United Kingdom (Commonwealth Union)_ In commemoration of International Youth Day, young individuals hailing from various corners of the Commonwealth united to exchange strategies and initiatives aimed at addressing the pressing environmental crises that loom over their generation. Marking the occasion, a virtual gathering of young leaders was orchestrated under the theme “Empowering Future Stewards: Commonwealth Youth for Ocean Science, Policy, and Advocacy,” facilitated by the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Blue Charter program. This digital event focused on the disproportionate repercussions of climate change and ecosystem degradation that face the present youth and generations to come. It also underscored the indispensable role that young people play in shaping a sustainable future.
During her opening address, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland, highlighted the imperative of youth engagement, stating that a wholesome future for the ocean and the planet hinges upon the complete, committed, and sustained involvement of young individuals. Scotland applauded the unique perspectives, innovative spirit, and advocacy prowess that the youth bring to the table, asserting that their active participation is fundamental to the continuity of ongoing efforts into the future. She stated, “There can be no healthy future for the ocean or the planet without the full, committed and sustained engagement of young people everywhere. They bring unique perspectives, imagination and an innovative spirit. They bring fresh energy for advocacy and change. And ultimately, the only way to ensure the work we are doing now is sustained for the long term is to involve the very people who can take it forward into the future.”
Against the backdrop of 2023 being designated as the Commonwealth Year of Youth, the spotlight is directed towards harnessing the potential of the 1.5 billion individuals under 30 years old within the Commonwealth. This demographic constitutes 60 percent of the overall population spanning 56 nations, signifying a potent force that can spearhead endeavors to preserve the ocean and combat climate change. Guiding the discourse, Dr. Josheena Naggea, a Mauritian scientist, commended the Commonwealth’s commitment to embedding youth at the core of ocean conservation. Further, Dr. Naggea, an Andre Hoffman Fellow at the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions and the World Economic Forum, characterized the youth as catalysts for transformative change and bearers of hope.
Guest speaker H.E Hon Therese Rath, Belize’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, called upon young individuals to cultivate a personal bond with the ocean, driving impactful advocacy and adopting a “think global, act local” approach, emphasizing that people protect what they love and cherish. Throughout the panel discussion, various speakers highlighted significant avenues for change. Ruth Guiterrez-Corley, a PhD candidate from Belize pursuing studies at the Islands and Small States Institute in Malta, stressed the importance of identifying and nurturing one’s passions early on and the power of studies and volunteerism in making lasting contributions. Lucky Abeng, a Climate Justice Expert in Nigeria, urged the enhancement of young people’s capacity to engage effectively in global processes such as the United Nations Convention Framework for Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Amidst the discourse, Matthew-Pierre Rogers, a Jamaican marine biologist, emphasized the necessity for effective communication and networking for transformative change. Further, the importance of democratizing ocean management, inclusive policymaking, intergenerational equity, and a precautionary approach to resource extraction from the ocean was championed by James Lloyd, an undergraduate student from The University of York, while Lindsay Getschel, Senior Associate for Outreach and Engagement at Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance, remained hopeful about innovative solutions despite the challenges posed by climate change.
Closing the session, Paulo Kautoke, Senior Director for Trade Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, applauded the youth’s commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, especially SDG14 focused on ‘Life below water.’ The gathering was also an occasion to express gratitude to the panel for their unwavering support for the Commonwealth Blue Charter, which emphasizes the pivotal role of youth in ocean conservation. Further, highlighting a key initiative, Ruth Guiterrez-Corley, in her role as Commonwealth Ocean Youth Outreach Assistant, is working on establishing the Commonwealth’s inaugural Ocean Youth Working Group in collaboration with the Commonwealth Youth Climate Network, envisioning grassroots awareness campaigns and partnerships with governmental programs and youth-led initiatives. Overall, the webinar underscored the determination of Commonwealth youth from diverse regions to shape a sustainable and equitable future for the planet, showcasing their dedication to ocean conservation and climate advocacy.