Madonna CSS students, including Emily Palaganas (right), were part of a group of 11 students from Madonna Catholic Secondary School who contributed to a Canadian whitepaper on climate change. Peru hosted the annual U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP20) in Lima Dec. 1-12. The students' whitepaper is shown inset. Photo courtesy of Emily Palaganas

Combat climate change, say youth

  • December 26, 2014

TORONTO - Having their views heard on a world stage has made students from a Toronto Catholic high school realize their voice on climate change does matter.

Students from Madonna Catholic Secondary School contributed to “A National Virtual Town Hall COP20: Canadian Youth Whitepaper on Climate Change,” which was presented at the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP20) in Lima, Peru.

Three hundred students from six high schools across the country collaborated online, under the guidance of experts, to identify Canada’s environmental challenges.

Working together with their peers from across Canada, said Madonna Catholic Secondary School student Celia Ramsay, made the task of addressing how to positively affect climate change not seem so impossible.

“It was good to see that the interest or the passion that we all had for the topic was shared... It didn’t make the task seem so daunting,” said the Grade 12 student.

“We learned how to use our voice,” said Emily Palaganas, also a Grade 12 student. “We learned it’s important for us to speak up and participate in things like this. Even as youth, we should reach out to people of higher power or the government to just share how we feel and why it’s important to us. It really is going to affect us in the future and for them to hear that is really important.”

Madonna was recruited to contribute to this national project when Green Learning Canada contacted Audrey Ferrer, head of Madonna’s religion department.

“I responded quickly and I said we had a really strong environmental impact team and social justice club and the students were really fantastic and hardworking,” said Ferrer. “I told them we would love to jump on board if they were willing to have our school.”

The students’ whitepaper addresses three main issues: what can be done by Canadian youth and the government of Canada to reduce carbon emissions or meet international agreements on climate change?; given the challenges Canada has had at meeting past agreements, which agreements if any should it sign on to and which key policy decisions, especially on greenhouse gases,should it take?; and what obligations do technically advanced countries have in helping less developed countries reduce green house gas emissions and use clean energy?

According to the whitepaper, “climate change is the defining issue of our day” and the catastrophic effects of global emissions on developing countries are “irrefutable.” Young Canadians believe their country has the potential to be a global leader in the fight against climate change, and therefore is obligated “to lend our extensive infrastructural, financial and intellectual resources to help nations who are unable to independently adjust to our changing environment and reduce emissions.” They say “the atmosphere knows no borders.”

The whitepaper then lays out a plan for Canada to obtain a sustainable future: assuming its role as a global leader, commit ting to international goals that reflect the country’s ambitions, decarbonizing our energy sector, creating a Carbon Pricing Strategy to regulate carbon emissions, encouraging transition to sustainable products, providing resources to developing countries to help them adapt to and limit climate change and raising awareness among consumers.

Palaganas said first the team from Madonna — involved in both researching and writing the white paper — needed to educate themselves on key background information, such as Canada and the Kyoto Protocol, and then speak to mentors and organizers.

“Canada does have a plan to combat climate change, (but) it’s not very effective and it’s sort of lacking on a global scale... Canada is last with regards to climate change,” said Palaganas.

Eleven students from Madonna worked for about five weeks and then participated in a virtual town hall, which allowed all collaborators to join forces and produce the white paper. Led by Palaganas and Ramsay, the team included Miriam Tesfamichael, Ireneh Omere, Agata Molendowski, Mikayla Serratore, Melissa Podnar, Harley Ann Davis, Sabrina Uwase, Naddya Tavara, and Yvonne Nnadi.

Ramsay is also part of Madonna’s social justice club and says that she plans on continuing to work at the community level to address climate change and care for the environment.

“We realize that if we don’t do something to take care of our environment or to be better stewards of the environment that we were given, the long-term effects might be something that we couldn’t even imagine,” she said.

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