Growing up in the Yukon
When I was five years old, my family moved from Switzerland to the Yukon Territory, east of Alaska, but in Canada. My parents bought a remote wilderness lodge on Frances Lake, and that is where I spent the next eight summers of my life.
The Yukon is an incredible place to grow up. I hiked, biked, snowshoed, canoed, and camped my way through my childhood. Spending so much of my life outdoors, I developed a deep appreciation for the environment, but also experienced nature’s fury. Forest fires had been an inevitable part of Yukon summers, but in 2004, wildfires swept across the Yukon and a record three hundred fires burned two of the 27 million hectares of forest in the Territory. One of those fires came within thirty meters of our wilderness lodge!
This was my first introduction to the impact of climate change, but the Yukon is affected in many ways. Increased lightning storms, flooding and droughts have led to an increase in forest fires. Thawing permafrost is making the shifting ground a challenge to building and road construction. Melting glaciers are changing hydrological systems and impact freshwater systems. Ecosystems are shifting as different temperatures and moisture levels alter where species can survive. Changes in the range of plants and animals have direct impact on Yukoners.
Appointed Youth Climate Change Ambassador
At the time I was completing a double major in Geography and Environmental with Honours, and so this concerned me greatly, but I didn’t understand what actions could be taken. I applied for the position of Yukon Youth Climate Change Ambassador with the Government of Yukon. As the Ambassador, I learned more about climate change, its impacts, and climate action on the government side. The best part is that I get to share my experience and what I’ve learned through presentations, blogs, and videos.
Climate change is a global phenomenon, and as such requires global collaboration to come up with mitigation strategies and to address impacts. It is widely accepted that the current change in climate is driven by human activity, mainly the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG). The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established in response to public concern and scientific evidence of human interference in the climate system. Its objective is to stabilize GHG emissions at a level that will prevent dangerous interference with the climate. To do so, the UNFCCC hosts a yearly Conference of the Parties (COP) as a way for countries to assess progress, and to establish legally binding obligations for GHG reductions. Last year’s COP22 was held in Marrakesh, Morocco in November 2016, and I was fortunate to accompany the Yukon and Canadian delegations to the conference!
Attending COP22 in Marrakesh
Marrakesh is a sprawling, earth-coloured city where pedestrians definitely don’t have the right of way and where it’s perfectly normal for a family of four to crowd onto a tiny scooter. The fortified old city center was packed with vendors and stalls. Going from this intense expression of Moroccan culture to the site of COP22 was another experience. The massive conference site included hundreds of silver poles flying the flags of each member country, and security lines that rivaled any airport. Attending were 25,000 delegates, national government representatives, media, non-profit representatives, business people, students and researchers.
At the heart of the COP conference are the negotiations, where representatives from each country work out the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of climate action treaties being considered.
Outside of the negotiations was an organized maze of white tents and booths hosting thousands of information stalls, displays, presentations, and events, ranging in topic from carbon markets and private sector roles to climate resilience and adaptation in indigenous communities. The conference was a central node of all information climate related.
What really amazed me about COP was the level of dedication and cooperation involved. It was astounding to see the negotiators from almost two hundred countries work very hard to come to an agreement. Cooperation is also about ensuring that everyone’s needs are met. One of the roles of the representatives from each Canadian province and territory was to advise the Canadian negotiating team on which policies being considered would work well on the ground, and which ones might not be possible.
I left Morocco re-inspired and full of hope. I was blown away by the political, social, and economic aspects of climate change that I hadn’t really thought about before. This is an incredibly complex issue that involves every person and every country on our planet. Seeing the remarkable wealth of knowledge, willingness to collaborate, and genuine passion for climate action was so encouraging. As I continue to make changes in my life to reduce my environmental footprint, I am excited to see how international collaboration continues to evolve. Having recently finished my university degree, I can’t say for sure what the next years hold for me, but I have a feeling that the fields of climate change research and communication will continue to draw me in. To learn more about my experience as Youth Climate Change Ambassador or in Morocco, please visit my blog: http://ayukoneratcop22.blogspot.ca.