Young People: The Future… and the Now!

by | Jan 19, 2023 | Formation, Vincentian Family at the U.N. | 1 comment

I wonder if it’s even possible to say something new on climate change.  There’s so much material available about it already, dissecting the issue from every angle.  By now everyone should have heard something of the disaster that awaits humankind if drastic action isn’t taken soon.  And so many others, especially island-dwellers, know about it from lived experience.

The recent COP27 (Conference of the Parties on climate, 27th annual session) on climate action is widely considered another lost opportunity, in large part because of the active presence of 600 fossil fuel representatives, amazingly—and tellingly—some even as part of several nations’ official delegation.  So for many climate activists, another hope dashed, although some progress was made on establishing a Loss & Damage Fund (more on that below).

Maybe we should just meditate often on Laudato Si to find hope.

My generation dropped the ball on climate change, no doubt.  But I’m somewhat optimistic about significant Climate Action BECAUSE OF YOUNG PEOPLE, who are responding in increasing numbers and with creativity, at COP and beyond.

Let me tell you about one example from the Vincentian Family.  On December 2nd, @ Niagara University, I was privileged to co-sponsor (the NGO Office of the Congregation of the Mission to the United Nations) with Justice House*/Niagara U, and participate in a student-led simulation of a UN event on climate action.  The brain child of a Fulbright scholar Niagara student, the all-day event was orderly, sober and as realistic as a simulation could be.  Apart from a tweak here or there, the professors present did not have to intervene to direct the event.

I would not have believed that you could keep 40 college students in one room, in totally disciplined demeanor, from 9 to 5.  Yet there we were in a visually impactful room with flags of all nations, conference tables, 8 pages of event instructions, comments and proposals researched and written by the students themselves, who then played the role of ambassadors of the different nations.

Debate and parliamentary procedure followed, ending with well-articulated final proposals on creating a Loss and Damage Fund whereby wealthier nations—AKA the more guilty on climate damage—provide resources to poorer nations—AKA those who pollute less but suffer more– with reasonable suggestions on funding to make it happen.

The event included a brief presentation, and a Q & A, on COP27 with Lisa Kurbiel (Niagara and St. Johns grad), Director of the UN Development Fund and the Joint Fund for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the 2030 UN Agenda for Peace and Prosperity, for People and the Planet.

Takeaways?  For me, a slice of optimism on climate action.  Young people “get it” and are trying to do something about it.  This event was limited in scope to a university (and to those following online) but emblematic of what students and young people in general are doing globally to advance the Rights of Nature and to foster meaningful and critical Climate Action.

Personally the event also gave me yet another reason to be proud of our Vincentian Universities.

Conclusions?  Let’s increase our support for young people.  In our ministries let’s listen to them and trust them.  Let’s facilitate their involvement on the social issues of our time, and welcome their natural enthusiasm.

They do things differently, they communicate in their own ways.  But they can provide that burst of energy and insight that many organizations and institutions, including the UN itself, can clearly benefit from.

Jim Claffey
NGO representative of the Congregation of the Mission to the United Nations

* Justice House @ Niagara is an exciting new project to create a learning community centered on the pursuit of justice, offering innovative programming and initiatives to help students examine the meaning of justice and inspire them to pursue their own vocations as advocates for justice.

1 Comment

  1. Tom M

    Good work, Jim… Thanks