May 20, 2017  |  

The YMCA’s role in Climate Empowerment

A  blog by Silke Bölts (at the UNFCCC in Bonn)

Many of us know that the COP (Conference of the Parties to the Convention) happens every year. But most people are not aware that there are many more conferences regarding climate action throughout the year.

For example the United Nations Conference on Climate Change from 8th to 18th of May 2017 in Bonn, Germany. Others call this conference Pre-COP or Intersessional.

This conference is more technical compared to the big events every year in November and are supposed to be preparatory. In fact, it is a conference composed of three sub-meetings: the SBSTSA, the SBI and the APA. The SBSTA is the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice and SBI signifies Subsidiary Body for Implementation. Further, the APA is the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement.

The SBI, for instance, discusses a matter, that is of utmost importance to young people. In the context of the SBI, there was a dialogue forum on Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE). This time, we witnessed the fifth Dialogue on ACE with the topic of “Education, Training and International Cooperation on these matters”. This dialogue refers to the Article 6 of the UNFCCC-Convention from 1992 (“Education, Training and Public Awareness) and Article 12 of the Paris Agreement. In the latter, it says: “Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognizing the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this Agreement.

In our view, it is crucial that all parties take account of Action for Climate Empowerment which encompasses climate education as well. Some countries already have included measures concerning ACE in their NDCs (National Determined Contribution), but not all of them and not to an adequate extent.

We as the observer constituency of the youth non-governmental organisations (YOUNGO), which the World YMCA is part of, want to change this.

Why is this so important for us? We think in the long run, it is momentous to have all levels of society educated about the causes and consequences of climate change. This way, people understand better how to adopt a less carbon-intensive lifestyle and adapt to climate change. We as youth are still involved in the formal education system, as primary, secondary or tertiary education. In our mind, climate action needs to be integrated in the school’s curricula and universities need to offer courses for climate specialists. But further, even vocational trainings should include aspects on sustainability –  and not just professions directly involved in the environment. Even IT-specialists, bakers or city planners need to know, how they can act climate friendly within their occupation.

Furthermore, nursery school teachers can be wonderful conveyors of an earth-saving message of climate action, since climate education needs to start as early as possible.

But climate empowerment must not only happen in the formal education system. Peer-to-peer education plays a distinct role as well. Youth can empower their fellows as much as adults can or even better since they can reach their peers in their world of thinking.

And that is where we as a youth organisation come in. The YMCA has a huge potential to contribute to climate empowerment. We believe climate education must be undertaken both from the top and the bottom – at the grass-tops and grassroots-level. The YMCA is the world’s largest youth organisation with an abundant number of members. If we do not play a crucial role in climate empowerment, who can? If we are not the next ones to move forward and take a leading role in climate education in a non-formal system, who else will start? Our mission as a YMCA is to “empower all, especially young people and women to take increased responsibilities and assume leadership at all levels, working towards an equitable society” (Challenge 21, 1998) and further “to defend God’s creation against all that would destroy it, preserving and protecting the earth’s resources for coming generations.” (ibd.)

In this regard, we can already say that the RGE (Resource Group on the Environment) is a good step in the right direction. In particular with its new Working Group on Education (WGEdu) it is taking specific action for climate empowerment. With the help of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) it teaches interested aspiring youth about the basic principles of climate change and climate negotiations. This empowers youngsters to go to conferences, not just to be there  – but to have a profound say that will be heard and clearly understood.

It is good to participate and be present at the negotiations, but even better to really understand the things that are going on and engage actively on the basis of a well-founded knowledge. The WGEdu can be a helpful tool in this. But the YMCA has an even more far-reaching potential to reach out to as many youth as possible. In our view, climate education should be integrated in to regular activities. A lot of great projects and initiatives have already been undertaken. But there is a lot more to do.

In our view, collaboration and cooperation is the key to even greater success. Local initiatives should network with each other and share best-practice examples. It is time for an overarching strategy and the YMCA, because of its historical and contemporary position, can be the coalition catalyst. Lets do it!



Mike Roberts
Mike Roberts
There are few professions where you get to make a real difference, impacting individuals, families and communities on a global scale. The YMCA has given me so many opportunities - organizing soccer camps in Haiti, teen leaders programs in Zimbabwe, helping to develop cancer survivor exercise opportunities in America. The Y is so much more.

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