Talanoa Mada ~ Youth Stand for Climate Action

For the past three days, over 1000 students, youth and young professionals converged in a high school in the outskirts of Bonn to define policy goals for COP, share strategies, and brainstorm ideas for how to combat climate change. The Thirteenth Conference of Youth, or COY13, was a place for youth to come together to prepare for the UN climate change conference (COP23) and another year of environmental activism around the world.

Photo rights to COY13 Germany COP23 Bonn Climate Sign Action
Participants raise the Climate Sign during the Opening Ceremony. Photo courtesy of COP13 PR team.

There were over 300 program contributions, consisting of workshops, presentations, and panel discussions. There was also an art space active throughout all three days, where the participants could make banners and signs for the Climate March, as well as other actions directed at building momentum and pushing negotiators towards stronger action.COY13

One session that I felt was really helpful was called “Combatting Isolationism in the Environmental Movement. The session recognized the number of environmentalists killed annually: a sobering 100 activists, or two a week, worldwide. It also addressed the issue of disconnected activists, who work outside the framework of a formal organization. For them, it can be extremely difficult, and even dangerous to do their work. Without resources, recognition, or support, they are most likely to burn out or be discouraged.

Photo courtesy of COY13

At the end of the session, we talked about how we all must work together. We are all working towards the same goal, of stronger commitments to greenhouse gas emission reduction, reforestation, reduction of plastic and food waste, and access to climate change education, mitigation resources, and adaptation strategies for people all around the world, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender or wealth.

This communal theme ran through all of COY, and positive energy flowed through all the participants as we engaged in the conference theme of Talanoa Mada, which essentially means “Let’s talk” in Fijian. It connotes a participatory dialogue about how to combat issues that affect the entire community. As we move into the first week of COP23, the participatory dialogue will be a focus of the Fijian Presidency. Lagi Seru, a Fijian delegate and COY13 team member, describes Talanoa Mada:

Lagi Seru from Fiji. Photo courtesy of COY13

Talanoa is an everyday part of Fijian life. Creating a harmonizing environment for all, it brings together people to give thoughts and share opinions without the fear of retribution. People can freely voice their concerns, no finger pointing, and take the time to offer practical solutions at this space.”

Throughout COY13, special care was taken to support diversity, inclusion, well-being and equity, so that everyone felt that their voice were heard and valued. So many solutions were shared through case studies, brainstorming sessions, and workshops over the three day conference, and the participants left on Saturday encouraged, motivated and united for climate action, whether in their local communities, on their school/university campuses, and during COP23.

With youth from 114 countries worldwide, there was a great diversity within the venue. Everywhere you went, there was a burst of languages, laughter, and bright colors- from the clothing, flags, and signs born by the participants. Despite, or more accurately, because of the great diversity, there was a sort of synergy. Together, with so many different ideas, perspectives and experiences, we are able to overcome any roadblocks and obstacles we faced. Policy papers were written on behalf of the working groups, new partnerships were formed between overseas organizations, and those going into the COP23 negotiations were carefully prepared for strategic engagementduring the conference. COY13 was an incredible model of collaboration and participation. Whether it was through their food waste diversion programs, or morning yoga sessions, it gave us all the energy & focused determination that we needed to move into the tough negotiations of these next two weeks.

Vikaka & Danke to the entire COY13 organizing team!

Climate Sign
COY13 Stands in Solidarity for climate action using the Climate Sign, with Fiji PM & COP23 President Frank Bainamamara, Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, Mayor Ashok-Alexander Sridharan, & UNFCCC Focal Point on Education & Youth Adriana Valenzuela.

 

By Sarah Voska

Sarah Voska is a delegate to the UN climate change conference, COP23, and the director of the Online Youth Exchange. She studies Sustainable Management at University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Use the #ClimateSign to join the fight against climate change. Contact us at careaboutclimate@gmail.com with any questions!

Reflecting on OYE

If you Google my name you’d probably find some facebook pages or some websites with this intro – Amalen Sathananthar, raised in Kuantan and someone who has spent a lot of his youth with nature through various outdoor activities like camping and trail running. Through this bond I have discovered a need to help preserve what remains of the natural environment and help reverse the effects of Climate change in whatever way that I can. An avid volunteer at environmental NGO’s, I spend most of my time dedicated to my urban agriculture venture – Tanah U: Green Union (TU:GU) in Malaysia.

That’s me on the left!

Well, that’s me. I like to think of myself as an environmentalist. I give talks and workshops on matters related to climate change and activism and try to help out where I can. This is a little recollection of my past year being a part of the OYE program, from making lifelong friends to giving a talk in a conference in China.

If you have been involved in the global youth scene in environmentalism, you definitely have heard of YOUNGO before. I joined YOUNGO’s mailing list  in 2015 and have been fairly active on it since then, getting involved with discussions and organising actions etc.

About a year ago, I came across an email thread on capacity building. The need for a centralised capacity building platform had been widely discussed because there seems to be many with gaps in information that are really crucial and these things like what is YOUNGO or UNFCCC are quite basic and some things like ‘How does China’s new energy mix affect the regional energy diversification’ are a bit more complicated. It’s not like we don’t have people who can help give clarifications but the platform to share this information hadn’t really been properly established. Different initiatives and projects have been set up by a varying number of groups but nothing seemed to stick or propagate globally.

Then suddenly (well not really),  Natalie from Care About Climate popped up and presented this program to us – The Online Youth Exchange.  This program was an international youth exchange specifically focused on information transfer, an initiative by Care About Climate and China Youth Climate Action Network. I saw this and thought, “Hey this looks cool, let’s give it a go, plus I can possibly practice my different activism workshop sessions on here maybe.” So sign on I did.
First things first, I was not the only one from YOUNGO. Quite a few people signed on about 90 applied and 60 or so were accepted into the program to participate (of course, there were a ton of sleeping members).
We were contacted by the coordinators and paired up with a partner of similar interests and I was partnered with Cherry, an environmental economics major  from Renmin University from China. We we’re told to get in touch with our partners and told that every month there would be 2 webinars made and presented by the paired groups of participants. We we’re also advised to give comparisons during our sessions eg – bike sharing systems in America in comparison to China. A youth capacity building session run by the youth for the youth.


All this sounded fun and good but I was worried about timings as I am someone who never has a fixed schedule. To my relief my partner, Cherry was in the same time zone and being a student she was pretty flexible with timings and thank god the webinars were recorded and I could watch them on the trains in the morning on the way to work.

Friendship forms Beijing conference because of Online Youth Exchange
Cherry & Amalen get to meet!

So the program continued on for a duration of 1 year. Cherry and I became really good friends. She’s like 5 years younger but really eager to know more and do more for the environment. I was not going to COP 22 in Marrakech but Cherry was; and even though she’d been for her local Chinese Youth Climate Action Network (CYCAN) trainings and she had a specific purpose going there, she was still quite nervous. We spent a good few days talking over Skype on what to expect and the different things at COP and how things work and what to look for. It was fun and useful to actually be putting to good use all the things I learnt in COP 21 . We became really close good friends and would contact each other regularly just to see how the other was doing.  

Cherry and other OYE Participants meet at COP 22 in Morocco

Fast forward to March 2017,  Cherry and I were going to give our first webinar on Climate Action: Governmental and Non-Governmental sides to the story. We had prepped for a couple of weeks, I was going to talk about Non Violent Direct Action (NVDA) and Cherry was going to talk about the whole Top-Down approach and how policies made by the government affect the climate action scene.
Our session was direct and straightforward and we had about 12 people in attendance. Cherry was quite nervous as she was not so used to giving presentations like this and I  felt uneasy and worried about the quality in my deliverance as this was my first webinar I was giving. Was I going to get the message out right?
Well, at the end of the session I played a role-playing game called the River Situation and this got everyone excited and really explained how  civil societies, general public and the government interact with one another in real life situations that involve the destruction or protection of the environment. Everyone was ecstatic , and even though things could’ve been better in terms of how the interactions between participants happened , it was amazingly fun and engaging.
You can check it out here.

And here’s the beauty of it: All these videos on such diverse topics can be found all online. That’s something I considered while giving my session, How do I make this interesting for those watching it later? Not everyone can be Sal Khan from Khan academy. But it still turned out well and like with all the videos, the most important thing is the information being talked about. I enjoyed watching them, expanding my knowledge base whilst I’m half asleep on the train on the way to appointments in the morning.

Check out the whole library of recordings here.

A month or so after webinar I got in touch with the coordinators again and they liked my session and asked me to come to China to do the game there. I was slightly perplexed and ecstatic. Turns out that OYE had been invited to come to the 9th International Youth Summit On Energy and Climate Change (IYSECC) and run a 3 hour workshop and Sarah and Echo (The Coordinators of OYE) wanted my game as a part of it. They had the funding for it and I was keen to attend this conference. It was a good chance for me to experience giving a session in an international setting. I was not going to pass it up! Plus this was a huge confidence boost for me personally, as I was asked to come and bring my energy and enthusiasm to a new bigger platform .

Meeting with Chen Nengcheng -master of Chinese Academy of Sciences, PhD in Kagoshima university Japan
Meeting with Li Dihua-vice dean and associate profesor of college of architecture and landscape architecture at Peking university

The sessions during the conference had some really big people involved and that was really impressive . The speakers were professionals from all sorts of varying environmentally related fields . I have recently taken an interest in urban planning and the session on this topic were my main focus. Albeit that it was mostly in mandarin, I could always find some other participant to help translate and the slides in English (some not all) were very helpful. The Question & Answer sessions were my favourite, as I could shoot all my questions
to these amazing speakers and their responses left me more inquisitive than before.  

The D-Day of our session,  and I was ecstatic. We had an audience of about 70-90 participants out of the total 292 people in attendance, as there were parallel workshops and talks going on at any given moment. We had Sarah , Pradeep, Jasmita  and Faysal all from OYE here to talk about their journeys and climate action as a whole and I took a 45 minute chunk to do our Role-Play game. Here’s how it goes:- a coal company is about to destroy a forest for mining purposes. One village upstream will be getting new jobs and still have their clean environment but then there is another village downstream whom will be directly affected by this development. There’s a civil society trying to help and of course, as we were in China, a government side too, to give their assessments and opinions on the matter. So I split everyone into these 5 groups , gave them the scenario and a time frame and they had to work together or against each other to find a solution.


It was fun and most of all engaging. At the end during the debrief everyone’s faces were filled within awe, sadness, happiness  because they finally got a taste (of some sorts)  of what happens in the real world when people campaign or fight for their rights. It’s not always fair. Now this might sound confusing to you as a reader but maybe check it out online- the River-Role playing situation or my webinar.

Presenting on International Cooperation & Youth Action

It’s now been slightly less than a month since then, I’m back home in Malaysia, the OYE program for the year has ended and the next batch is about to start soon. If this little article (more like a rant session ) has given you some insight to this program maybe you should check it out for yourself at http://onlineyouthexchange.org/  or To hear from more OYE participants about their experiences, watch this video! You can join the OYE program for the upcoming session too, the application opens on August 15th and runs till the end of the month.

Climate Sign from Great Wall of China with OYE and IYSECC participants

                                                            Join OYE!

Take it from me, it was one hell of an experience – meeting new people, gaining new experiences, knowledge and having a whole bunch of fun all the way!

~Amalen Sathananthar

OYE Participant 2016/17

IYSECC 9.0 Scholar