From the ground up – By ROZANA SANI

GETTING HEARD: Two students share what they learnt at climate change conference

HOW we take care of the environment determines the state of our lives on this planet in the future.

For the young, it is especially important to take note of this and participate in ensuring a sustainable future for all, enthused Jasmin Irisha Jim Ilham, 22, and Dulanga Witharanage, 23.

Fresh from being part of the Malaysian Youth Delegation 2016 (MYD 2016) at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakech, Morocco last month, the recent Environmental Science graduate and the final-year BSc (Hons) degree in Environmental Science student from the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC), respectively, have ambitions to help amplify the voice of youth movements in climate change through education and mobilisation in the country.

“People know little about climate change and that it is a huge problem. Climate change is a large-scale, long-term shift in the planet’s weather patterns or average temperatures due to greenhouse gas emissions among others and impacts all aspects of life. So, there is a need to create a greater awareness among youths and rev up capacity building in this area,” said Dulanga.

“It is important that youths’ voices are heard on issues in this area. If you have interest in passion about community, society and climate change, there are a lot of platforms to work from and a lot of opportunities to be involved in activities that address climate change,” said Jasmin.

COP22 provided an important platform for nations to build on the landmark Paris Agreement (CMA 1) agreement secured at the COP21 in Paris last December. The Conference successfully demonstrated to the world that the implementation of the Paris Agreement is underway and the constructive spirit of multilateral cooperation on climate change continues.

As representatives of MYD, Jasmin and Dulanga observed the negotiation process at the conference whilst shadowing the Malaysian negotiators alongside three other youth delegates from Malaysia. They also took part at the Conference of Youth 12 (COY12) from Nov 4 to 6 where they joined youths from across the globe to address climate change and promote sustainable lifestyles. The main focus of this year’s COY is on the “Role of Education and Empowering Youth to take action on Climate Change and to bring about Positive Change in Society”.

Jasmin, who hails from Ampang in Selangor, and Dulanga, who is from Colombo, Sri Lanka, started their journey to COP22 six months earlier when they took part in a rigorous application process that required shortlisted MYD applicants to go through an interview session, where they were questioned deep into their understanding and knowledge of climate change, the Paris Agreement and UNFCCC. Applicants were shortlisted taking into consideration their academic merits and achievements, as well as their contributions towards community and environmental initiatives.

With a background of being actively involved in various environmental-related initiatives, her most recent being UNMC Bicycle Project, of which she also founded the UNMC Cycling Club, and alumna of the East-West Center, Hawaii where she earned her Certificate in Institute on Environment under the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) programme, Jasmin made the cut.

As did Dulanga who interned with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Wetlands International while following her degree in Malaysia. Dulanga viewed being a part of MYD 2016 as an opportunity to voice her ideas for Malaysia.

Upon being selected, Jasmin and Dulanga underwent five training series, two international knowledge transfer events, a Youth Statement, numerous engagements with organisations, stakeholders and the government to be prepared for the conference.

“At COP22, when going about our tasks we took seriously that we represented youth in Malaysia. We took the information that we gathered and shared it online with peers and people in Malaysia,” said Dulanga.

“We also got involved in the Malaysia Pavilion — a physical platform for Malaysia to showcase the country’s initiatives related to environment and climate change — and as a place to host presentations, dialogues and meetings with national delegates or guests,” Jasmin shared.

Now that they are back in Malaysia, the work does not stop for Dulanga and Jasmin. Together with the MYD group, they will be working on organising a Post-COP22 Forum next month.

“We need to work together more as Malaysians. To address things globally, we have to act locally. We need a collaborative effort involving the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, NGOs, youth, businesses to handle climate change issues. Stress on sustainable capacity building and with follow-through, we have more potential to harness in our country,” said Jasmin.

“At COP22, I saw how developed countries invest in youths and capacity building. Our governments and people need to be more interested in climate change. There’s a lot that we have to do,” said Dulanga.