2019 UNLEASH Reflections: Growing Global Goals Through Youth Leadership 

Participants (talents) at UNLEASH putting a hand in the center in a circle

Youth participants coming together on Day 2 to begin their experience at UNLEASH.

In September, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a global call for a decade of action to deliver on the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. At the same time, Greta Thunberg was making her way across the Atlantic ocean on her journey to the United Nations. The meeting of minds between youth action and the United Nations symbolizes today’s sustainability landscape and set the table for an incredible UNLEASH event in Shenzhen, China. Andrea Byfuglien and I, Tara Moreau, had the privilege of participating this year to work towards solutions for SDG Goal #13 Climate Action. 

“While overwhelming at times, it was the first experience that I have participated in that felt as if we were actually tackling the climate crisis of our time.  It reminded me of the urgency of our situation and the need to do more emergency solution sessions.” 

 

The UNLEASH UN-SDG Goal 13 - Climate Action Team (talents, facilitators, volunteers and gardens staff) gather in front of a building in Fairy Lake Botanic Garden (over 50 people) holding a green Climate Action block in the center

The UNLEASH UN-SDG Goal 13 – Climate Action Team (youth participants, facilitators, volunteers and gardens staff) gather on their last morning at the Fairy Lake Botanical Garden in Shenzhen, China.

What is UNLEASH? 

UNLEASH is a global innovation lab that takes 1000 youth through an intense 8-day process designed to advance sustainability solutions and increase action towards the 17 global goals (UN-SDGs). In 2019, youth from over 160 countries participated with support from 200 facilitators and experts, and over 100 volunteers and 300+ partners.

The City of Shenzhen hosted the 3rd annual gathering of UNLEASH, which is designed to support youth in advancing their ideas and solutions through a sustainability innovation framework. While the SDGs have 17 interrelated goals, each UNLEASH gathering targets a subset of goals for youth to dive deeper into.  This year, the eight SDGs of focus included: 3 – Good Health and Well-being, 4 – Quality Education, 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation, 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy, 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities, 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production and 13 – Climate Action. 

 

Video link featuring Tara Moreau, Associate Director of Sustainability and Community Programs, at UNLEASH

Link to video “UNLEASH 2019 in Shenzhen, China.”

 

UBC Botanical Garden Representatives at UNLEASH

For the past 2.5 years, the educational programs at the Garden has been aligning to the SDGs within the framework that local gardens can grow global goals (see infographic below). The initial connection with UNLEASH came to us through Abby Meyer at Botanic Garden Conservation International (BGCI-US). She had been contacted by the UNLEASH Secretariate in response to the Shenzhen Fairy Lake Botanical Garden being keen invite youth from other botanical gardens. UBC Botanical Garden is a long-standing member of BGCI and our ongoing work to align the Sustainable Communities Field School programming to the UN-SDGs made us a potential candidate for UNLEASH. We were thrilled to be invited to contribute our ideas and gather knowledge to integrate into our SDG work at the Garden. 

“We learned a lot at UNLEASH in how we can better integrate SDG-based solutions on sustainability at the Garden.”

 

Infographic: How the Field School Team-Building Experiences incorporate SDGs.

Due to my experience facilitating SDG education and as part of the larger botanical garden network working towards the global goals, I was selected as a facilitator for UNLEASH. Andrea Byfuglien, a graduate student with Dr. Jiaying Zhao and the Field School, has been doing research with the Garden about behaviour change, education, and the SDGs. She recently participated in the United Nations’ High-Level Political Forum as a youth delegate and was accepted as a youth “talent” at UNLEASH this year.  

 

Tara Moreau waving the Climate Action flag in front of green SDG Climate Action poster; Andrea Byfigulien poses in front of big green SDG cube for SDG 13 - Climate Action

Tara Moreau and Andrea Byfuglien at UNLEASH.

Andrea and I had the privilege to spend 6 full days at the beautiful Shenzhen Fairy Lake Botanical Garden. As participants in the SDG Goal 13 – Climate Action track, we worked alongside 106 outstanding youth and 13 exceptional facilitators to co-create climate solutions for climate action specifically around the themes of agricultural resilience, deforestation, land and soil health, disaster preparedness, and public education. The intensive nature of UNLEASH in combination with ecoanxiety of climate change provided a heightened experience for designing solutions. While overwhelming at times, it was the first experience that I have participated in that felt as if we were actually tackling the climate crisis of our time. It reminded me of the urgency of our situation and the need to do more emergency solution sessions. 

Fairy Lake Botanical Garden in Shenzhen, China

Growing our Garden’s Goals

In reality, we are behind on achieving the SDGs, which is why 2020-2030 was declared a decade of action. Andrea and I were excited to see how we and others could mobilize action through solution-focused assessments of the climate crisis at UNLEASH. In particular, we wanted to see how solutions could be brought forward in a way that enables all people with all abilities to participate in ways that unlock human potential, leaving no one behind. 

We learned a lot at UNLEASH in how we can better integrate SDG-based solutions on sustainability at the Garden. This is the first post in a part of a series of how our experiences at UNLEASH unfolded and how lessons learned will be integrated back into our programming at the Field School and Garden.

Next week, Andrea will be participating as a youth delegate at UN Climate Change Conference COP 25, a fantastic opportunity that she will be sharing with us on the Garden blog soon. Stay tuned to hear more about our experiences and takeaways to ready the Garden for a decade of action.   

 

Submitted by Tara Moreau, Associate Director of Sustainability and Community Programs

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