushed in the right direction before it’s too late.”
The Social Good Summit was launched ten years ago by Mashable, United Nations Foundation, 92Y, and the United Nations Development Programme to celebrate activism and galvanize action among youth.
Issues on UNEP’s agenda will be front and centre all week as world leaders gather at UN Headquarters for high-level week activities. They include highlighting how governments, civil society and individuals can take action on climate, sharing updates on the Sustainable Development Goals, celebrating outstanding environmental action and much more.
The UN Climate Action Summit takes place in New York City on 23 September 2019 to increase ambition and accelerate action on the global climate emergency and support the rapid implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The 2019 UN Climate Action Summit is hosted by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
The Young Champions of the Earth Prize, powered by Covestro, is UN Environment Programme's leading initiative to engage youth in tackling the world's most pressing environmental challenges. Stay tuned to apply in January.