29 March 2018

2018 Student Leadership Conference on Development: Empowering Youth Voices on Climate Change

29 March 2018 - This year’s annual Student Leadership Conference on Development engaged over 300 international middle and high school students in sharing perspectives and drafting a consensus Plan of Action around Sustainable Development Goal #13: Take Urgent Action on Climate Change. In this conference held at United Nations Headquarters in New York and organized by United Nations Academic Impact member Global Educational Motivators, students from India, Mexico, the Philippines, the Republic of Georgia and the United States shared ideas and proposed outreach projects based on three subthemes: Education and Public Policy, Science-Based Facts and Predictions, and Human Migrations resulting from climate changes. Over the two-and-one-half days of the conference, the students led discussions both in small groups and with the full assembly, and were responsible for transcribing and integrating inputs from each participating school into the Plan of Action draft.

In preparation, students studied key documents, including the Declaration of Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals, and after researching issues related to “actions to combat climate change and its impacts,” developed informed action plans. Delegates first presented overviews of their researches on the subthemes, and then consolidated documents from each participating school into a single draft document. During the final day of the conference, delegates were joined via videoconferencing with students from schools in India, the Philippines, and additional classrooms from Mexico. Each sub-theme was explored, and operative projects described. Delegates were encouraged to ask questions to help them understand the many different perspectives and priorities that peers from different cultures brought.

Educational initiatives to address climate change included projects involving both youth and adult audiences. A common theme for the former was to develop and provide activities that would engage and inform students in all grades, both throughout the year and especially during Human Rights Week. Working to “educate our educators” and other community adults were also highlighted.

For Science-Based Facts and Solutions, participants addressed opportunities to work both locally and globally on issues related to transportation, biodiversity, energy, and agriculture. Projects within schools included ways to reduce bus and vehicular emissions, eliminate “single use” plastics, and promote composting. Broader outreach initiatives such as promoting development of safe bicycling routes and small scale organic farming in communities were proposed.

The first priority related to Human Migration was to recognize and promote the term “Climate Refugees,” and authenticate the many underlying causes, both long-standing and immediate. Partnering with community health and social services, charities, shelters, etc. that interact directly with climate refugees is an important prerequisite to defining the local problems and opportunities for action, and for bringing these projects into the classrooms and also raising community awareness.

Before closing, the draft Plan of Action was approved by 318 of the 323 participants.  This will be edited by the students, and a final document distributed for a vote prior to being presented to the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth. Students’ written reflections on their experiences highlight the transformative effects of engaging with international peers and becoming informed, active global citizens addressing a topic that they, often more than adults, recognize as a growing threat to their futures as well as that of planet earth.  

The author, Gertrude Noden, is the founder of Words Into Deeds and the Director of Human Rights Curriculum, Global Education Motivators.