Today’s agenda included the first day of the Conference of Youth (COY) held at Doha’s Education City. Located across from the Doha National Convention Center, Education City is a impressive, modern complex of academic institutions and resources for Qatari and visiting students – in fact universities such as Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, and Texas A&M have satellite campuses here. The atmosphere is very encouraging for student empowerment, making the 200+ COY participants feel right at home! Highlights of the conference included: a keynote Skype-in address by Bill McKibben, a “share and tell” session of environmental success stories since the last COY, and a networking session with youth around the world working on promoting sustainability and environmental awareness in their home communities.
My favorite part of the day, however, was a presentation conducted by the Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM), a recently established coalition of 16 Arab countries. AYCM seeks to curb the impact of climate change so they are able to “enjoy the stable climate their grandparents enjoyed.” Partnering with global organizations such as Climate Action Network, Tcktcktck, and 350.org, the AYCM held a workshop in early October. This workshop, sponsored by 350.org, received over 600 applicants for a 20 person training – making it the largest applicant pool 350.org has ever received. The training geared up youth to participate in the 10/11/12 Day of Action, a particularly valuable tool, as “people in the Arab world don’t have the same platform like many other countries in the developed world have”, according to one AYCM member who highlighted 1) funding for national coordinators and 2) obtaining permits for climate rallies as particular obstacles for their network. Furthermore, Arab youth have to deal with further complexities such as governmental climate silence as well as the nearly automatic lack of knowledge regarding climate change due to the extensive influence of the oil industry. Indeed, the peril involved with climate action can be quite serious – a fact that AYCM has come to fully realize when one of their members was hospitalized as the result of a clash with the police during a climate rally.
Nonetheless, youth from the AYCM have overcome these obstacles to initiate a network of highly organized, passionate, and skilled climate activists. Their dedication to prevent the oncoming disasters predicted to afflict the Middle East – seawater rise, increasing global temperatures (in an already arid environment), and an acute lack of freshwater sources – is one to be truly admired and replicated in all regions of this world. Although this is, “the first time we’ve seen Arab youth taking these steps towards a better future,” according to a AYCM member, these students have already done a remarkable job in organizing and empowering youth from a geographically divided region to work as a collective network to promote climate activism. After all, “there is only one planet, and we call it home.”