Earlier this month, AFS and Youth Assembly alumni joined representatives of governments, non-governmental organizations, and various stakeholders at COP28 – 28th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is the primary annual event where countries come together to discuss and negotiate global efforts to address climate change, shaping international climate policy and agreements.

The climate crisis has been at the center of international attention, with UN Secretary General, António Guterres declaring that “humanity has opened the gates of hell” by unleashing worsening heatwaves, floods and wildfires seen around the world. He called for radical action by saying, “The future of humanity is in our hands. We must turn up the tempo, turn plans into action and turn the tide.”

Several AFS and Youth Assembly alumni attended this event to advocate for the much needed climate action and be the voice of young people – those who are likely to face the most dire consequences of inaction on climate change issues. We bring you the insights and take-aways from them, and encourage you to share what COP28 outcomes mean for your community.

Local Action Can Create Global Impact – Shah Chowdhury, Bangladesh

Shah Chowdhury is an award winning environmentalist and social entrepreneur from Bangladesh. Shah is the Co-Founder & President of Footsteps, a next generation organization currently empowering over 300,000 people across Bangladesh with safe water and sanitation access, disaster resilience, and improved public health services, especially for the marginalized communities. In 2020, Shah won the prestigious AFS Award for Young Global Citizens, and he has been serving on the Youth Advisory Council for the AFS Youth Assembly since 2023.

“At COP28, I represented the Bangladesh government delegation as its official youth representative and was also a finalist for the Local Adaptation Champions Award presented by Global Center for Adaptation at the Summit.

As someone who works with local innovation to build community resilience to climate impacts, and as someone who became deeply concerned about experiencing summer temperature over 40 degree celcius in Dhaka for the first time this year, being present in such a high level global event was not only an opportunity, but also a responsibility in representing the voice of the youth, my nation, and the people from the most vulnerable countries affected by climate change. By having the privilege of directly taking part in the negotiation process, especially in the G77 and Least Developed Countries (LDC) coordination meetings, it was important for me to advocate for inclusion of young people in the decision making process, the role of innovation in building market ready solutions to catalyze the phasing out of fossil fuels, and the urgency of having funds reach directly to grassroots activists and organizations to enhance adaptation of vulnerable communities.

With time running out, the need for fossil fuel phase out has never been greater to safeguard the future of our world, because our planet should always come first before profits. My role post COP now is to work in developing technology and programs that help local communities both mitigate and adapt the impacts of climate change, setting an example on how local action can create a global impact and inspire global leaders in adopting such solutions in order to protect our planet from the impacts of climate change, together.”

Advocating for a More Water-Secure Future – Moemen Sobh, Egypt

Moemen Sobh is the founder and CEO of Visenleer, a regenerative initiative in the MENA region that creates sustainable textile materials using only ocean waste. Its goal is to create a greener and more sustainable alternative to animal and faux leather, and in doing so, create a new revenue stream for the fishing community. Visenleer is also committed to promoting the restoration of the ocean through the cultivation-restoration project in El Manzala Lake. In 2023, Moemen won the prestigious AFS Award for Young Global Citizens, as a Delegate of the AFS Youth Assembly.

“Expo City Dubai invited me to COP28 to present at a session named: ‘Making Waves with the Middle East’s Future Water Leaders.’ Our goal was to drive meaningful solutions-oriented conversation and action on water topics at COP28. With 90% of climate impacts are felt through the water cycle – in floods, droughts, and unpredictable rainfall, how will we navigate the intersecting climate and water crises in the coming decades? As tomorrow’s leaders, today’s young changemakers have a pivotal role in shaping a climate-resilient, water-secure future.

I got a chance to present my community on a local level and a regional level (the MENA region) and discuss the current situation regarding the war in the Palestinian territories as well. If I took one thing away during my COP28 experience, it is how the youth are taking an active role and currently being represented at an international level through their governments.”

We Are in This Together – Pedro Lima, Brazil

Pedro Lima is the Subsecretary of Programs of Consórcio Nordeste, and an alumnus of AFS study abroad program from Brazil to Australia. 

“In the year two thousand and one I was an exchange student in Adelaide, South Australia, through AFS. It was an undeniably rich experience to live in a place famous for being the driest state in the driest inhabited continent of the world. A place that, not unlike my home state in Brazil’s northeast region, is suffering with increasing temperatures and decreased rainfall.

As part of my job in Consórcio Nordeste, an autarchy that serves the nine states of the northeast region of Brazil, I was at COP 28 working to show the world how the preservation and restoration of the dry tropical forest called Caatinga can be a crucial instrument in the fight against climate change. Undoubtedly my year abroad and my participation in AFS helped me understand how all of us, no matter what country, are in this and must work together to save our planet.”