22 Sep 2019 Story Climate change

Young leaders take the stage to share solutions and hope to tackle climate crisis

UN Photo/Mark Garten

With United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres designated “keynote listener,” the first Youth Climate Summit on 21 September held at UN Headquarters over the weekend had a high-level audience.

But it is what young people had to say during the day-long summit and at related events leading up to the Climate Action Summit on Monday 23 September that will resonate with millions on the front lines of climate action. 

Demanding that their messages to be carried forward to heads of state and government, they reminded them that they cannot ignore the global outpouring of fear and hope around the climate crisis.

Covering everything from 3D printing using plastic waste to data storage in plant DNA and accountability platforms for sustainable fashion, youth leaders also gave short talks about concrete solutions they are already pioneering. 

Molly Burhans, there as UN Environment Programme’s Young Champion of the Earth for North America, who is digitally mapping world’s largest land owners starting with the Catholic church, said those in the audience shared some “fantastic ideas” and food for thought, particularly on action needed to tackle current corporate practices. 

Masters of ceremony included Nadira Angelina Hira, UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake, young climate activists Greta Thunberg, whose actions inspired the Fridays for Future movement honoured this year as Champion of the Earth, as well as Bruno Rodriguez and Komal Karishma Kumar.

“It’s such an empowering feeling being here,” said Omar Itani, Young Champion of the Earth for West Asia. “People all over the world my age and even younger are trying to take action and to make this world better, and nothing motivates me more than that.”

Sessions also focused on nature-based solutions which youth are pioneering, and drew attention to the ways in which sports and athletes can rally behind the climate movement.

“It’s not just about polar bears and ice caps, but the air we breathe and the water we drink,” said leaders, noting that the climate emergency impacts every single one of us in multiple ways.

Listening to the remarks of youth delegates, Guterres said that what youth and grassroot movements are doing today is essential for change in economic systems to deal with climate change.

“Hold my generation accountable,” he said, expressing frustration at the speed at which the climate crisis is being tackled, and emphasizing the need to keep the pressure on.

Taking the sessions to a live and global audience, Guterres and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Gallagher took part in a live Instagram discussion, inviting youth to participate and share ideas to protect people and planet.

Also on the sidelines of the summit, artist Jeppe Hein and ART 2030 launched “Breathe with me”, a week-long interactive art installation to raise awareness that the air we breathe is part of our world and climate.

The installation invites delegates to reflect on the beauty and importance of working together towards a common goal.

It was launched by UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen, Wickramanayake, Gallagher and Permanent Representative of Denmark to the United Nations Martin Bille Hermann.

As the high-level week gets underway in full force on Monday, issues on UNEP’s agenda will be front and centre. 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.