Photo Essay: Dispatches from the Youth Climate Summit

Photo Essay by Michael Benanav. 

On September 21, 2019, hundreds of young climate activists from around the world came together in New York City for the United Nations Youth Climate Summit. Some spoke in halls filled with an array of international representatives. Others talked about the projects they’re championing. Many attended climate action workshops.

The summit took place one day after the Global Youth Climate Strike, which added to a shared sense that maybe, just maybe, momentum was on their side, that their fight for the environment could yet be won. Swedish activist Greta Thunberg was there—she would speak before the UN General Assembly two days later—as were many others who are committing their lives to climate causes.

Here, we present photos of a handful of them, along with brief thoughts on the bold and necessary work they are doing.

Bahloul: “Young people have the tools to communicate effectively, we just need to have the courage to spread our ideas. No matter how old you are, or your gender, or where you’re from, you can spread your message.” Hoang: “You need to believe in yourself and try something regardless of the results. Raise your voice and keep trying, even if no one listens the first time.”

— Faouzua Bahloul (26 years old), from Tunisia (VIDEO) and Phuong Vu Hoang
(24 years old), from Vietnam, both winners of the 2016 Global Youth Video Competition

“Indigenous youth should be encouraged to raise their voices…and mainstream societies should engage with them and hear what they have to say.
They protect the forest, the planet, the future…they need to have a presence in an international space.”

— Kaime Silvestre (22 years old), from Brazil. Member of the UN Major Group for Children and Youth.

“In our culture, land is traditionally passed down through our mothers, generation after generation, so our land is our identity. If climate change threatens our land, it threatens our identity…we use arts so people can understand how we experience climate change. Instead of just giving facts and figures, our poetry makes people get in touch with how they can imagine what we imagine – it’s more intimate and hits on an emotional level, and there has to be something emotional for people to latch on to if they are going to care. Poetry hooks them.”

— Anfernee “Nenol” Kaminaga (24 years old), from the Marshall Islands. Works with the International Office of Migration.

“We need to help create an atmosphere where governments will listen to us. We have to work with them and try to avoid an adversarial relationship. It’s crucial to get youth and government involved together in the process…And we should be talking more about solutions than just pointing out problems—governments will listen better then.”

— Samira Ibrahim, from Nigeria. Director of the Centre for Policy Research and Development Solutions.


“I’m working to create a platform for sustainable ideas that can help businesses, institutions and individuals, including youth, to reduce our impact on the planet, to benefit current and future generations. We need to look at challenges as opportunities!”

— Zahra Abu Taha (29 years old), from Jordan. Founder of iGreeners.

“A group of different youth organizations with different agendas got together, and we were able to unite over what we wanted to see done on climate change. In a matter of weeks we presented a list of demands to the German government that was more powerful than if it had come from just one of us….Working together and putting aside small differences for bigger goals.”

— Pia Jorks, from Germany. Member of Klimadelegation.

“We’re starting State of Youth so young people everywhere can vote on issues that affect us all – it’s kind of like a virtual country, made up of youth. The results of our ‘preferendum’ will be presented to world leaders, so they can know what millions of us want…I think it will also help young people see that they are important and won’t be judged by their age.”

— Kehkashan Basu (19 years old), from Canada & UAE. Winner of the 2016 International Children’s Peace Prize.

“I’ve seen places on our islands disappearing. We can’t imagine having to leave our homes, our ancestry, our identity.
We are not causing climate change, but we will fight it to save our islands.”

— Laloniu Suiane (23 yrs old), from Tuvalu. Activist.

Some of the members of U.S. Youth Climate Strike from around the country who were invited to attend the Youth Climate Summit.


About the Photographer: Michael Benanav is a writer and photographer. His most recent book is Himalaya Bound: One Family’s Quest to Save Their Animals and an Ancient Way of Life

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