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Monday, September 30, 2019

Local UN Youth Climate Summit Rep Wants to Bring Better Version to Northeast Ohio

Posted By on Mon, Sep 30, 2019 at 12:22 PM

  • Courtesy of Elena Stachew
Elena Stachew is a 28-year-old PhD candidate at the University of Akron's Biomimicry Research & Innovation Center and a member of the Cleveland hub of the Global Shapers Community. She was one of 500 people between the ages of 18-29 selected from a pool of more than 7,000 applicants to attend the United Nations Youth Climate Summit in New York City earlier this month.

With her trip paid for by the Cleveland Office of Sustainability, Stachew departed with an optimism and fire shared by youth climate activists from around the world, many of whom have been inspired by the courageous leadership of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg. Stachew was prepared to bring her passion and expertise to the world’s leaders on one of the world’s biggest stages.

"I am beyond humbled and excited to be able to represent the Northeast Ohio region at the United Nations,” she was quoted in a press release, “and to discuss the health of our Great Lakes, the importance of ecological restoration in the era of climate change, and biomimicry as our regional asset with stakeholders and decision-makers."

But Stachew was unable to do so.

Like other youth activists who complained that the summit amounted to little more than a publicity stunt, Stachew told Scene she was disappointed with many aspects of the experience, not least what she viewed as the summit’s false advertising.

“In the invitation, we were told it would be action-oriented, intergenerational and inclusive,” she said in an interview by phone last week. “I got the sense that global leaders would finally listen to the youth who have to deal with the consequences of climate change, and our suggestions for mitigating its effects for young and vulnerable populations.”

But when she got there…

click to enlarge At the UN Youth Climate Summit - COURTESY OF ELENA STACHEW
  • Courtesy of Elena Stachew
  • At the UN Youth Climate Summit
“It was a lot of panel sessions,” she said. “It was a lot of material presented to us, with only snippets of time for us to ask questions and engage. I spent a lot of time being talked at in a room, and I went in with the assumption that it would be the other way around.”

Stachew stressed that it was an honor to be at the UN, and said she did appreciate some of the daylong summit’s content. She referenced, in particular, a workshop on climate finance. But even then, she said, meaningful conversation was cut short because of a time crunch and a late start.

“I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet other young leaders,” Stachew said. “And I know the UN has never done anything like this before, but the content was stuff we all already know.”

(Like other attendees, Stachew joked about the multiple sessions focused on social media strategies, things like making climate posts “go viral.” One youth representative told a reporter from Vice News, “I went into a session, and it was essentially, like, teaching us how to make an iMovie. Our generation has been doing that since we were like, what, 10?”)

But Stachew’s recognition of the summit’s flaws, including the burdensome logistics involved in entering the UN grounds, has hardened her resolve to organize something better in Northeast Ohio.

“Basically, the goal is to create the summit here that I wanted to have there,” she said.

Right now, she’s aiming for a summit in Sept. 2020, and hopes to begin reaching out to high school and college classrooms and young professionals in their 20s and 30s with the support of the Cleveland Office of Sustainability and other members of the Global Shapers hub in Cleveland.

One way that she wants to differentiate this planned summit from the UN Summit — and other summits in Cleveland, for that matter — is by ensuring that attendees have time to review preparatory materials and opportunities to engage and “define the problem” beforehand.

So many summits begin at square one, and Stachew said that if a summit spends most of its time breaking ice and setting the stage, nothing gets accomplished.

“The goal would be to really push for education, policy and legislation,” she said. “Let's not talk about what we could do. We know what we could do. We know the future that we want: more walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly neighborhoods. Clean water, Local food. We all know this. The question is, how do we do it?”

Asked what she thought the region’s most pressing climate-related issues were, Stachew mentioned insufficient stormwater systems, lack of trees, urban sprawl and public transit.

She said that young people have innovative, practical solutions to tackle many of these problems. The key for regional leaders and area organizations is listening to them.

“This could be a pie-in-the-sky idea,” she said, “but with the help of the Cleveland Hub of Global Shapers and other interested partners, I’m going to go for it.”

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