In recent years, the science has become increasingly clear: the future of our planet depends on the choices we make in the next decade. With this in mind, it is likely no coincidence that some of the most recognizable faces of today’s environmental movement have unlikely CVs—that is, if they have even launched their professional careers.
Indeed, young people are leading climate action around the world. In fact, many are already driving tangible change by recycling, reducing their consumption, supporting reforestation and demanding environmental responsibility from companies and governments.
Their voices have been instrumental in raising awareness of the need for change, and inspiring greater ambition worldwide. Recognizing the importance of empowering these young leaders, the Biennial of the Americas and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) launched the Youth Congress for Sustainable Americas (YC).
The initiative began in 2017 with 30 young leaders from 10 countries—from Canada to Argentina—united by their determination to generate change for a sustainable planet. In just two years, the youth network has grown to include 85 delegates in 15 countries. With the goal of forming a strong network capable of driving environmental action in the region, YC delegates are spurring changes in their own communities by addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges, such as deforestation, water pollution and waste management.
“Our vision is a world where present and future generations participate actively in environmental conservation and restoration to mitigate climate change,” said Dante Ruiz, an economist and environmentalist by trade, and delegate of the YC in Mexico. “Our mission is to become an influential network of diverse changemakers, united by our passion for sustainability to lead transformative actions across the Americas."
While the delegates represent a wide range of expertise and approaches—including environmental law, reforestation, water management, corporate sustainability, environmental education and community development—they were all selected for their commitment, leadership and activism in the sustainability field.
“For me, sustainability means using resources mindfully, without jeopardizing their availability for future generations,” said Bambou Pittaluga, who leads the NGO Faro Limpio on the beaches of San Ignacio, Uruguay. “Through my work with Faro Limpio, we are improving waste management, cleaning beaches and public spaces, recycling and also engaging the public and private sector in these efforts."
Elise Riquier, a master’s student in an environmental policy program at the University of Denver, Colorado, USA, is promoting sustainability through a new business venture. “About five years ago, three friends and I started an event planning company with the goal of reducing plastic consumption,” said Riquier. “All our events use only edible tableware, glass or reusable cutlery. We have reduced food waste by 20 percent and implemented a program to donate excess food.”
In May and June of this year, the delegates launched a social media awareness campaign called #TheValueOfNature in five Latin American cities— Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Mexico City, Lima and São Paulo—to highlight the role of nature as a climate solution. Around 300 people participated, generating more than 1,000 social media posts with the campaign hashtag in three languages—Spanish, Portuguese and English.
According to a study by TNC scientists and partner organizations, nature can be one of our greatest allies in tackling climate change. Nature-based solutions—such as conserving and restoring forests—can help us achieve more than a third of the emission reductions needed by 2030. But despite being able to deliver over 30 percent of the climate solution, nature makes up less than one percent of the conversation, and receives less than four percent of climate financing.
While emphasizing the role of nature as a climate solution, the YC delegates have also demonstrated a formidable entrepreneurial spirit. Jorge Bellsola Ferrer, an agronomist and founder of the Argentine company Seamos un Árbol, is working to convert traditional cemeteries into urban forests.
“Forests are disappearing,” Bellsola said. “I hope, with this initiative, not only to improve memorial services, but to bring people closer to nature and raise awareness about stewardship and the importance of the environment.”
Mark Falcone, Vice Chair of the Biennial of the Americas a steadfast supporter of the YC, sees youth as a key part of the alliance our planet needs. "We all have a role to play: the public sector, the private sector, multilateral organizations, communities, NGOs, researchers,” Falcone said. “We must all come together to chart a sustainable path for the future of our planet."
“At TNC, we work to inspire and involve young people through nature and science and encourage innovation,” said Santiago Gowland, Executive Vice President for Global Innovation and Executive Director of Latin America.
“The creativity of young people is invaluable in the search for innovative solutions for climate change," Gowland said. "Supporting the Youth Congress of the Americas represents an opportunity to reach broader audiences and disseminate knowledge across borders.”
With TNC’s technical support and funding from private companies, the YC have met on four occasions in different countries since 2017 with the goal of collaborating for regional action. In September, the 85 delegates convened in Denver, USA, to define their action plan for 2020.
Together, they decided to take on the challenge of planting a million trees across the continent, in addition to collecting a million signatures in support of the conservation of one million hectares of priority ecosystems in Argentina. This project will serve as a pilot that other countries may replicate in the future.
Through social media, digital platforms and annual conferences, delegates are building stronger networks for collaboration—including the sharing of resources, achievements and lessons learned, and amplifying the message for urgent action. And Lina, Nico, Juliana, Edna, Pierre, Isabel, Bambou, Morgan, Mariana, are just a few of the many young leaders working tirelessly to protect our planet.