By Jhannel Tomlinson, Jamaican delegate, UN Youth Climate Action Summit, September 2019. Jhannel's participation was sponsored by the UNDP-implemented Japan Caribbean Climate Change Partnership project
“You guys are from the Caribbean delegation, yes? we are happy you are here representing. Keep up the good work”- Representative: UN Youth Envoy
The recently concluded UN Youth Climate Action Summit was an eye-opener. It catalysed optimism in the minds of many young people and signified a sort of coming together of young and mature leaders for climate leadership. It was an incredible occasion to learn, to share and to network but most importantly it highlighted the importance of making use of opportunities and not being afraid to ‘speak out’.
The agenda included different sessions of which the dialogue involving the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres as a keynote listener was among the most anticipated. This session featured young activists such as Greta Thunberg and Bruno Rodriguez who are innovating and devising new ways to combat the climate crisis.
During the ‘Youth take the mic session’ , I recall there being a ‘shout-out’ of the different regions and we were a bit disappointed that Latin America and the Caribbean wasn’t mentioned. We did not allow this to dampen our spirits however, as we ‘took the mic’ and I along with another delegate spoke out about why we were passionate activists and that we were from small vulnerable Caribbean countries that are expected to be among the most affected. Upon conclusion of the session the host, other delegates and media personnel knew the Caribbean youth knew a lot more than ‘ cool dance moves’ and ‘groovy music’ and had strong arguments in support of proactive youth led actions.
Our second opportunity to discuss pertinent issues came in the SDG media Zone where we were invited as youth from Small Island States to share the challenges being faced, our current work and the programs being implemented to offset these challenges. We spoke on the impacts of droughts and hurricanes and mentioned initiatives such as the Japan Caribbean Climate Change Partnership (JCCCP) that was undertaking Caribbean wide initiatives in an effort to build the capacity of vulnerable populations, and also being advocates for the youth- signalled by their decision to fund the Caribbean Youth Delegation to the summit. We also spoke on the role of young people as climate champions and the importance of building awareness and ensuring that rural youth, in particular, are given opportunities to become involved and not get left behind.
This event provided additional opportunities for engagement and I was especially overwhelmed by the media’s eagerness to hear the perceptions of Caribbean youth. These conversations were facilitated through radio and tv interviews and contributions to blogposts and docu-series.
Another major event, the intergenerational townhall saw young leaders and high level government representatives engaged in discussions surrounding the involvement of large corporations in the climate problem. The highlight of the event was a question posed by a young female activist from India who argued “ What is the purpose of this summit when two days from now you will allow CEOs of fossil fuel corporations to take the stage along with member nations in influencing policy when they are the ones creating this crisis…. You claim you want to listen to youth solutions, but this feels more like a photo op”. This exemplified the views of many of the young people at the summit who thought there were no concrete solutions emanating from the discussions and that the fossil fuel corporations had more power than we did. Despite the disappointment, however, the summit did serve to reinforce the importance of youth in raising awareness and fostering change in local schools and communities. It also helped to bring attention to advocates who had not receive much international attention and therefore helped to bring their efforts into focus.
Collaboration is important if we are to have meaningful engagements and we are happy for the support of Caribbean One Media, in particular the efforts of Mr. Victor Lewis who provided additional platforms for us separate from the summit to engage with Caribbean stakeholders. Our tour of Sirius XM Radio, our meet and greet with Morgan Heritage and Sway Calloway, the panel discussion and tour at Google and the opportunity to meet and sit in with the Mayor’s wife were all facilitated through diasporic linkages and we are happy for the continued engagement of young people.
As we have all now returned to our respective countries with a renewed sense of purpose and with ‘a fire burning inside us’ it is our responsibility to ensure the summit was not just a one off event but that the lessons learnt and the contacts made will help to spur action in our homes and in the wider region. The JCCCP provided us with this platform and it is our responsibility to make them proud by showing their efforts were not in vain.
In the words of Greta “We need to act as if our house is on fire because it is…… As young people, we have shown that we are united and that we are unstoppable…..”