Rachel Yonemura
Lars Olson, Rachel Yonemura, Natalie Gray, and Salina Abraham at the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris.

Students from the College of the Environment lived a dream in Paris—they took part in a global conversation about how to combat climate change alongside leaders and decision-makers, shared their perspectives as youth representing the Pacific Northwest, and expanded their understanding of the planet’s interconnected landscapes through forged connections.

Now back in Seattle after attending the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF), part of the Paris climate talks, the group of University of Washington students is united in their call for greater youth perspective in discussions about the future of our planet.

“2015 was a huge year for international climate legislation. It was important for youth to be there and for our voice to be heard,” senior Salina Abraham said. “To be present was powerful.”

GLF attendees, 3,200 people from 135 countries, were committed to looking at the complexities of climate change and its impacts on landscapes together. Abraham, along with Natalie Gray and Rachel Yonemura from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and Lars Olson from the Department of Biology were able to attend through their involvement in UW’s chapter of the International Forestry Students’ Association (IFSA).

The students learned from leaders in forestry, agriculture, water, energy, law, and finance who addressed everything from resilient landscapes to green growth compacts and watched as innovative products and initiatives aimed at tackling real-world issues were launched, all while sitting at the center of a global conversation. Representing four of 50 IFSA members chosen to attend the GLF, the UW students also networked with their peers—now friends and likely future collaborators—from Belgium, the Philippines, and beyond.

“The youth are everything. They have the energy, mindset, and flexibility to implement big ideas,” Gray said. “Enabling young people to live up to their full potential is one of the things we think is most necessary moving forward.”

As head of IFSA’s International Processes and a member of the Youth in Landscapes initiative, Abraham spoke at the conference’s closing session, calling for stakeholders to engage youth in tough conversations and value their potential contributions:

Empowered by their experience abroad, the students hope to strengthen youth engagement in climate issues at UW. Several even participated in a climate roundtable discussion with Governor Inslee held at the College of the Environment on the heels of the Paris meeting. The governor, inspired by their efforts, officially deemed the group “Washingtonians of the Day.”

“As young people, we have a chance to bridge the generational gap by creating more opportunities to connect youth to key players in management. The GLF taught us that there was more work to be done in Seattle to demonstrate the power that students have in high-level environmental engagement,” Gray said.

Eiffel Tower during the Paris Climate Talks.
Rachel Yonemura
Eiffel Tower during the Paris Climate Talks.

Personalized help navigating and completing conference applications, locating opportunities for travel funding, and hosting workshops to grow students’ networking skills are a few of the ways they’re working to bolster youth participation in global conversations as part of UW’s IFSA chapter. They recently hosted a Pecha Kucha night, giving students a platform to practice public speaking, as well as participate in a monthly virtual Coffee Hour that connects students from across the United States and Canada. They hope to continue building on and growing these programs, and add more into the mix, to fully realize their goal.

If you’re a UW student and interested in getting more involved, check out the UW chapter of IFSA or visit them on Facebook. If you’re a student at the College of the Environment and you’re planning to attend an upcoming conference or event, visit the Student Travel &  Meeting Fund page for travel funding opportunities.