On Earth Day, April 22, history was written. World leaders from 175 parties (174 countries and the European Union) came together at the United Nations to sign the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The signing ceremony far exceeded the historical record for first-day signatures to an international agreement.
On the day there were moving speeches and incredible scenes with US Secretary of State John Kerry signing the agreement with his granddaughter, young leaders expressing hope and optimism and Leonardo DiCaprio speaking bold words in support of climate action: “The world is now watching. You will either be lauded by future generations, or vilified by them.” (See his full speech here).
Along with the global leaders, 197 children representing the parties present joined the signing ceremony in the General Assembly of the United Nations and youth leader, Gertrude Clement, from Tanzania held a moving presentation: “We expect action today, not tomorrow…The future is ours, and the future is bright.”
In his opening speech the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged nations to listen to their youth. “We need to listen to young people and keep the promises made in Paris,” said the Secretary-General.
As part of the Connect4Climate team at the United Nations I was excited not only to witness the important event, but also to add youth voices in support of the signing ceremony. Connect4Climate, a global partnership program of the World Bank Group, works to communicate climate change to the broadest audiences by leveraging the power of youth and working with the creative industries.
In the United Nations Digital Media Zone, we teamed up with youth activists including Xiuhtezcatl Martinez of Earth Guardians and Victoria Barrett, a 17-year-old Honduran-American Alliance for Climate Education Action Fellow, who has roots in the Garifuna indigenous culture.
“We need every young person on the planet to join hands with us, to build a better future, for my generation, for future generations to come, to tackle climate change,” Xiuhtezcatl Martinez said in a Youth4Climate video I recorded on the day.
Our youth reporters managed to get interviews with a number of leading influencers, including actor Forest Whitaker, United Nations Youth Envoy Ahmad Alhendawi, Mogens Lykketoft, President of the United Nations General Assembly, and Achim Steiner, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, along with many others – see the full list in the playlist.
“Youth4Climate was a very important movement leading up to create this momentum to get the Paris Agreement signed…We have to live in a more sustainable way and that is where I believe young people can continue this massive movement,” Ahmad Alhendawi said.
Forest Whitaker praised the role of youth in addressing climate change: “the smallest actions sometimes can create the tipping point for other actions to occur.”
Comparing the role of young people in the movement for liberation in South Africa, World Bank Climate Change Senior Director John Roome emphasized the importance of youth in social mobilization and political involvement: “It was young people who moved the political debate forward, by coming out on the streets, by demonstrating, by making their voices known.”
“Young people are bringing critical passion to the climate debate,” he said. “After all, it’s their future.”
It is clear that we need leaders of this generation and of future generations to push for ambitious climate actions. Only together will we be able to leave fossil fuels in the ground, to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency, to put a price on carbon, to build resilient low-carbon cities, to advance sustainable mobility, and promote climate-smart agriculture and land-use, and to keep and grow our forests for future generations to enjoy.
The signing of Paris Climate Change Agreement is certainly a clear signal that leaders of this and future generations are advocating for transformational policies, to move rapidly to a low-carbon future, a future that is safe and beautiful for our children.