Youths against climate change

Ms Low conducting the first session on “Introduction to the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement”

Thirty-five youths under the age of 35 participated in a six-week Climate Change Negotiations Training Workshop that was conducted by the Energy Studies Institute (ESI) at NUS in partnership with NUS Environmental Sustainability, Ridge View Residential College (RVRC), and the National Youth Council Singapore from 13 August to 17 September. The aim was to help youths gain a better understanding of the complex climate change negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and how countries are responding, as well as empower youths to act on climate change and promote awareness among their peers. This is the first time such a workshop has been conducted for youths in Singapore.

Participants included students from NUS and other institutes of higher learning, as well as working professionals from the public and private sectors. As the official appointed channel for the exchange of information with the UNFCCC Secretariat when the University was admitted as a Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organisation to the UNFCCC in 2014, ESI shared its expertise on the UNFCCC process during the workshops. 

The programme included an introduction to the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement; the role of youth in the UNFCCC process; national perspectives on climate change; and Singapore’s participation in the UNFCCC. One unique feature of the programme was the organisation of an online forum for youths to track the Bangkok Climate Change Conference negotiations which took place from 4 to 9 September to help develop the Paris climate rulebook for adoption by the UNFCCC. 

“Over the course of the programme, I’ve gathered that civic engagement is critical in bringing about a cultural shift that would place more pressure on policymakers to prioritise the environment.”

During the session on the role of youth, Ms Cheryl Lee, member of the Singapore Youth for Climate Action and Ms Stacy Wong, Curriculum Resource Development Officer at the Ministry of Education shared their experiences attending the Conference of Parties meetings in 2017 and 2015 respectively.

Year 3 NUS Environmental Engineering student Chong Zhiwei said that the workshop has significantly impacted him, in that he has gained a more nuanced and realistic view of the way climate change negotiations function and produce results.

“I was quite intrigued by how proactive Singapore is within the realm of climate change negotiations. Be it regularly attending the negotiations on various levels, or assisting the Secretariat in either co-chairing or co-facilitating roles, Singapore has shown a substantial level of commitment towards combating climate change,” observed Zhiwei. 

Another participant, Year 2 RVRC and NUS Science student Tay Yong Sheng said, “The sessions made me think more about how international diplomacy is conducted within the framework of the United Nations, be it in climate change negotiations or otherwise.” 

At the concluding session, participants took turns to deliver “elevator pitch” presentations on what they have learnt, what they are doing currently and what they intend to do beyond the workshops. In particular, RVRC students showcased the College’s efforts in sustainability — such as the 10-hour water rationing experiential learning exercise and projects from the “Understanding and Critiquing Sustainability” module. Participants also shared ideas on forming a “Universities Alliance of Climate Action” and plans for a symposium on climate change and sustainability. Others took the opportunity to discuss upcoming green events for potential collaboration and support. 

“Over the course of the programme, I’ve gathered that civic engagement is critical in bringing about a cultural shift that would place more pressure on policymakers to prioritise the environment,” concluded Yong Sheng. 

With plans for similar workshops in future given the positive feedback, the ultimate goal is to build capacity for youth representation at global climate change negotiations, and to galvanise young people to take on the role of climate change ambassadors in Singapore.

By Ms Melissa Low, Research Fellow at ESI; and Ms Sadaf Ansari, Associate Director of Studies at RVRC