*by Michelle Hernandez
When I received my acceptance letter to the Youth Climate Leaders (YCL) program, I was overwhelmed with joy. I could not believe that I was selected among a pool of roughly 500 applicants from across the globe. Without hesitation, I accepted the offer and suddenly found myself leaving my job, moving out of Washington, DC, and packing for my international journey.
Over the course of the following five months I participated in all three components YCL offered in 2018: the immersion program, field placement opportunity, and attending UNFCCC COP24. From France to Kenya, Brazil and Poland, I traveled across three continents, connected with dozens of environmental leaders, and gained a broader international perspective on climate change.
During the 40-day immersion, I met and became close friends with an amazing and passionate group of leaders from across the world. As we traveled together, I learned a tremendous amount from the local leaders we met and, most importantly, I learned that no project is sustainable without a community-centered approach.
After our immersion, I set off to Brazil to take part in my field placement at WayCarbon, a leading environmental consulting start-up. I worked in WayCarbon’s Sao Paulo office and conducted research for two client projects: one on advanced biofuels and another on an industry-specific climate change impact assessment.
Last, but definitely not least, I had the privilege of attending the UNFCCC COP24 in Poland. Alongside my YCL peers, I learned first-hand the structure and process of COP negotiations. I also became involved with the UNFCCC Youth Constituency, YOUNGO, and even co-founded a Cities Working Group.
At my age, I would have never imagined myself visiting so many countries to work with environmentally-driven leaders and organizations. Living in and working with such diverse communities, I gained a unique understanding of climate change’s impact and the shortcomings of our current environmental movement.