Five Key Takeaways from the 2023 Future Leaders Climate Summit

It was a great privilege to be chosen as a Future Leader and attend the Future Leaders Climate Summit, held in Miami Beach, Florida in March 2023. Through this experience, I spent a week learning about climate policy, innovation, communications and leadership with 250 brilliant and committed young climate leaders from all over the world. I also had the opportunity to network with some of the top thought leaders, policy makers, and climate experts who attended Aspen Ideas: Climate. The escalating effects of climate change have heightened the level of uncertainty surrounding our future. However, one undeniable truth has emerged from this crisis: the responsibility of safeguarding the Earth for present and future generations falls on our shoulders, especially the youth of today.

Throughout the event, the Future Leaders cohort engaged in conversations regarding the numerous climate challenges we currently face, as well as the complex solutions that can effectively tackle these issues, while simultaneously fostering economic growth, equity and justice for marginalized communities, healthier living environments, and flourishing ecosystems. There are currently 1.8 billion individuals in the world between the ages of 18-24, the largest demographic of youth in recorded history. This group has become increasingly cognizant of the challenges and risks posed by the climate crisis. They recognize the potential for achieving sustainable development through implementing solutions to climate change.

While this generation may face the negative effects of climate change the most, they are also crucial agents of change, entrepreneurs, and innovators who will contribute significantly to climate action. What I witnessed over the past week was this younger generation that has shown remarkable leadership and creativity in initiating climate action, from challenging the status quo, and engaging in social activism policy advocacy, to organizing global strikes and launching innovative projects. Through their educational pursuits, knowledge acquisition, scientific research, and technological advancements, young people will possess the power to drive significant change and create a more sustainable future.

Here are five key takeaways from the Future Leaders Climate Summit:

1. Energy justice is critical to empowering communities across the globe.

Energy justice is crucial in addressing climate change because access to affordable, reliable, and clean energy is essential for reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and promoting sustainable development. Destini Smith from Catalyst Miami led a workshop at the summit on environmental justice that stressed the importance of energy justice in ensuring all individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic status, have access to safe and affordable energy sources that do not harm the environment or an individual’s health. Current energy systems around the world are primarily sourced from dirty and harmful sources, often unaffordable. Moreover, energy poverty disproportionately affects marginalized communities, including indigenous peoples, women, and low-income households, who often lack access to basic energy services. Thus, priority needs to be placed on energy justice, which means creating policies and programs that support the development of clean energy infrastructure, while also ensuring that vulnerable communities are not left behind. This also means holding corporations and governments accountable for their role in creating and perpetuating energy injustices.

2. Transitioning away from carbon is vital.

Transitioning to a low carbon economy will require the current energy infrastructure, such as power plants, transmission lines, and storage facilities – the backbone of our energy system – to be modernized and upgraded to accommodate renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. This transition will require a comprehensive approach that involves policy and regulatory changes, technological innovations, and financial incentives. Elected governments will play a crucial role in implementing policies to incentivize the adoption of renewable energy sources and shift investment away from fossil fuels via carbon pricing, renewable energy standards and energy efficiency standards. Businesses and consumers will make a difference by influencing corporate behavior and adopting energy efficient practices. In a workshop led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, our cohort dove into a case study highlighting the significance and urgent need for retrofitting and reusing existing buildings as an effective means of mitigating carbon emissions that would otherwise result from demolition and new construction.

3. Access to affordable and stable internet will play a crucial role in forwarding climate goals.

As of 2020, more than 40% of the world does not have access to the internet. Of the 60% that have access, there are significant disparities in internet access, with higher levels of access in wealthier and more developed regions. Accessing climate information via scientific reports and policy briefs, raising awareness about the impacts of climate via videos and podcasts, mobilizing individuals and communities via online activism and advocacy, sharing knowledge that can lead to the adoption of green technologies and innovations, and monitoring the ever-changing landscape and atmosphere in different regions via satellite imagery and remote sensors, will require access to uninterruptible and affordable internet. Governments, private sector companies, civil society organizations and international organizations all have shared responsibility to increase access to affordable and reliable internet. They can, among other things, create an enabling policy environment, invest in internet infrastructure, advocate for policies and practices that promote digital inclusion and provide funds and technical assistance to support initiatives in developing countries.

4. We must prepare communities to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources has greatly impacted communities that have traditionally relied on the former for economic development and stability. These communities have become increasingly vulnerable to changing demand patterns for traditional energy sources. Policies need to be implemented to support these communities and ensure they are not left behind. This support would include policies such as retraining programs, income support, and job placement programs. The business community can be encouraged to invest in renewables for local supply via tax credits, grants, and subsidies to encourage the installation of renewable energy infrastructure.

5. Policy makers need more interactive tools that help them explore climate solutions.

On day two of the Summit, Climate Interactive presented their En-ROADS climate solutions simulator, providing our Future Leaders cohort an opportunity to actively engage with different policy scenarios and witness their effects on GHG emissions and global warming. This interactive tool enabled us to explore, in real-time, the consequences of various policy choices, such as implementing carbon pricing, enhancing renewable energy production, and improving energy efficiency. The En-ROADS simulator is an invaluable resource for gaining a better understanding of the complexities of climate change and developing informed strategies for mitigating its effects. It is crucial to understand that each country faces different climate risks, based on topography and weather conditions as well as the level of financial resources and technology they possess. This climate stimulator is one of several exceptional tools that can help policymakers around the world to set long-term climate goals by modeling different scenarios and determining which policies can result in country-specific desired outcomes.

Attending the Future Leaders Climate Summit has equipped me with the knowledge and understanding crucial to understanding the complex issues surrounding climate change and sustainability with more precision and discernment. As a Future Leader and a climate activist, I would like to share one message with you all: Our common objective should be to safeguard our ecological system, shift towards cleaner forms of energy, build resilient communities, and create healthy lifestyles to ensure our future generations are not disadvantaged and that they receive the same opportunities and resources that we have today.

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