As Yupu Zhao '10 took his place at the podium at the International Youth Summit on Energy and Climate Change (IYSECC) in Beijing, he could not help but think of the person who stood in the same place three days earlier.
"Steven Chu, the energy secretary of the U.S., had given a speech at the same spot on forging cooperation between China and the U.S. on climate issues," says Zhao. "That made it more special."
Having spread the message of sustainable energy and climate change around the globe, Zhao and several other Franklin & Marshall students might find themselves in similar positions of political influence in the future. Joining Zhao at the Beijing summit in July were Yuan Cao ’12, Wanlin Deng ’12 and Xiangyu Zhao ’12, each dedicated to transforming the way people think about long-term energy solutions.
“It was amazing to see how many young people are aware of the importance and urgency of addressing climate change and energy issues,” says Cao. “Now is the time to realize that climate change is not only a crisis, but an opportunity to fundamentally change our way of living.”
The event—the first international youth conference on energy and climate change independently organized by students in China—attracted about 200 students and young professionals from Asia, Europe and North America. The F&M students helped organize the event through the China Youth Climate Action Network (CYCAN), one of the largest and most active youth organizations in China focusing on climate change.
“Our message is that youth care about the issue,” says Yupu Zhao, deputy secretary general of IYSECC and international coordinator of CYCAN. “We hope the people in power will think about what will happen in the long run. After all, in 20 or 30 years, we will be the generation that really feels the consequences if society fails to act today.
“What we’re trying to do is provide a platform for youth to interact with each other, and also with major stakeholders like governments, academia, businesses and nongovernmental organizations,” he says.
Each student carried out responsibilities at the summit. Xiangyu Zhao served as sponsor relations director, Cao was the stage director and Deng assisted with the cultural night. Like Yupu Zhao, the three also have international roles with CYCAN.
“The summit was more personal for me,” Deng says. “I made friends, got to know my future comrades and learned from people leading on the frontier of the youth movement for climate change.”
The students hope the summit will help spur politicians to action at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen in December. There, world leaders are expected to finalize an agreement on a framework for combating climate change post-2012, when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ends.
“China and the U.S. need to step up in the ongoing negotiations,” says Yupu Zhao, who was recently awarded a research grant from the Earth and Environment Department to research climate activism in Europe and China. “Together, they generate over 40 percent of global carbon dioxide emission every year. No major agreement will be made in December without their taking leadership positions.”
Yupu Zhao hopes the students’ message resonates across international borders. In particular, the co-president of the College’s Environmental Action Alliance wants to speak to youth.
“Climate change is a crisis, but also an opportunity for this generation of youth,” he says. “Society needs more talented individuals to transform the economy into a more sustainable and vibrant one. So it’s an opportunity, and an incentive to change.”