These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.
When world leaders gather, 16-year-old Clara Brown from Merrickville, Ont., helps ensure young people have a greater voice.
Clara is the contact point for the Water and Climate Working Group of YOUNGO | UNFCCC, the official children and youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which she represented at the 2023 UN Water Conference.
She co-chaired the Joint Youth Statement Working Group (JYS) of Global Youth Mobilization, an initiative of the UN Foundation and the World Health Organization, which in 2022, allocated $1.5 million to a total of 476 youth empowerment projects in 73 countries. Starfish Canada named Clara to its 2022 list of Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25.
Tell us about your work.
While I am active in a lot of different committees, a common theme for me is to call for more youth influence at international discussion tables. As the contact point for the Water and Climate Working Group of YOUNGO, my job is to co-ordinate the views of the 458 participants from around the world and assemble them into recommendations for world leaders. I work with my co-contact point Peshang Hama Karim from Kurdistan to set agendas, host meetings, provide summaries and produce reports on our deliberations. It is fascinating to work with young people from around the world on one of my main concerns — fair and open access to water as a human right.
In my role as co-chair of the JYS Working Group, I worked with Tharindra Arumapperuma from Sri Lanka and Michelle Chew from Malaysia to help participants develop a consensus on what role young people should play in international deliberations. We continue to call for youth to be taken seriously as the primary stakeholders of the future and be at the decision-making tables.
What are the particular contributions young people make to these discussions?
When world leaders gather, 16-year-old Clara Brown from Merrickville, Ont., helps ensure young people have a greater voice. #YouthClimateAction
First, it is easy for world leaders to slip into believing that just because change has happened slowly in the past, it must happen slowly now. Young people remember that our future hangs in the balance and we add a sense of urgency.
Second, young people all over the world have a deep sense of the intersectional nature of the multiple crises our communities face. We remind leaders that to solve climate change, we must also solve inequality and meet all of the sustainable development goals.
Third, perhaps because we are young, we are often less committed to doing things the way they have always been done. We are perhaps less afraid of the radical changes that must be made than are those who have been part of creating or shoring up the structures and systems of the past.
And fourth, although I knew this already, being part of granting $1.5 million to almost 500 youth-led projects in 76 countries showed me we often have real solutions and ideas for positive change. Whether we are funding the training of women and girls in Nigeria to code so they can bridge the gap in skills and create inclusion, supporting a small business that trains women to make fabric from banana leaf fibre and sew beautiful bags from this sustainable source, or holding joyful festivals in India to encourage people to participate in ocean and beach cleanups, our passion, hard work and commitment to our right to a healthy future is good for everyone.
What makes your work hard?
As a young person, my concerns about the need for youth involvement and radical rapid change are much less likely to be taken seriously. It is my future that is slipping away while others delay and deny and this can be really frustrating.
What gives you hope?
There are so many talented, passionate and dedicated young people out there. I am always inspired and heartened by our interactions.
What do you see if we get this right?
A world without climate change denial and delay will be much more fair and much better for everyone’s health and our security.
How does the way you are being raised contribute to your work?
My parents have always supported me to follow my interests but to ask whether the choices I make will be a good fit for me and have the best impact. They also encourage me to participate at the community level. I am very proud of both my policy work with the Youth Council | Ontario Nature advocating for conservation and also for the opportunities I have had to engage in tree planting, documenting species in wetlands, and beach and shoreline cleanups.
What advice would you like to give other young people?
Get involved. Your voice and contribution really do matter. If you find a group that shares your interests, you can get more done and have company along the way.
What about older readers?
Do your part. If we each think of ourselves as one piece in a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, we are each small but essential to the whole.