By IOF Program Manger, Rachel Rosner

“Isn’t it ironic that you’re flying all the way to Dubai for a Climate Conference?”  This is a question often heard by those who attended the UN Climate Conference (COP28) as part of It’s Our Future (IOF).  And I can tell you, the answer is no. The youth delegates were resolute in their determination not to be “climate tourists,” and to ensure that their time in Dubai has an impact.  The goal: activation– of the youth themselves, and activation of their many audiences now and in the future, including you, dear reader. 

These high school seniors crafted presentation proposals and found themselves presenting on SIX panels at the United Nations Climate Conference!  Topics included Climate Literacy into Climate Justice; School Lunches as a Tool for Youth Empowerment, and Anxiety, Apathy and Action: Youth Mental Health in the Face of Climate Disaster.  

On December 8th, Natasha Bhatia was on a panel entitled, Dear World Leaders in the US Center, along with 4 other youth activists. In the front row were lead administrators from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, White House Council on Environmental Quality, Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Department of the Interior, and U.S. Agency for International Development, thus “reversing the typical roles of ‘speaker’ and ‘listener’ and elevating youth perspectives.” 

Natasha prepared diligently for the session and was strong and clear in her messaging that youth must be included in decision making processes, that climate education is essential for youth empowerment and that the US must lead the way toward a fossil fuel phase out by stopping new pipeline infrastructure at home.  I highly recommend watching the recording on the US Center YouTube channel.

There was some initial disappointment that John Kerry was a no show for this event, but following the panel, Natasha, Danica, Maiana and Kate were able to attend a roundtable conversation with the administrators including former US Representative, Abby Finkenauer, who is now US Special Envoy for Global Youth.  They were utterly energized by this conversation and even got a video posted on the State Department Instagram! 

Additionally, youth met with Deputy Secretary of Energy, David Turk, whose staff sought them out for a recorded conversation.  This was a bit of an eye opener. The Deputy and his team were lovely, and I don’t doubt his sincerity when he asked the youth whether they felt that the federal government was doing enough to address the climate crisis.  When his staffer suggested that the youth ask “soft ball” questions, the Deputy said, to ask hard ones.

In the end, the social media post of our group was of a softball question from Danica (who had also asked some hard ones) about EV infrastructure and the Deputy’s lengthy and enthusiastic response.  What didn’t get posted was Avery’s follow up question about who has access to EVs and other benefits. He pointed out that even with tax breaks there are many who can’t afford to take advantage of these opportunities.  

Youth attended sessions with John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and others, which they found energizing, but of the climate celebrities they encountered, Al Gore was the star by far.  He is so clear and so passionate in his messaging that we must end fossil fuels. He stripped away the murkiness around language like “unabated” and called out the egregious hypocrisy of this COP Presidency and the 2,500 oil industry lobbyists in attendance at COP.

But perhaps more impactful than encounters with big wigs, were the youth conversations with people from highly impacted nations.  They attended a climate literacy mixer with youth from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Congo and elsewhere who shared the gravity of the climate impacts in their countries.  A man from Tanzania shared that in his country climate impacts are viewed as an act of God.  Climate Education could be the number one climate solution, per this Columbia University Climate School.

It’s Our Future youth are committed to maximizing the impact of their time at COP by sharing key learnings in their schools and communities.  

Approximately 200 people tuned into their Youth Voices from COP livestream, including whole classes at several schools!  They have had excellent media coverage, including radio dispatches on WBEZ’s Reset, where they will be interviewed this week for an episode to be aired on 12/18 at 11 am.

And they made the front page of the Chicago Tribune! This in addition to coverage in their local papers and school papers, should reach a whole lot of people.  

IOF youth spoke truth to power and shared their insights and energy with broad audiences in hopes of Activation!  Their success at activation has everything to do with you!  Let us know if their stories have activated you by filling out this form.