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Climate change. Biodiversity.

These sound like big topics that need deep conversations and expert comments.

In fact, it’s the focus of a workshop tomorrow at the Singapore Sustainability Academy that has already seen more than 100 signups. The event is open to the public and there are still slots available.

The workshop, organised by the Singapore Youth for Climate Action (SYCA) and Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity (SYVB), focuses on how biodiversity and climate change are linked in the global ecosystem.

Here’s the twist: The panellists are all 21 and below.

They may be young, but they certainly have the sustainability credentials.

SYCA’s Kate Yeo, Terese Teoh and Rishika Selvan were part of the seven-member youth delegation that represented Singapore in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt at last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27.

Gretel Seet, from SYVB, was one of three Singapore youth delegates who attended the 2022 United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal, Canada.

Gretel (right) and Karl Png, another member of SYVB, at COP15 in Montreal.
Gretel (right) and Karl Png, another member of SYVB, at COP15 in Montreal. Image source: Gretel Seet

So young and already active on the global stage. Could any of these youths be Singapore’s answer to Greta Thunberg?

They laugh when I ask them this question.

“Actually, it was Greta’s speech in 2019 that got me interested in sustainability. I was curious about why she was so passionate,” says Rishika, 19, who is a final-year community development student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. It prompted her to sign up for WWF-Singapore (World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore) Youth Sustainability Incubator Programme ‘We Got This’ in September 2021 and join SYCA later that year.

Biodiversity and Climate Change

Tomorrow’s workshop, the fourth in a series on climate policy, aims to raise awareness on biodiversity and its linkages with climate change.

It’s ironic, say the youths, that COP27 (on climate change) was widely covered in the media but COP15 (on biodiversity) less so.

Explains Terese, a 21-year-old NTU environmental studies and political science student: “In fact, these two aims must align for effective climate strategies. If we only focus on one, it may end up causing more environmental destruction because both issues are so intertwined and interdependent.”

Terese, who advocated on the topic of loss and damage – the long-term irreversible destructive impacts of climate change – at COP27, says: “That issue was talked about for 33 years before action was finally taken. It showed me how long advocacy can take before changes can be seen.”

“We always want urgent action, but there are real, tangible barriers,” Kate adds.

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Kate, 21, an environmental studies undergraduate at Dartmouth College in the US, says: “Even if we post something on social media, there is always the question of ‘what impact will it have on the global stage?’ It is a reminder that there is a lot of work to be done.”

All four youths saw first-hand at the international conferences how so many factors are considered while making policy decisions on climate change.

Despite the difficulties faced, Gretel says she is grateful for the opportunity to attend COP15 in Canada: “Having an international platform to voice what I believe in means a lot to me. Listening to the international delegates at COP15 contribute to a ‘living’ document (the 2022 Global Biodiversity Framework) that determines the fate of biodiversity feels exceptionally special.”

Kate and Terese also share similar sentiments about their experience at COP27: “Hearing those most affected by the issues or impacted by the policies in person was very meaningful.”

Bringing lessons back to Singapore

 

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A post shared by Kate (@byobottlesg)

With all they have learnt, these youths want to share their lessons with others in Singapore.

“It is now my duty to take in all this information and make it bite-sized so more people can have access to information on biodiversity,” Gretel, 21, says.

That’s also why the youths are actively holding workshops.

“We want to educate and empower youths to initiate projects they are interested in,” Terese explained.

There may be many other youths in Singapore who, like them, want to do something for the environment but don’t know where or how to start making an impact.

That’s why youth-led workshops and social media channels like SYCA and SYVB are so crucial: They tell younger Singaporeans that they aren’t alone in their passion for sustainability and environmental issues, and that they have a right to be heard.

Not easy being heard

Not easy being heard
Kate speaking at the panel discussion organised by SYCA for COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh. Image source: Kate Yeo

That said, it’s not an easy path to take.

Gen Zs often get tagged as “snowflakes” and being “overly sensitive” and “easily triggered” when they attempt to speak up on social and environmental issues. They get mocked for “caring so much” and many (often older people) are sceptical of their advocacy for environmental issues.

Gretel laughs: “My parents didn’t understand what I was really doing, and my friends simply think I’m doing volunteer work.”

But she is still grateful that the people around her acknowledge her passion for biodiversity.

“As much as I would like to simplify and mainstream biodiversity, it is a complex subject.”

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It’s about protecting the flora and fauna of our planet for this generation and the next.

She says: “I don’t want (my children) to be in an environment where they don’t see the beauty of biodiversity. I want to give them a future I did not have.”

While the future is important, it is equally important to educate those who have the power to make an impact now.

A common struggle that environmental advocates face is how most people see climate change as a long-term issue. “It’s all just ‘science-y’ stuff,” or “it doesn’t affect me now anyway”, are common misguided comments that they hear.

Rishika shares that she is passionate about changing people’s perspective of climate change: “I tell people, ‘Listen, the floods are going to impact you, and nobody but you.’”

Aside from climate deniers and naysayers, there are also others who react to the idea of advocacy in general.

Rishika says with an amused smile: “Many of them are like ‘oh my gosh, activism? It sounds so dangerous… you’re going to get caught by the police!’”

She explains that she has had so many conversations explaining the different aspects of activism to clear misconceptions of her work in advocacy.

Hoping for change

Hoping for change
All smiles in a moment of sharing by Rishika (far right). Image source: Rishika Selvan

Even though they have represented Singapore at international conferences, the youths believe strongly that the local community is where things move.

“Real climate action lies on the ground. People will listen to friends, family, people speaking in their own languages,” says Terese.

Whilst these individuals are doing their part, they also hope to reach out to more in the community and spark difficult conversations.

Terese emphasised, “The narrative moves forward only when difficult conversations are had.”

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Apart from their individual efforts, these youths are also trying to hold countries accountable for agreements and policies they have signed.

Says Gretel: “I hope they actually fulfil what is written in the documents, unlike the previous targets where only one out of 20 were achieved.”

She also hopes that all generations, young and old, will work together and learn from one another.

Her advice to youths?

“Listen to the past, but also have a voice of your own. You never know who you might inspire!”

Join the conversation!

Title: Looking at COP27 and COP15: Are biodiversity and climate targets always aligned?

Date: Jan 14 (Saturday)

Time: 12pm to 2pm

Venue: Singapore Sustainability Academy, 180 Kitchener Rd, #06-10, Singapore 208539

The event is free. Register your attendance here!

For more information, check out SYCA and SYVB’s socials!

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