On October 30th, Lehigh University students and members of the community came together for public discussion of the Global Youth Climate Declaration (GYCAD), which is a document that reflects the collective youth voice demanding specific policy interventions to heads of state and policymakers at all levels of governance. The public consultation held at Lehigh is one of many that occurred around the world and was one of three that happened in the United States. At Lehigh, it ended up bringing together about 25 people together with unique commentary on the Declaration.
Because of the global nature of this youth declaration, students can use the document in their regions and nations to lobby politicians and contribute to a global movement for change across borders. The recommendations in the document are concrete and universal, urging Heads of State and policymakers at all levels of government to enact broad changes to further the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The first section of the document focuses on recommendations pertaining to economic, political, and social drivers that advocate for an intersectional and inclusive approach to social justice, a shift towards a circular economy, and participatory approaches to engage civil society in policy-making. The second section centers around infrastructure, cities, and local action. The youth call for local governments to implement changes, such as aligning future infrastructure plans with the SDGs, addressing climate action in all phases of infrastructure project design, allocating green space, and prohibiting the destruction of existing forested and agricultural land. Moreover, the document contains sections on other topics such as youth and public mobilization, capacity-building, education, nature-based solutions, resilience and adaption, mitigation, industry transition and accountability, and climate finance. The GYCAD is the first instance of youth demanding specific policy interventions at a collective level.
Lehigh University’s Nadine Clopton, ‘19, ‘20G, is the Strategic Planning and Operations Team Lead for the core team of the youth declaration. Her involvement with this stemmed from her education in sustainable development. She mentioned that the university’s impending cancellation of the Sustainable Development Minor program is incredibly disheartening when considering how important sustainable development is to our planet’s future. Clopton started a committee called the Committee on Sustaining Sustainable Development, and would like to encourage anyone to reach out to her if they are interested in the endeavor to save the essential and formative program. In addition to the sustainable development minor being the cornerstone of her involvement in this movement, the Lehigh United Nations partnerships have also had a strong impact on her experience. Clopton served as a youth representative for four years for a small NGO called Caring and Living as Neighbors. Through working with this organization, Clopton developed a wealth of UN experiences. She went on to serve as the first youth representative at the UN in Geneva Switzerland, and now she serves as the youngest Director on the Global NGO Executive Committee.
Clopton’s hope for the declaration is that it will operate as a youth version of the Paris Agreement, giving people a tangible idea of what effective climate change intervention and action looks like. What makes the declaration unique is that it is written by and supported by young people in many different nations. It is an instance of civil society coming together to make a statement, whereas documents like the Paris Agreement are normally written by governmental leaders. The declaration is an opportunity for people’s voices to be amplified at a high level to drive sustainable development goals. The team is hoping to develop indicators to track and hold different member states accountable.
Clopton believes that the declaration can play an integral role in the Bethlehem community. She states, “We have different sections on climate finance and carbon pricing, energy transition, economic, social, and political drivers, and infrastructure for cities and local action. The section on local action is the section I think Bethlehem will benefit the most from because there are tangible interventions for how to make cities and towns more sustainable in the future. Everything that we do is with intergenerational justice in mind, which means ensuring that governments are working as partners with young people rather than on behalf of young people.”
Additionally, Clopton emphasizes the importance of local leaders engaging with members of the community during the policy process. She states, “It is the only way that policy will be equitable, sustainable, and effective. It needs to be based on the needs of the constituents directly affected by the policies. It starts from the ground up with local people reporting to local officials, local officials reporting to state officials and state officials reporting to national officials. I don’t think things should come from the top-down, but rather the bottom-up to most effectively serve constituents appropriately.” Clopton believes that it is imperative for local officials to provide community members with a space to pitch ideas related to sustainable development and to create a channel through which local people regardless of income can discuss ways in which they can make their communities better. Local governments can use technology and simple tools like Slido, a polling platform, to more effectively and equitably engage with people during meetings and events. A platform like Slido allows everyone to participate and to have their voices heard in governance.
For those eager to get involved with the movement, the first tangible action you can take is to bring the declaration to a policymaker and have a conversation about the points that are most valuable to you, and how you think it can be applied to your local area. Clopton hopes to host an event this semester in the Bethlehem community alongside Citizens Climate Lobby and other environmentally focused groups to further the mission of the declaration. The event would consist of a public reading and a dialogue about the declaration and how we can apply it in the context of the Lehigh Valley.