By Claire Nouet

In December 2015 the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) was held in Paris. It was among the largest gatherings of Heads of State and ministers in the history of environmental negotiations. It was also a way for civil society, NGOs, and thus members of UNICEF, to demand action and to expose people to the high stakes our generation and the future ones face. As a former UNICEF Young Ambassador, I had the opportunity to represent UNICEF France in the Youth delegation.

The UNICEF estimates that 66.5 million children are affected by natural disasters every year. In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines impacted 5.9 million children. In March 2015, 60,000 children were highly affected by Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu.

By involving youth in COP21, UNICEF France wanted to stress the fact that it is time for our generation to take action and express our ideas. As a result, UNICEF launched the initiative “Act Now For Tomorrow” which consists in digitally mapping the effects of climate change at a local scale. The project mainly focuses on nine countries: Guatemala, Ireland, Malaysia, Niger, Tanzania, Chad, Zambia, Zimbabwe and France. The Mappers, aged 14 to 25, were – and still are – able to clearly identify environmental issues with the help of the smartphones, and to demand action to local policy-makers. The project is more than just a dataset but rather a way to share photos, reactions, ideas, solutions and innovations related to climate change. One thing I learned at COP21 is that many young activists used this conference as a way to pressure their governments to take action, as some governments still barely consider the environment as a legitimate concern.

The UNICEF stand was located in the Climate Generations Areas. On the morning we were mainly sensitizing the public to the UNICEF’s work regarding environmental issues. The people targeted were young people, families, and the elderly, both from France and abroad.

Although I am not a mapper per se, I have been able to follow the project as a Young Ambassador since October 2014. I thus had the opportunity to meet on the afternoon of Saturday, December 5th with mappers from France, Zambia and Zimbabwe. We discussed the project “Act Now For Tomorrow” and put faces behind names and initiatives. Meeting with a mapper from Zimbabwe was probably the most enriching moment of the day. While she was only 15, she had designed a prototype in order to burn trash without polluting, which she won a science prize for. What I really liked is that it was a true moment of exchange. I got to learn more about her initiatives in Zimbabwe, as well as the position of the Mugabe’s government (in power since 1987 and now aged 91) on environmental matters. During our discussion, we evoked ideas as to how she could distribute her innovation in Zimbabwe. I also realised that we often take for granted things like recycling in developed countries, as when we talked about this topic, my Zimbabwean counterpart took notes, which really struck me.

Talking with a mapper from Zambia made me more aware of the key role local governance has to play in developing countries. Some measures that work well in North America, Europe or Japan will not necessarily be efficient in a country with different social and governmental structures such as the existence of tribes or absence of democracy. When I left, I was absolutely convinced that Heads of State had to look for solutions at both a local and an international scale.

I am confident in the outcome of the agreement, as it was more than just a conference. To me, COP21 raised awareness and was a springboard for innovations: some new projects are already being implemented by civil society.

To know more about the “Act Now For Tomorrow” project, feel free to visit the website (available in both English and French): www.cop21.unicef.fr

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