Rio+20: engaging young people to fight climate change
Leah Parsons – Girlguiding UK member and Climate Week Award winner for Most Inspirational Young Person, 2012 – describes her involvement in international climate change talks and how she learned that, while the effects of climate change can exacerbate existing gender inequalitities, women have a particular role to play in developing coping strategies.
Leah looks ahead to the forthcoming Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in the context of her belief that young people must be engaged in global issues and take action for a sustainable future.
I have been a member of Guiding all my life and have been lucky enough to have benefited from the various experiences it has brought me. Throughout my Guiding life I have taken part in activities and challenges that are relevant to the environment and the action we can take to be kinder to it. I believe it is our duty as global citizens to learn about what is happening in our world and to take action.
Representing Girl Guides at COP17 in Durban
Recently I have taken a deeper look into the environment and climate change. Last year I was lucky enough to be chosen as the UK representative for the WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) delegation at COP17, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. While there the delegation worked as advocates for WAGGGS members around the world, spreading the message of the work WAGGGS are doing to combat climate change, the rights that women and young people should have, and sending the stories of our experience there back to our worldwide members via the internet.
I found it so interesting to attend COP17 and see for myself what happens, what is being done and also what isn’t being done. Whilst at COP17 the WAGGGS delegation performed an action for Young and Future Generations (YoFuGe) day, the Climate Cha Cha Slide – a version of the dance song with actions and lyrics adapted to highlight climate change and how it affects us. This action was inspired and created by girls from the Devon Guide unit with which I’m a leader, so it was great that even the younger members had their input whilst we were there.
My experience at COP inspired me to find out more, to get involved and to encourage others to take action. I learnt that climate change, although supposedly indiscriminate, seems to accentuate existing inequalities, meaning that girls and women are most affected. However, just because girls and young women are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change does not mean that they are powerless to take action. In fact, their daily interaction with the natural world means that they hold a specialised knowledge that can help us understand the consequences of climate change and develop effective coping strategies.
On my return from COP17 I worked with Guiding in my local area telling them about my experience and all I learnt from it and the people there.
Environmental Audit Committee seminar
More recently I have spoken at two events in the run-up to the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. The first was the Environmental Audit Committee St Martin-in-the-Fields seminar on the Rio+20 agenda, where I spoke alongside Mark Edwards (from the Hard Rain project), Professor Chris Rapely (Professor of Climate Science at University College London), Claire Foster-Gilbert (the former National Policy Advisor on Environmental Issues to the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England), Leo Johnson (presenter of BBC ‘World Challenge’ and co-founder of Sustainable Finance), the Rt Hon John Bercow (the speaker of the House of Commons), while Jan Eliasson – the UN Deputy Secretary-General designate – sent a video message.
Speaking at this event was a great experience and I felt proud I could be there to represent Guiding and inform the attendees about what women and young people are doing to fight climate change and explain the impact it is taking on them. In my speech at the seminar I described a moving and inspirational experience at COP17:
“The individual that inspired me most was a WAGGGS delegate called Beatrice, who gave a speech about how climate change affects girls in her country, Kenya. She told us about how because of water shortages she would come home from a long day at work, tired, and have to spend her evening collecting water in the cold. She would also give some of her food portion to her brothers so that they are strong enough to work. This I found to be more shocking when she called herself a middle class citizen of similar educational background to myself.”
Girls and young women and the Environment – the path to Rio
The second recent event was a UK Network of the UN Global Compact (UNGC UK) meeting hosted by Shell, entitled “Girls and young women and the Environment – the path to Rio”. I spoke alongside Sally Martin (vice-president of Shell Global Solutions), Andrew Cave (the head of sustainability at RBS), Ros Kelly (the former Australian cabinet minister for Environment, sports, art, tourism and territories), Linden Edgell (from ERM), and Maggie Simmons, another WAGGGS member who is attending Rio+20.
Engaging young people to fight climate change
Both events were set up in different ways but both worked towards the same goal of fighting climate change. It was great to see so many engaged and inspirational people, particularly the number of younger members of the audience. I look forward to seeing what happens at Rio+20 and hope that it forms a stepping stone in saving our planet and home.
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