Rising to the challenge
While the world’s leaders were meeting in Glasgow for COP26, there was another forum taking place on the other side of the world.
While also focusing on the urgency for climate action and the United Nations principles, this forum had one major difference.
There were no presidents, prime ministers, or members of the royal family in sight, but rather delegates were a collection of primary school students keen to discuss how they can play their part in tackling environmental issues.
Designed in line with the Australian Curriculum’s sustainability priority, the Global Goals Youth Forum: Environmental Sustainability connected students online across Queensland.
“Participating critically and acting creatively in determining more sustainable ways of living” - Australian Curriculum
From the rural town of Begonia, where the local Primary Begonia State School, has a body of just nine students to the uniquely situated Magnetic Island State School whose campus sits within the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park - students shared and discussed the similarities and differences of the environmental issues in their local community and the variety of challenges they currently face.
With an emphasis on developing awareness and empowerment, the forum provided a platform for students to engage with a diversity of voices, ideas, perspectives and experiences. Despite its unique landscape spanning beach, bush, farm and forest, Queensland is not immune to environmental threats and challenges.
Irrespective of their town’s size, population and landscape, students were united in their drive for action.
Guest speaker Ms Katie Frisch from the Australia Pacific Climate Partnership told students, “Our behaviours are contagious.” Referencing her work in the Pacific Islands, Ms Frisch encouraged students to connect and collaborate. “We all face the impacts of climate change. We are united in that way which is an exciting opportunity to reach across borders and work together with our fellow humans.”
Dr Nicole Garofano from the Australian Circular Economy Hub, Planet Ark, also spoke to student sharing her experience of working in Barbados on community recycling projects. Discussing the interconnectedness of the Sustainable Development Goals, Dr Garofano explained the premise of a circular economy noting that simple changes in actions can have a significant impact on improving environmental sustainability.
Following these inspirational talks, students then broke into school teams to discuss and identify a key issue they wanted to focus on and solve. Issues ranged from drought, habitat destruction, and pollution to challenging the concept of the 3Rs,(reduce, reuse, and recycle), to include refuse and repurpose.
Encouraging critical and creative approaches, teams were led through a design thinking process to prototype and pitch their ideas for action.
Immediate community solutions included a tree planting initiative delivered in collaboration with hospitals, where a tree would be planted for every baby born, and a ‘Wrapper Free Wednesday’ school campaign to gradually phase out plastics and packaging.
Thinking long term and globally, teams also proposed solutions around alternative energy sources, automation of ocean waste collection, solar powered transportation and an Ocean Supermarket focusing on substituting sea plants for meat.
“We can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working together,” was the mission statement of COP26, and exactly what this Queensland conference of parties did.
AEF Youth initiatives are challenging, inspiring, and acknowledging young people as active leaders of change. It’s time to listen to what young Australians have to say about the world.
Young people will shape our future.
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The 2021 Term 4 Global Goals Youth Forum: Environmental Sustainability delivered in Queensland was funded by the Queensland Department of Education and implemented by the Asia Education Foundation at Asialink, The University of Melbourne.