History of Youth Climate Action Summit

History of Youth Climate Action Summit

 ~ by Anik Hahn

In just under two months the Frontenac Arch Biosphere (FAB) will host its first in-person Youth Climate Action Summit (YCAS) at the Aquatarium in Brockville, Ontario! We have been waiting for this day for some time. It has been a journey, to say the least, to get to this moment. 

In fact, the seeds for this upcoming YCAS, were sown, back in 2018, when members of FAB, Erik Wang, and Gary Clarke visited the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, New  York, in the summer, and learned of the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit (AYCS). They were so impressed that FAB agreed to send a delegation to attend the November summit. Along with Wang, and Clarke, the delegation included Anne Marie Newsome, the then FAB director, and Liz Harder, the program coordinator. 

At the AYCS that November, the FAB delegation discovered a lively and educational convention of young people, from across the United States, who were passionate about fighting climate change. AYCS included two days of plenary sessions and interactive workshops, along with scavenger hunts, photo booths, hands on activities, hikes around the Wild Centre, and delicious local food. The workshops spanned a range of engaging topics on everything climate related from titles such as Writing Op-eds for change, and Cornell Conversations about Climate Change Podcasts, to workshops on Climate Impacts and Solutions from Around the Globe, and How to Create Edible landscapes. 

But what really impressed the FAB delegation, was that this summit was more than just an information session. Students came away with a Climate Action Plan (CAP) that included sustainable solutions and actions that they could take into their lives, schools, and communities to reduce the threat of climate change. Furthermore, although AYCS received dedicated support from the Wild Centre, it was the students themselves that brought the energy and enthusiasm. They “owned” the event! 

The FAB delegation instantly decided that FAB should spearhead a youth summit here in Ontario, with the goal of eventually expanding the Youth Climate Action Summit, to all 18 Biosphere Regions across Canada. With the help of the toolkit provided by the Wild Centre, and collaboration with the AYCS organizers, bringing the Climate Summit to Canada was possible! Behind the scenes, FAB worked to ensure funding, and consulted with the local Upper Canada District School Board. 

In the summer of 2019, FAB created YCAS team including members Gary Clarke, Eric Wang, Julie Servant, Dan Markovitch, along with two teachers from a local high school, Brockville Collegiate Institute (BCI), Cheryl Donovan, and Anik Hahn. To build student engagement in this first-ever Canadian YCAS, Donovan and Hahn accompanied a group of 5 BCI Secondary students to the 2019 AYCS at the Wild Center, in Tupper Lake, New York, (just months before the Covid 19 Pandemic would disrupt international travel, schools, and in-person events for years). 

Like the former FAB delegation, the BCI students – the only group to attend from Canada – learned a lot, made international friends, and came away inspired, and armed with a Climate Action Plan (CAP). That year, the BCI Green Team, educated the student body at their school on Climate Change, and revived a recycling program at the school.  

 Buoyed by the enthusiasm of our students, the FAB YCAS team planned to host our own youth summit in May 2020. But, as we all know, that date was impossible given the school closures that followed in March of 2020. This unimagined set-back was no match for the passion of the team, and as many of us did, YCAS team pivoted! We planned and held the first Canadian YCAS virtually in May of 2021. 

Even though by that time, our original Green Team students had left BCI to pursue post-secondary education, they were so enamoured with this initiative, that they came back from university, to help us organize and run the first YCAS. 

 After months of online learning, our challenge was to find a way to get students to attend an online event, and to keep the same engaging and interactive atmosphere that we fell in love with at the Wild Centre Summit. To that end, we made sure to build in time for group discussions and encouraged the presenters to hold a more conversational, rather than lecture style sessions. We also reached out to educators, and school eco-clubs across the region. 

This first virtual YCAS was an overwhelming success, with over 68 students attending from 13 high schools, as far away as Alberta. The 2-day event included plenary sessions, interactive workshops, and time for school teams to work on their own Climate Action Plans. We attracted a wide range of experienced presenters including Dr. Curt Stager, Professor of Natural Science at Paul Smith’s College and science journalist for National Geographic, and The New York Times, and Dr. Chris Burn, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University, internationally recognized expert in the domain of permafrost and ground ice in Yukon and the western Arctic. We even received a closing message from Dr. Dianne Saxe, the former Environment Commissioner for Ontario.The summit ended with a showcase of different CAPs, and the best plans receiving seed money to implement their school initiatives.  The virtual summit successfully ran again in May of 2022. 

The summit wouldn’t have been possible without the initial collaboration with the Tupper Lake Wild Center. Erin Griffin, youth program manager of the Tupper Lake Wild Centre, who attended our summit, was impressed with our Canadian results – noting our innovative content, deep-learning, and leadership in integrating Indigenous ways of knowing into the Youth Climate Summit model. The student response to this summit was equally glowing. 

As we approach YCAS this year, with two virtual summits under our belt, we are eager to see everyone in-person this time. From our continuing journey, it’s clear that YCAS is indeed a real-world embodiment of the FAB vision – which is to be a champion for world-class sustainable community development that celebrates nature, livelihood, wellbeing, culture, and forges a better way of living and growing together. We look forward to continuing this climate journey with you. 

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