Two days before world leaders will sign a global compact to combat climate change, New York City took a huge environmental step forward by urging the city’s department of education to include climate change in every grade’s curriculum. The landmark resolution was heavily supported by youth activists from the city.

When young people devote their passion and energy to a cause and take action to address injustice, the world sits up and takes notice. It has happened time and time again: From the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, to Malala Yousafzai and her campaign for global access to education. The world is witnessing it happening again with the global movement to address climate change.

Global citizens, including young people all around the world, have been an important part of the climate justice movement. They were instrumental in calling on leaders to take decisive action at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris back in December 2015.

Among these activists are the High School students working with Global Kids, Inc. a youth development, global and human rights education non-profit. They have been working on a campaign to mandate climate change education in all public schools in New York state. The students, some of whom were in Paris for the negotiations, believe that a significant step towards addressing a crucially important issue is quite simply knowing everything about it. They recognize that the much vaunted Next Generation Science Standards, a 26 state effort to improve science education for all K-12 students, do not adequately drive teachers to cover climate change in their classes.

These young activists are rightfully upset given the gravity of this issue. A Journal of Science survey found that on average, science teachers in the US spend just one or two hours on the topic over the course of an academic year. The Global Kids activists also believe that learning about climate change lends itself to multiple disciplines and can be implemented in a cross curricular manner.

Most importantly, these young people, largely from underserved communities in New York City, realize that while no nation is immune to the impact of climate change, the world’s poor are disproportionately affected and often lack the capacity to cope with climate disasters that are rarely of their own making.

This Earth Day, Friday April 22nd, 2016, Up to 155 nations will come together at United Nations Headquarters to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change. The ceremony will mark the coming into force of the landmark agreement reached by nations that gathered at the end of 2015 in Paris to negotiate the curbing of global greenhouse gas emissions.

With the upcoming climate agreement signing as a backdrop, on Tuesday April 19, Global Kids students took their campaign to New York City Hall. A hearing was held on a resolution they were instrumental in introducing.

Image: Global Kids- Caroline Harting

The resolution, formally introduced by Queens Council Member Costa Constantinides, a supporter of Global Kids youth climate activists, recommends that the Department of Education include lessons on climate change in K-12 schools curriculum. 11 Global Kids’ students and one alumnus testified in favor of passing the resolution in front of the Committee on Education .

Prior to hearing the testimonies, Council Member Constantinides mentioned his work with the students on this issue and thanked them for “making government work.” When they testified, the students were passionate and eloquent and in the end, got a unanimous vote in favor of the resolution from the 11 council members present. The resolution went to a full council vote on April 20th. It passed almost unanimously and was approved by the Council. Now the next stage of their activism on this issue begins as they work with the Department of Education, Board of Regents, and State Legislature to figure out curriculum content and implementation.

While world leaders gather to pat themselves on the back and sign this milestone accord on Earth Day, young global citizens like the ones at Global Kids will continue to keep them honest and fight for climate justice on the local, national, and global level.

The people’s climate movement, often led by active and engaged young people, will not let the Paris Agreement signing be just another empty symbolic gesture, facilitating an excuse for another get together of negotiators in an idyllic destination to spin their wheels and do it all over again at COP22 in Morocco. The stakes are far too high for this. The words of World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, made in a commentary over two years ago, resonate even louder today: “If we don’t confront climate change, we won’t end poverty.”

As one student, Victoria Barrett, testified: “We need more students at the forefront of this movement because our generation is the one that will be most impacted. But how? How can students lead a movement that they don't understand?” Another, Kate Scherer, closed her testimony by telling the committee; “I believe that education will be the key to preventing the worsening of climate change. It will open a dialogue between students and inspire them to take action and develop solutions. If we are the ones who have to face climate change then we must be the ones to find solutions.”

Our climate future might just be secure in the hands of these young global citizens. 


Defend the Planet

These youth climate activists are making the Paris Agreement a reality in New York City

By Kevin Murungi