Young environmental leaders across Canada are helping to transform the way the global community relates to parks. Among them are 16 Young Canadians who played an active and leading role at the International Union for Conservation of Nature's World Parks Congress in November, 2014. With help from Parks Canada, these young people shared their experiences, perspectives, knowledge, skills, technologies, and ideas in innovative and creative ways. They have come home with new ideas and new energy. Now, they are helping to usher in a new era in which young people around the world have the early experiences in nature that instill the passion for the natural world that will ensure our future leaders are nature supporters.
“What we really hope is that all sectors of our society will make it a priority to get young people outside into nature so that they can connect with it on their own terms,” said Chloe Dragon-Smith, the Canadian Parks Council’s Youth Ambassador. "This is what will generate the love of the nature that will carry on into adulthood”.
Canadian youth are not only going to be the leaders of the future; they are leaders now and they need to be empowered to continue to play leadership roles.
Check out six youth continuing to inspire others in their quest to get their friends, family, and others out into nature.
The World Parks Congress taught me to truly hope, as I saw and met so many like minded people that care about our planet. There were innovative, brilliant efforts showcased from all around the world, by organizations that are working towards what they (and I) genuinely believe is a better future. Before the Congress, my perspective was not what it is today. I see potential networks, partners, and possibilities all on a larger scale.
After the Congress, I was contracted by the Canadian Parks Council to co-chair an intergenerational working group of diverse Canadian citizens. We are developing a process, and eventually, a document that will explore best practices for connecting youth with nature in Canada. I am exactly where I want to be, working for what I believe in.
The World Parks Congress gave me the opportunity to learn about the current status and concerns surrounding achieving the United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 on protected areas. I found it particularly interesting to learn that Target 11 has seen the most progress out of all of the targets, yet it has not necessarily had the positive influence on biodiversity conservation that it was expected to have, due to the disjunctive nature of the protected areas that have been established.
Since the World Parks Congress, I have moved back to the Yukon to finish my undergraduate thesis and for summer employment. I have continued my involvement on the Board of Directors for the Canadian Committee for IUCN, and other organizations, working to strengthen efforts to connect Canadian youth to parks and nature.
I am also currently working with the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (a network that I helped to found out of the CBD) to publish the Youth Guidebook for Youth Participation at the CBD) and am also helping prepare a youth delegation; capacity building workshop and youth approach for the upcoming CBD meeting in Mexico.
In addition, I have recently become the Co- CBD COP Leader, as well as the Connectivity and Mountain Protected Areas Specialty Group Focal Point for the WCPA Young Professionals.
Since Congress, Alex MacDonald continues his work with the Nature Canada's NatureHood program, a national program to connect urban Canadians – especially youths and New Canadians – to nearby nature, with initiatives taking place in five cities across Canada, adding three additional cities by summer's end.
Ashley participates in the No Walls initiative, on on-line platform for young people to encourage their peers to connect with nature by sharing their personal experiences and connections with the natural world. Ashley sees No Walls being “taken on by individuals and organizations around the world and growing into a large global youth initiative”.
I went to the WPC-Sydney looking to expand my network and to educate myself on the latest information, but instead, I ended up being (re-)inspired by the people I met - other passionate and dedicated Young Professionals working for the planet. I learned about new technologies and innovative approaches to conservation and environmental protection throughout the congress that were both applicable to my current graduate work and my future career interests.
My Australian experience culminated in a trip to Heron Island as part of the Great Barrier Reef Management field trip (offered through the WPC). It was lead by GBR park managers and offered a first hand perspective of PA management on GBRMPA.
Since returning to Canada from the WPC, I have been mainly working on completing my masters in Environmental Studies relating to Protected Area management and large scale connectivity initiatives in coastal and marine systems. I’ve presented my research at the Canadian Water Network conference in Ottawa, Canada in March and at a regional meeting for CASIOPA (Centre for Applied Science in Ontario Protected Areas) in Waterloo, Ontario; was facilitator for the Ontario session of World Wide Views on Climate Change and Energy in June and I am currently looking forward to becoming involved with the new WCPA Marine Group-Young Professionals Marine Task Force.
Lastly, I am hoping to attend the 2015 North American Inspiring a New Generation (ING) Summit happening later this year and be more involved in WCPA Young Professionals as we move forward towards the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii next year.
The Parks Canada’s Youth Ambassador wrote a song 'Unleash the heart (Unlock the Mind)' during the World Parks Congress. It calls on the world’s young people to act together on behalf of nature. Several Global Youth Ambassadors performed it together, along with Canadian rapper Baba Brinkman, at the World Parks Congress and on a Sydney radio station.
These young Canadians are now home. They are bringing diverse perspectives on protected areas and relationships with nature to Canada, and they are continuing their inspiring work.