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Drexel Students Host First-Ever Local Conference of Youth in the United States

By Christina Papadopoulos

LCOY student delegates

November 3, 2022

In an era demanding environmental action and equity, students are advancing community-centered climate solutions through collaborative research, education, civic engagement and public programming. Over 130 delegates from across the country came together on the weekend of September 23 for America’s first ever Local Conference of Youth (LCOY USA), hosted at Drexel University and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. The three-day conference was organized by Drexel undergraduates along with a team of youth organizers across the country.

Delegates at the conference drafted the United States’ National Youth Statement on Climate, representing the voice of a young generation and its climate demands to help protect future generations. The national statement was submitted for inclusion in the Global Youth Statement, which will be presented at mid-November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. LCOY organizers also traveled to Washington D.C. to present the outcomes of LCOY USA to Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and a member of the National Climate Taskforce.

LCOY at white house
The LCOY team presented conference outcomes to the White House. Photo: White House CEQ

The U.S. now joins 120 countries that have hosted official Local Conferences of Youth, which strive to boost youth climate action at a local level to help shape domestic and intergovernmental climate change policies.

“Organizing America’s first-ever LCOY USA was a complete moonshot idea, and the initial buy-in we received was based on the belief in our mission to amplify young voices — not only in climate action, but in general in the United States,” explained Atharva Bhagwat, a fifth-year custom-design major studying computing technology for sustainability and society. “We hoped to connect youth activists not only with each other, but with the global movement in climate action. It was surreal to see this idea come so far and become reality.”

LED BY YOUTH, FOR YOUTH

Last year, Bhagwat and fellow LCOY co-organizer Sarah Wetzel, a Drexel BA/MPH dual-degree public health student, traveled to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow with funding from the Pennoni Honors College and Office of Global Engagement. The students built on this experience to team up with youth from across the United States and organize the first LCOY USA.

“We had a lot of honest conversations with people from across the country. There were people from Hawaii, Ohio, and some folks from indigenous areas as well,” said Wetzel. “It was a great opportunity to bring together people’s experiences. The delegates put in so much work to create our final statement, which was a huge success. The work they put into it spoke to how dedicated everyone was, and I feel so proud.”

Atharva and Sarah
Drexel students and LCOY organizers Sarah Wetzel and Atharva Bhagwat. Photos: Diego Lopez

When applications to become a delegate opened in early August, numerous responses poured in from both Drexel and across the country. In the end, the LCOY team selected over 130 delegates from 24 states to attend.

“When we were reviewing delegate applications, we were only reading a few words about these individuals,” said Bhagwat. “They were all very impressive people, but to actually see them — having traveled from across the country to be here in person — was noteworthy. When you put a group of climate activists in one room, there’s bound to be striking and engaging conversations going on. Being in that environment was rewarding.”

In planning LCOY USA, Bhagwat and Wetzel had a firsthand look at the challenges and rewards of centering sustainability at a large-scale event. They worked with Sharing Excess, a nonprofit organization founded by a Drexel student, to provide surplus food and refreshments that would have otherwise gone to waste to attendees.

A UNIVERSITY COMMITMENT

The conference aligned with the University’s increasing focus on, and investment in, climate action and environmental problem solving. In February, Drexel launched The Environmental Collaboratory, led by Vice Provost and Executive Director Mathy Vathanaraj Stanislaus, Esq, with the intention to drive systemic change and align climate transition and environmental justice initiatives with the needs of the community.

Describing the conference as the culmination of their time at Drexel, Bhagwat and Wetzel worked diligently with the support of The Environmental Collaboratory to secure the spacing and funding required to make LCOY USA possible. As The Environmental Collaboratory has funded and prioritized projects demonstrating community-centered approaches to environmental problem solving, supporting LCOY USA was a perfect fit.

Mathy Stanislaus
Mathy Vathanaraj Stanislaus, Esq. Photo: Diego Lopez

“The team behind The Environmental Collaboratory was instrumental to the existence of LCOY USA,” said Bhagwat. “The office was new to Drexel like LCOY was to the U.S., so I think it was like a case of two new kids at school becoming friends and supporting each other to reach a collective goal.”

In mid-November, Wetzel will attend the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP27), where the finalized Global Youth Statement will be submitted and presented.

Drexel continues to offer opportunities for students, faculty and staff to get involved in climate action. Reach out to The Environmental Collaboratory environmentalcollab@drexel.edu for future ways to get involved.