Tetiana Stadnyk is Secretary General of the NGO Youth and Environment Europe which brings together young people committed to the environment. The NGO supports the Franco-Russian EcoLab that will take place in Marseille and will bring together 16 French and Russian young people, between 18-30 years old, engaged in the field of biodiversity and environmental conservation.
Youth and Environment Europe (YEE) was founded in 1983 as the European regional branch of the International Federation for Environmental Studies and Conservation (IYF). How have its aims changed since the 1980s?
From my research I can say that back in the 1980s there was a major attempt by young people to break through the Iron Curtain and connect east and west. Issues that they were working on are very similar to what we are working on now. They knew about challenges to the climate. In the 1980s and 90s young people were already involved in climate strikes. When it comes to the political environment and our aims, eastern and southern Europe are still areas that are under-represented in the youth climate movement. We’re trying to bring more people in from those areas and showcase more stories of activists from those regions. Our aims are to exchange knowledge and work together towards youth participation in environmental decision making. These have stayed the same throughout the entire history of the organization.
What first made you personally aware of the challenges facing the environment and how did you become involved with YEE?
I originally come from the Ukraine and grew up in a region where uncontrolled waste dumping was a huge issue. The smell and the fact that you couldn’t enjoy nature without seeing piles of waste always made me sad. I saw myself becoming an activist and bringing what I saw growing up to the attention of decision makers. I studied Physical Geography to understand how the planet works and after that I volunteered on a lot of different environmental projects. Eventually I found this amazing opportunity at YEE. It’s essentially my dream job. Ironically, I’m not an activist in the way I imagined myself back then but I’m creating the space for activists.
Climate change is clearly one of the most serious challenges facing the planet. How does YEE hope to play a part in solving this problem?
We hope to empower young people to participate in decision making. We do this through several layers of our work. The first and most essential layer is to make sure that young people care. When people don’t care those in power have the freedom to do whatever they like. Then we make sure they have the knowledge and skills to participate in discussions and to contribute meaningfully to the decision-making processes. In our projects we don’t only talk about environmental issues, we also discuss legislation and legal frameworks. Last but not least we make sure young people have a place at the decision-making table; we send young people to meetings with stake holders and decision makers. In addition we are forming delegations to different international events such as the IUCN World Conservation Conference together with the Institut Français. We are also putting a specific focus on making sure that the European youth climate movement is diverse and not just white and middle class.
All YEE’s projects are organized and carried out by people under 30. As they are going to bear the consequences of inaction do you think they are more passionately involved than older generations?
Yes. I think the younger generation are being affected by the climate crisis in a new way. I’m 25 and most of my friends are thinking about creating families and having children and they are worried about what kind of world there will be for those children when we’re already experiencing the effects of the climate crisis. We also know that having one child less is the greatest contribution you can make on a personal level to lessening your impact on the climate. Those are not the kind of considerations our parents had to face. That is just one example. Young people are much more committed to the issue.
Do you think that if today’s youth had a greater voice in policies relating to the environment, then positive progress would be more forthcoming?
This is what we believe. We can no longer talk about combatting the climate crisis but what we do talk about, and work towards via our projects, is at least making sure we’re not going to face the worst possible scenario. The more young people who have a voice and the more diverse the group having a role in the decision making process, the more control there will be over decision making.
This year the Franco-Russian Ecolab, supported by the Trianon Dialogue, a platform of exchange between the two countries, and led by the Institut Français, will bring together French and Russian youth engaged in the fields of biodiversity and environmental conservation in September in Marseille. What are the particular aims of this project?
We want to base their participation on the work that has previously been done with the Franco-Russian dialogue on climate change. For a year 50 young people were working on proposals for their governments, a large portion of which were on biodiversity. Those proposals will be refined and deepened through different meetings with stakeholders. Also simply igniting discussion and bringing together different points of view. Essentially the main mission is to deepen their understanding of the challenges related to biodiversity and then have them take that knowledge back to their local communities.
How will participants in the Ecolab make their voices heard by French and Russian politicians?
The main difficulty is that we cannot get the attention of any government towards the proposals through a single meeting or a couple of events. To really grab their attention and keep the discussion going it has to be a series of meetings which include not just the politicians but also the stakeholders who are involved with the issues. It has to be continuous work which might require ten or twenty meetings throughout the year. And not just through direct meetings but through social media and conventional media as well.
How hopeful are you that those involved in YEE will be able to bring about the necessary changes to prevent climate change going beyond the point of no return?
I can already see young people who started as volunteers doing exactly that. They’re already advocating for change, and the more young people we empower to do that the higher the chances are that they will be able to bring about the changes necessary to stop us going beyond the point of no return. Our main job is to train the future decision makers. We understand that not everyone we work with is going to be a decision maker, but they are all going to participate in those discussions. That is the most important thing for us.
The Franco-Russian EcoLab, which will take place in Marseille from 6 to 11 September 2021, is organized by the Trianon Dialogue, in partnership with the NGO Youth and Environment Europe, the Institut français and the French Office for Biodiversity.
Requested by Presidents Macron and Putin, the Trianon Dialogue has for the past three years supported initiatives to bring Russian and French societies closer together. In this context, the Institut français will more specifically focus in 2020 and 2021 on exchanges of expertise and public meetings related to the theme chosen for this year: "climate and environment".
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