YMCA at COP26, November 2021

YMCA at COP 26, 1-12 November 2021

The UK hosted the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland from 31 October to 12 November 2021, and the YMCA was there in force.

A team of 18 YMCA Ambassadors – inspiring young leaders from around the world – brought their stories of climate action and leadership to COP26. They observed negotiations, told their stories, advocated for greater investment in youth-led solutions, met with policymakers and Government Ministers, and made media waves.  YMCA was invited to launch its documentary-short film showcasing six stories of climate action; and it chose that film premiere as the occasion to announce additional funding for its Youth-Led Solutions Initiative.  Scroll down for all this and more.

Why we went to COP26?

We wanted:

To promote the diversification and mobilisation of the climate action movement, in order to elevate the voices of young people and the marginalised.

To develop and deepen partnerships and collaborations that invest in youth-led climate solutions.

To strengthen climate action cooperation between the private sector, social business and NGOs.

Channelling young people’s commitment to climate justice and sustainability is a key pillar of YMCA activity, and ‘A Sustainable Planet’ is one of the four pillars of its Vision 2030.

YMCA has had consultative status with the United Nations since 1947. It has previously attended six COP events, including the landmark COP 21 in Paris where it ran ‘Camp Climate’ for young people attending the Summit to convene and share. Each time, it offers delegations of young people an opportunity to learn and engage.

Of YMCA’s 120 member countries, 70 are currently running more than 2,400 community programmes on environment-related issues, involving and impacting over 230,000 people.  In the 12 months to October 2020, it estimates that its Youth-Led Solutions climate initiatives had impacted more than 36,000 people worldwide.

YMCA and the Environment

Looking back at COP26

Inside The Green Zone: Film Premiere, hosted by YMCA Scotland

Friday 12 November 2021

YMCA premiered its short film, commissioned exclusively for COP26, documenting the story of how young leaders on each continent are innovating local solutions to the climate crisis.

Watch the film now … and hear from young people installing vermicomposting and tackling electronic waste in Hawaii; see their work in Peru where addressing poor sanitisation and inorganic waste has led to addressing income inequity; witness a cross-cultural collaboration between young people in Albay, Philippines and Michigan, USA to train a new generation of eco-leaders; learn about community-led reforestation in the Western Balkan forests of Kosovo; watch as young people create micro-green spaces across Ramallah, Palestine; and discover how curriculum-based climate art projects are utilising up-cycled waste in schools in Zambia.

Hear too from Scottish Minister for Children and Young People Clare Haughey, and World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Sanvee announcing more funding for YMCA Youth Led Solutions on Climate Action.  Then follow a lively debate, with YMCA Scotland CEO Kerry Reilly in conversation with our YMCA climate ambassadors Rodrigo (Peru), Rebecca (Zambia), Diana (USA), Ylli (Kosovo).

YMCA at The Extreme Hangout

Alongside Extreme International, YMCA partnered with One Young World in its programme of events which took place at The Ferry, situated on the River Clyde and at the heart of COP26 (between the Green and the Blue Zones). The Extreme Hangout was an exciting youth-focused hub: a platform for active participation, and a space for inspiration, engagement, education, and entertainment. YMCA Ambassadors led a number of the conversations:

‘Moral Courage: Climate Justice and Human Rights’
Kumi Naidoo (Africans Rising for Justice), Mair Kelly (YMCA Ambassador, Ireland), Ylli Alija (YMCA Ambassador, Kosovo), Diana Lopera (YMCA Ambassador, Hawaii, USA)

‘The Power of Investing Youth-Led Solutions’
Rebecca Nkunde (YMCA Ambassador, Zambia), Rodrigo Puntriano Mendoza (YMCA Ambassador, Peru), Shakil Karim (YMCA Ambassador, San Francisco, USA)

YMCA COP26 documentary film preview with Rhys Lewis performance

After the screening of YMCA’s “Creating Youth-Led Solutions” documentary-style film, singer-songwriter Rhys Lewis joined in the conversation alongside YMCA Ambassadors from across the world who had featured in the documentary. He then gave a special COP26 live performance.

Moral Courage: Climate Justice and Human Rights

The Power of Investing Youth-Led Solutions

Other side events

A COP26 Special event 

Saturday 6 November 2021

On the middle weekend of COP26, UMA Entertainment hosted a day of live music, DJ sets and talks focusing on the intersection of culture and climate, exploring how music and entertainment can play a role in the fight against climate change. The event formed part of the ‘Beyond the Green Fringe Festival‘ at the same venue for the weekend.

YMCA Ambassador Rodrigo Puntriano Mendoza, from Peru, joined the panel conversation “Climate Action Now… What Are You(th) Doing?” alongside Clover Hogan (Force of Nature), Deon Shekuza (Youth Advocate) and Sophia Mother (Citizens’ Climate Lobby).

Hosted at the New York Times Climate Hub on Sunday 6 November, YMCA Ambassador Rachel Nixseaman, Scotland, joined a panel of youth voices from across the country to understand what role young people are playing in the climate conversation. So, what is the young Scottish generation doing that leaders at COP26 might be overlooking? What can their local approaches bring to the global policy tables?

‘Vital Signs of the Planet’, a climate concert

Tuesday 2 November

Young global leaders and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland were united for an epic climate concert, live in Glasgow at the Royal Concert Hall. The power of music, combined with dramatic new footage from NASA and National Geographic, brought to life the impact on Planet Earth of climate change over the last 20 years. Against a backdrop of volcanoes fuming, hurricanes flooding and wildfires sweeping across the landscape, young musicians, leaders and champions of the environmental movement told their stories of climate change.

As part of the concert, YMCA Ambassador Cedric Dzelu, from Ghana, delivered a message on behalf of young people from across Africa and young leaders everywhere.

Watch the address of Cedric Dzelu

Live from COP26 – YMCA briefing webinar

Wednesday 10 November 2021

Featured YMCA stories at COP26

Team Trees – Kosovo

In Kosovo, the Global Forest Watch reports that tree cover has declined annually 4.3% since 2000, due to illegal wood cutting, tree diseases and the poor quality of the Western Balkan forests (American University of Kosovo report). #TeamTrees is a project that is focused on tackling deforestation and raising awareness about the climate crisis, with more than 100 young people learning about deforestation. As part of the initiative, Kosovo’s first glass tree nursery was built, with a target of planting more than 5,000 trees over the next 10 years.

Y Climate Arts – Ndola, Zambia

Y Climate Arts utilises the arts curriculum in secondary schools to educate students, parents and communities about the impact of the climate crisis and what they can do about it. The initiative teaches learners about the dangers of paper and plastic waste by creating art pieces, ornaments and models from recycled waste, demonstrating how to reuse, recycle and repurpose waste in creative ways, to earn a living and contribute to educating the community. Using artists, community members and teachers, the project aims to reach 2,000 people in its first year, with plans to evolve into a business that will employ young people over the next year while educating Zambian communities about the actions they can take.

Reducing community carbon footprint – Hawaii

Having attended the YMCA 175 global changemakers event in London in 2019, and the inaugural YMCA Youth-Led Solutions Summit on Climate Action, this group of young leaders were inspired that they could instigate change in their community. As an island community that ships the majority of its landfill to other parts of the world, young leaders working with YMCA Honolulu decided to tackle the problems of food and electronic waste. The team has been holding electronic waste collection drives and installed vermicasting bins, initially rolling out the installations at YMCA Honolulu’s branches – with plans for wider community implementation long-term. School children and community members are being trained on how to replicate this at home.

C.A.R.E for Climate – Michigan and Albay (USA)

‘Cultivating Action through Responsible Education’ or C.A.R.E. for Climate for short is a cross-cultural collaboration between young people on two continents that saw young leaders recruited from two countries (USA and Philippines) age 13 to 23 years old to train to become Eco- Leaders through a specially designed seven-week extracurricular programme. Once completed, newly trained ‘ecoleaders’ then created their own climate action solutions and initiatives to target changes in human behaviour for sustainable water and improved air quality, aiming to reach at least 30, further people. Eco-leaders had the opportunity to apply micro-funding to implement their projects. 469 people have been reached so far, with a second cohort starting in Spring 2022.

‘Sumaq Muru’ – Peru

Producing affordable and non-polluting energy to help communities struggling with poor drainage systems, poor hygienic services, and pollution was Sumaq Muru’s priority while teaching its communities how to implement changes themselves through innovative technology. Part of its solution is the ‘Eco Base’ design, a private and dignified community sanitary space, made from recovered plastic materials turned into bricks (eco-bricks). The second part of the initiative involves training local families in poverty how to collect plastic and produce the eco-bricks themselves, to ensure the work’s sustainability. The work began in March 2021, with more than 1 metric tonne of plastic waste acquired, and turned into 1,000 bricks so far.

BrinGreen – Palestine

Space is becoming increasingly limited in Palestine, with a growing population, and the perils of living under occupation – green areas are disappearing rapidly. Committed to raising awareness among the community on the importance of green areas and organic planting, BrinGreen is creating home kits with pots, compost and seeds for the community to grow their own healthy and organic plants, accompanied by information booklets. This has provided locals with no green space living in urban areas, small, manageable, green havens, creating living gardens. 500 kits have been distributed so far.

Meet the YMCA Delegation at COP26

Silke Bölts

26, Germany

Atallah Danoon

19, Palestine

Rachel Nixseaman

31, Scotland

Mair Kelly

22, Ireland

Alicia O' Sullivan

20, Ireland
Cedric Dzelu

Cedric Dzelu

34, Ghana

Shakil Karim

30, USA

Rebecca Nkunde

31, Zambia

Rodrigo Puntriano Mendoza

25, Peru

Diana Lopera

23, Hawaii

Ylli Alija

25, Kosovo

Tudor Rus

32, Romania

Maria Timmann Mjaaland

20, Norway

Amy-Beth McCarthy

24, UK

Dwight Tomlinson

25, Jamaica

Mary-Jane McNally

21, UK

Sofía Canessa García

18, Uruguay

Magda Gana

28, Philippines

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Silke Bölts

Age: 26
Location: Germany

Silke studied Environmental Sciences in Lüneburg and Global Change Management in Eberswalde. She has interned in the office of a member of the German Parliament in Berlin, in the German Federal Environment Ministry in Bonn, at the European Commission in Brussels and at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) in Geneva. In the context of her YOUNGO activities, she founded the Food@COP-campaign, an initiative for climate-friendly food at climate conferences. Being a member of the World YMCA’s Resource Group on the Environment since 2015, Silke has served as the co-lead in the working group for Environmental Initiatives, for Climate Education and is currently Head of YMCA’s Delegation for COP26. In this context, she is facilitating an intensive preparation course where participants develop the necessary skills for the climate conference. She has previously attended COP22, COP23 and COP25.

Atallah Danoon

Age: 19
Location: Bethlehem, Palestine

Atallah is a student at Birzeit University studying mechanical engineering. He is an engaged attendee
of international and local Model United Nations conferences and has a passion for environmental issues. Atallah acted as Secretary General of the YMCA MUN this year overseeing a project that he started for his local MUN. He has been working with YMCA since 2016 when they reached out to him as President of his Student Council to help encourage people to join the local YMCA youth club. After engaging young people to take part, the youth club was integral to positive change locally, from planting trees and helping vulnerable people in the area, to cleaning up key outdoor areas in Palestine. His motivation to attend COP26 stems from his passion to help an environment in crisis, and his determination to provoke debate and inspire real change.

Rachel Nixseaman

Age: 31
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland

Rachel is a passionate youth and community worker with particular interests in youth participation,
climate action and democratic processes. Rachel has been involved with the third sector for more than 16
years through a range of volunteering and employed roles, and has led youth engagement programmes on local, national and international platforms. Rachel is currently the Project Operations Manager with YMCA Bellshill & Mossend, overseeing the delivery of their youth engagement programmes as well as supporting national work led by YMCA Scotland. Rachel is keen to support communities to engage with their citizens to co-produce innovative initiatives to tackle the climate crisis. Rachel joined the 2050 Climate Group Leaders Development Programme in 2019 to enhance her knowledge and understanding, and has used this knowledge to support local climate initiatives including delivering awareness raising
workshops for young people and communities. As a facilitator, Rachel supported the delivery of Scotland’s Climate Assembly, and has delivered learning events for local climate action networks (ACT Now North Lanarkshire) bringing together local businesses, charities and residents to work towards positive climate action together. Rachel is also involved in local initiatives working towards a Green Recovery.

Mair Kelly

Age: 22
Location: Cork, Ireland

Mair is from The Mizen Head in West Cork, Ireland, a very rural area with a strong reliance on
farming and fishing communities, which is where her interest in climate justice, ecology and a just transition stems from. This instilled a strong sense of community in her and is a key motivation in everything she does. She is currently in her final year of studying International Development and Food Policy in University College Cork (UCC). At UCC, Mair works on their University of Sanctuary Initiative, ensuring support for refugees and asylum seekers, and is also the Vice-President and Public Relations and Media Officer for the Societies Department. She recently interned online for five-and-a-half months with the Human Rights Centre Uganda, working on promoting human rights and supporting Human Rights Defenders in their work.

She is now working with YMCA Ireland on their Future Generations Climate Justice Project
and Special Olympics Ireland as an assistant table tennis coach. She’s passionate about
ensuring every member of every community – whether West Cork or across the world – has
the resources to be happy, healthy and thriving.

Alicia O’ Sullivan

Age: 20
Location: Cork, Ireland

Alicia O’ Sullivan is a Youth Activist from Skibbereen in Cork, Ireland. She is a Second Year Law Student, a Quercus Scholar for Active Citizenship at University College Cork, and the Environmental Officer at the Students’ Union. Some of her many accomplishments include being Ireland’s Youth Representative at the First UN Youth Climate Summit, working alongside US Climate Envoy John Kerry as a Co-Founder of ‘World War Zero’, and successfully advocating for a Climate Youth Council for Ireland. Alicia is a recipient of many awards including the ESB Techspacer of the Year Award in 2018, the Irish Business Women’s Award for Outstanding Contribution, and the Lord Mayor of Corks Youth Award. She was also Ireland’s Lions Club Youth Ambassador in 2019 when she founded her own Youth Mental Health Event ‘GenZ’. Alicia works on many projects and committees including with A Lust for Life, UNIC and Corks ETB Young People’s Committee.

Cedric Dzelu

Age: 34
Location: Ghana

Cedric Dzelu is a graduated Change Agent of the World YMCA with over 11 years of experience in
youth empowerment, project implementation and management, public speaking, community service,
advocacy and volunteerism. He is currently the youth focal point officer for the African Youth Commission working to implement a €2.4 million five-year grant on climate change advocacy projects
from the Netherlands government. He also serves as the Executive Director of a not for profit organization that is leveraging the power of sports to empower young people. He holds a Master’s degree in Development Finance and a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing.

Shakil Karim

Age: 30
Location: San Francisco, USA (studying in London)

Shakil is an international consultant with experience in community relations, youth advocacy and organisational change management. Originally from California, Shakil received his diploma in International Relations from The University of San Francisco and culminated his career to advocate and
promote critical thinking towards solving vicious poverty systems in relation to Climate Change. Recently, Shakil has worked alongside the YMCA of San Francisco and Y-USA to promote youth-led solutions around the world, and actively consults with NGO’s on their sustainability model for climate mitigation. Shakil currently lives in London pursuing a research degree in Social Demography and is a part of an independent think group known as the Northern Operative Resource. Shakil sees COP26 as a pivotal opportunity to listen, to learn, and to understand how we can take accountability and step up as leaders in a world of reform in order to tackle this planet-wide threat.

Rebecca Nkunde

Age: 31
Location: Zambia

Rebecca is a qualified teacher of art and physical education, with three years’ experience in
teaching young people from Year 8 through to Year 12. She developed an interest in creating artefacts
from recycled material while in secondary school, and from 2009 to 2011 she was involved with a project
called Stop the Spread, which focused on teaching less privileged women how to repurpose plastic
waste into bags and baskets for sale, as well planting moriga for environmental purposes and nutritional
supplements. Rebecca is passionate about climate action, and attending COP26 will not only allow her to share ideas around recycling and repurposing with her fellow delegates and the wider world, it is an opportunity for her to share learnings with her local community and country. Rebecca is constantly striving to be the best advocate and ambassador for climate change in her own country, and is eager to utilise learnings from COP26 in order to do just that.

Rodrigo Puntriano Mendoza

Age: 25
Location: Peru

Rodrigo is a young leader from Peru. He studied Communication for Development in the Pontifical
Catholic University of Peru, and has worked as a Communications Intern for the British Embassy,
serving the UK’s priorities related to environmental sustainability. With this role further emphasising his life-long passion for tackling climate change, he then joined the professional staff of a sustainability consultant company in Peru, promoting social, environmental and governance criteria and responsible practices in the private sector of his country and other countries of Latin-American. Rodrigo volunteers with YMCA Peru and joined the grant-winning solution team of Sumaq Muru, which is implementing a project to tackle environmental pollution while providing better life conditions for its participants. He has also been a part of other solutions teams, participating in the design of projects aligned with the SDGs, such as the grant-winning Get It: Youth and Employability to address the impact of the pandemic over the youth, and the Move Up project promoting social entrepreneurship led by young people.

Diana Lopera

Age: 23
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii

Diana is currently working as part of the inaugural Climate Ready Hawaiʻi AmeriCorps VISTA cohort, helping Hawaiʻi adapt to various climate change impacts. As Climate Change Communications Specialist, she works with the Hawaiʻi Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission staff based at the Department of Land and Natural Resources. She manages the Climate Commission’s website operations and social media presence, and assists in the creation of a communications framework to address climate change equity issues, with a special focus on anti-poverty objectives. Graduating magna cum laude from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa with a B.S. in Global Environmental Science, Diana also received the SOEST Undergraduate Award for Service and Leadership. She is originally from Saipan and is a first-generation college graduate, and began working with YMCA of Honolulu during her time in university, participating in and leading various student-led programs and initiatives. Diana is a strong advocate for the power of youth voices, and is keen for COP26 to offer the opportunity for world leaders to talk to rather than about young people, including them in the conversations that will dictate not only their present, but the future they will inherit.

Ylli Alija

Age: 25
Location: Kosovo

Ylli studied in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pristina and is a Regional Coordinator for YMCA in Kosovo. He participated in the inaugural Youth-Led Solutions Summit on Climate Action. He also undertook a year of European Voluntary Service in Torino, and is the project lead for the #TEAMTREES initiative, funded as part of the first Youth-Led Solutions Summit.

Tudor Rus

Age: 32
Location: Romania

Tudor has volunteered for various different organizations for more than 12 years now, and for the last
five years acted as a Youth Worker for YMCA, before more recently stepping in as a project manager for European solidarity corps. He is currently studying for a masters in resources and risks in the hydro atmospheric environment in Cluj Napoca, and is very passionate about climate change and the effects being reflected within weather patterns and trends. When it comes to championing environmental issues and activism, Tudor always raises his voice for injustices happening around him, whether in aid of young people, climate change or animal welfare. Coming from more of a scientific level of dealing with different climate data, he is eager to expand his knowledge into the environmental policies being discussed at COP26 and harness this into his existing passion for change.

Maria Timmann Mjaaland

Age: 20
Location: Oslo, Norway

Maria has been associated with YMCA for more than 15 years and national board member of ‘YGlobal Norway’ and leads on its climate justice goal as a volunteer. She has been one of the coordinators of Oslo’s Fridays for Future movement, and will be representing YMCA Norway in meetings with the Norwegian delegation on COP. She is studying Political Science at the University of Oslo, and was part of World YMCA’s Change Agent program. She will be following the negotiations on article 6.

Amy-Beth McCarthy

Age: 24
Location: Wales, UK

Amy-Beth has been working at YMCA Swansea for the last three years where she works on the Young Carers Service to support young carers aged 8-18 in Swansea. Leading on the School’s Awareness Programme, Amy-Beth works with the school’s staff to ensure young carers are identified, recognised and supported appropriately. She takes great pride in her involvement in the development and launch of the Welsh Government National Young Carers ID Card in partnership with her local authority and in implementing its use in schools and healthcare practices across Swansea. Amy-Beth has been a passionate advocate for addressing climate change within her local community and has recently joined her local action group for the rural development partnership; to implement decision making and to take a proactive approach to the allocation of funding to priorities agreed in the Rural Strategy based on the needs of the rural wards. In 2019, she hosted the UN Youth Climate Summit Global Watch and Do Party for Swansea as part of World YMCA’s partnership. She represented Wales as one of six young leaders in the first-ever YMCA Youth-Led Solutions Climate Action Summit.

Dwight Tomlinson

Age: 25
Location: Jamaica

Dwight is a creative and collaborative leader with more than eight years experience in leadership with Y’s Men International, serving the worldwide YMCA and its communities, he is currently its International Youth Representative 2020-2022. Dwight has mentored young people from 76 countries to tackle climate change and environmental preservation initiatives within their local communities. He is an expert in leadership development and brand awareness, focussing on global issues through the lens of the youth market. He has led climate change initiatives within the Caribbean Region as a Regional Service Director of Community Service within Y’s Men and local YMCAs. He most recently led countries across the Caribbean in providing Covid-19 relief to those in need.

Mary-Jane McNally

Age: 21
Location: Scotland, UK

Mary-Jane is a Digital Community Learning and Development Youth Worker for Paisley YMCA, Who is from Glasgow. She has a passion for using technology to improve lives and a background in STEAM and won the Venturefest Award for Innovative STEM solutions in 2017 to help the environment. She volunteers with organisations including DIFFERabled Scotland, Glasgow Life, Glasgow Disability Alliance and CoderDojo, and received the Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award.

Sofía Canessa García

Age: 18
Location: Uruguay

Sofía is the founder and leader of Fridays For Future Salto, and an organizer of Fridays For Future Uruguay, where she arranges activities such as planting, workshops and meetings with the government. She was part of the six young leaders who were selected to write a document on environmental topics to present to the national authorities. There, she was reunited with the President of the National Administration of Public Education and others. She is a Youth Ambassador at the US embassy. She is the founder and leader of an environmental project whose goals are to teach the children to be more eco-friendly, recycle with them, and also build with recycled bottles. Recently, she was the delegate for Uruguay in the Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition (PreCop26).

Magda Gana

Age: 28
Location: Philippines

Magda is the Program Secretary of the YMCA of Makati, Philippines. She finished a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing in Filipino from the University of the Philippines. As a YMCA scholar and part time staff back in college, she led the ‘Tree Musketeers, Soldiers of the Tree Program’ which engages young people to participate in preserving the forest of the Marines Camp in Cavite, Philippines. Her advocacy has included being the former head of the ecology ministry in Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish in Makati and conducting Ecology Camps for youth in various parishes. She was part of the design committee for World YMCA’s Youth-Led Solutions Initiative and leads a plastic repurposing project that aims to promote the 5Rs in reducing plastic pollution and repurpose plastic waste into functional materials for social enterprise.