Today was the last of Ahmad Alhendawi’s three-day visit to COP 19 in Warsaw. In his role as the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad met with the incoming Peruvian presidency of COP 20 to touch base on youth participation in Lima 2014. In the meantime, Connected Voices, a youth-for-youth NGO, staged an action dedicated to those who were unable to make it to Warsaw (whether for logistical, financial or other reasons). Anyone entering the Stadium for today’s negotiations passed a line of young delegates each paired with the photograph of a non-attendee, ‘standing in’ for their absent partner.
Amid a sea of other meetings, Ahmad met with the group later in the day, and commended the initiative’s efforts to feed the views of those outside into the process. Naturally committed to scaling up youth participation further, he also noted that the conference was not the only place in which youth had a responsibility to act. Doing one’s ‘homework’ and reaching out on climate change in one’s local context was of the essence too: youth strategy was strongest when both fronts were being played.
At the conference only for the day but doing plenty at home, a visiting posse of Polish schoolchildren (aged seven to nine) met Ahmad and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres to hand over the ‘Green Footprints’ they and their friends had collected over the course of 2013 as part of the European sustainable mobility campaign, "ZOOM - Kids on the Move for Climate Action".
It was a day for showcasing inspiring initiatives that combine young people, climate awareness and climate action. The afternoon side event Combatting Climate Change through Education and Training (organized by the United Nations Alliance on Climate Change Education, Training and Public Awareness) featured nine (!) panelists from a range of youth initiatives, the education sector and UN agencies. Each presented a different project, programme or principle, really reflecting the breadth of initiatives the UN Alliance umbrella draws together and brings into dialogue and collaboration. Diverse as they were, each initiative was underpinned by the principle that climate education was the way forward to build a sustainable future.
A little educational game by two teachers from the Dominican Republic delightfully illustrated this: random audience members were given a balloon upon their arrival. Those holding yellow ones were asked to let them fly without tying a knot in their ends, making them deflate: if resilience is weak, the system collapses, the teachers explained. Those holding red ones were asked to pop them – no resilience at all. And those holding green ones were asked to buffet them around: a truly resilient society can bounce back. That’s the kind of society we build through education.
In his opening remarks, Ahmad cited the American philosopher John Dewey: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” He drew attention to the fact that this statement was never more true than when thinking about climate change, because, after all, “climate change education is the key to sustaining future life on this planet.”
His departure meets with reluctance, but the youth climate movement has certainly not seen the last of the Envoy it has spent the last three days getting to know. There are so many floating green balloons to pass forward.