UN Youth Climate Summit in Review

September 25, 2019

(L-R) Jevanic Henry, Dominique Noralez, Nuravni Sallons, Michael Morgan and Jhannel Tomlinson speak at a Side Event titled 'SIDS on the Front Line' during the recently concluded UN Youth Climate Action Summit.

A blog by Jevanic Henry

The year 2019 will arguably go down as the year young people have demonstrated the greatest level of commitment towards preserving the future of our planet. The UN Youth Climate Summit held on September 21st, 2019 was another platform where young leaders from around the world spearheading climate action initiatives would have presented their solutions, amplify the youth voice and send a clear message to our world leaders that the young people of this generation will be relentless in their efforts aimed at saving this planet for us and future generations.

In keeping with the 2030 agenda for sustainable development of leaving no one behind, Caribbean youth are not only getting involved in this global movement but also taking a leading role nationally, regionally and on the international stage. The UN Youth Climate Summit was no exception as eleven young climate activists from the Youth Climate Change Activists (YCCA) Movement - sponsored by UNDP through the Japan Caribbean Climate Change Partnership (J-CCCP) - ensured that the voice of the region on this global issue was not left out.

Delegates came from as far west as Belize, including Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & The Grenadines as well as Suriname ensuring there was diversity and adequate representation of both the islands and mainland territories of the region. This opportunity, whilst serving as a reunion following the regional Youth Climate Change Conference 2017 (YCCC) which led to the subsequent formation of YCCA, we knew from the onset that our responsibility extended beyond merely representing our island home, but that we were now part of a collective unit serving as Climate Change Youth Ambassadors for the region.

Prior to attending the summit, as climate activists representing the voice of the Caribbean youth, it was imperative that there was engagement with other young people- not only to raise awareness on climate change related issues, but also to gather their perspectives, concerns and solutions which would be brought forward. Climate change school debates, lectures, awareness information days, surveys, online campaigns and beach cleanups were a few of the diverse methods used to engage the youth of the region leading up to the summit - which undoubtedly built momentum and drive amongst our young people.

“They talk too much and they listen too little”. These resounding words by UN Secretary General, António Guterres, who served in the capacity of ‘Keynote Listener’ at the opening ceremony of the climate summit in response to the practice of world leaders - a practice we must now break and force them to listen. Guterres heard the pleas of a panel of incredible young climate activists; including the widely known Greta Thunberg, and additionally pledged his support to the efforts of young people; encouraging us that “we need to stop demanding our world leaders to listen to science, but let us demand them to act on it.”

There was also a platform for young entrepreneurs to pitch their innovative solutions to climate challenges across three categories namely, climate information, circular economy and ethical fashion. Certainly, there were numerous opportunities for us as young leaders to present our stories and climate related challenges faced by our region. Jamaican delegate Jhannel Tomlinson reiterated during the Youth Take The Mic session the fact that given the vulnerability of the Caribbean region, it is pivotal that as youth activists we amplify the voices of those most affected in our region, as well as maximize avenues such as the Youth Climate Summit in sharing our solutions and experiences. We were provided with the opportunity at the SDG media zone to speak of our experience on the frontline of climate change in a panel discussion. Undoubtedly the growing threat of natural disasters and the importance of climate finance to the mitigation and adaptation efforts of our small island developing states (SIDS) were key topics brought forward.

As Caribbean delegates one of the sessions which many of us took great interest in was that which focused on Unlocking Youth-Friendly & Ambitious Climate Finance. This interactive session allowed us to work with experts and other delegates in devising recommendations for ways to strengthen support for youth led climate action and generate increased youth friendly and ambitious climate financing mechanisms.

Kyanna Bubb Grenadian delegate speaking on her experience at the summit expressed the view that “personally, I felt greater emphasis was placed on the larger nations as opposed to equally sharing the platform with the smaller countries who are greatly affected. I believe as smaller islands and the islands of the OECS specifically, we need to seek and take advantage of opportunities to have our voices and concerns heard as we lie in the direct path of Hurricanes for instance which now pose a greater threat to our survival on an annual basis.”

Post Summit Engagements / Media Outreach

As Caribbean Youth Climate Ambassadors our assignment would not be complete if we merely went to the summit acquired knowledge, experiences shared our stories within that environment and departed. Dominican delegate, Ashfred Norris, had the chance to engage in dialogue with UNICEF USA’s Director of Humanitarian Response Edison Sabala, where he shared his post-Hurricane Maria experiences. “My community was completely cut off from the rest of the island. On one side, over ten landslides and mudslides made it difficult to leave the community and search for food and relief supplies, and on the other side, our bridge was completely washed away so I had no choice but to climb down from the road and into the river with my suitcase on my head in order to leave the community to attend YCCC in 2017,” Norris explained to the Humanitarian Response Director.

Shanika Henry of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, speaking on the resilience efforts in the region stated that “Caribbean economies are burdened with a myriad of existing economic issues including high debt and low growth, with climate change now posing an additional threat to economic sustainability. Our ability to build resilience is therefore hindered, which is why climate finance is now critical to our islands’ survival and it is programs such as the Japan Caribbean Climate Change Partnership (J-CCCP) are key in strengthening our resilience.

As an organization which promotes youth participation in the policy making and implementation process, a few of our delegates got the opportunity as part of their national delegations to get involved in the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit. Renae Baptiste one of the Grenadian delegates speaking on her experience at this summit stated “this summit has emphasized the urgent need for less talk and more climate action, specifically by the larger countries.” Baptiste also highlighted her disappointment with the fact that many current actions whilst necessary are not geared towards achieving a 1.5-degree level of warming, but rather 2 degrees which would be catastrophic for many of our islands.