WELLINGTON – Young people living in Pacific Rim countries want to see more ambition from their leaders when it comes to tackling climate change and to see money devoted to a shared fund to prepare for future pandemics.
Those were two of the messages delivered to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Wednesday by 124 youth delegates who were taking part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
The forum is being hosted in a virtual format this year due to the pandemic and culminates with a leader’s meeting later this week. APEC's 21 members include the U.S. and China and account for 60% of the world's economy.
Ardern took the unusual step of meeting with the youth delegates and taking questions from them. The New Zealand young people participated in person while other delegates attended online.
She said an APEC science festival in South Korea she attended at about age 17 had a big influence on her.
“I never knew as a young person living in a town of just 5,000 people in rural New Zealand that such a conference existed,” Ardern told them. “And it opened my eyes to completely new cultures and experiences."
She said young people should never underestimate the influence they can wield.
One of the youth delegates asked Ardern how countries could be held accountable if they didn't take action on climate change.
“If the world is not ready to take bold action, then the world must be ready for the disastrous results of climate change,” Ardern said. “So those are the two choices we have.”
Ardern said she wanted to acknowledge the big impact that the coronavirus has been having on young people, from education to mental health.
Among other points made in the Youth Declaration that was handed to Ardern by delegate Jess Jenkins was that tech companies should be held accountable for protecting data and privacy, and that marginalized people should be prioritized.