Finally, we have come together to create a powerful movement. Finally, our voices are heard. And finally, I don’t feel helpless anymore.

Global Shapers Zurich
5 min readFeb 22, 2021

--

My name is Marie-Claire. I am 24 years old and a Swiss-based youth advocate. In this role, I fight for sustainable development and ambitious climate action through youth empowerment. The children and youth of our generation as well as future generations are those who will be most impacted by the political decisions made today. People under 30 represent more than half of the current global population. Yet, when it comes to political decisions concerning sustainability and the climate, this majority has no say and, apparently, economic growth and short-term prosperity seem more important to our global leaders. Being aware of this, it is my aspiration to inspire, empower and enable young people to not remain spectators of this great injustice, but instead to take actions. Together, we have the ability to create a momentum for positive change in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement in time.

I grew up in a small village in the countryside near Basel. In my childhood, I was surrounded by farms and beautiful green hills. The forests were my playground and, early on, I was able to distinguish all tree and bird species. On weekends, my family used to go high up to the mountains to hike. I still remember how deeply impressed I was when I saw those massive and wonderful glaciers for the first time. When I grew older, I found out that many animal and plant species are seriously endangered and that the glaciers were melting fast. By the end of my lifetime, most glaciers I know will be gone — forever. I felt sad, depressed and helpless, especially, because most people in my surrounding were not aware of this tremendous biodiversity and climate crises or did not care for it.

At the age of 18, I moved to Zurich to study environmental science and work as a research assistant at ETH Zurich on wood-based material innovation. Looking back, this was the moment when my life changed. Finally, I got to know other youth that were equally passionate about solving the climate crisis. I was fascinated, observing so many student groups that were engaging in diverse topics around sustainability. I joined several groups, but the «Sustainability Week Zurich» was probably my favorite. The Sustainability Week Zurich is a one week event series organized by students who want to raise awareness for sustainability and help other young people gain a deeper understanding. Furthermore, the Sustainability Week Zurich sends a clear message to higher education institutions: universities, the centers of knowledge, should take a clear stand and educate both students and society at large more on the challenges and solutions that help us transition into a truly sustainable future.

The Sustainability Week Zurich was my first experience in organizing big events and my personal starting point from which I began to actively engage more and more in sustainability and climate action. Looking back, it feels incredible how much has happened since then. In 2017, one year later, I organized another successful edition of the Sustainability Week along with almost 100 students from all five higher education institutions in Zurich. But this time, the success story spread far beyond Zurich. Through the daily lunch interview at SRF, our national radio and TV broadcaster, the Sustainability Week sparked interest across the entire country. Suddenly, we got requests from many other universities, enthusiastic students and professors. It was this immense interest that motivated us to set up a concept and grant proposal for establishing the «Sustainability Week Switzerland». Only six months later, hundreds of students organized Sustainability Weeks across the entire country. Finally, we had become a movement! And the movement was growing rapidly, even crossing Switzerland’s borders. Two years later, in 2019, I co-founded the Sustainability Week International. Now, every student has the chance to become part of a global movement and transform the higher education sector in their own country towards more sustainability.

All this sounds promising. Yet, facing the climate emergency, there is so much more that must be done. Switzerland, being a rich and innovative country, has a huge responsibility to make the world more climate friendly. To engage on a political level, I joined «Swiss Youth for Climate» in 2017. Swiss Youth for Climate is a youth NGO that promotes ambitious climate politics both on a national and international level. In December 2017, I had the chance to participate in the 23rd World Climate Conference (UNFCCC COP23). Although I prepared myself extremely well, it was tough to follow most of the conversations. And even worse, I had the feeling that, being a youth representative, people did not take me seriously. This frustrated me so much, I didn’t want to participate again. Nevertheless, a year later I found myself supporting new youth delegates at the 24th World Climate Conference in Poland. This time I was able to understand the negotiations and processes much better. However, youth was still sitting in the back row.

Despite this well-known frustration, there was one great highlight which outweighed the draining experiences: I met Greta Thunberg. Together with many youth activists, Greta led a strike in front of the conference building to raise attention on the common desperation of the youth. Later on, Greta encouraged all of us to hold our political and economic leaders accountable and continue the fight. At the same time the first climate strike started in Zurich. Jointly with all other climate strikes around the globe, it caught massive attention and the movement was growing. Climate strikes were sparking worldwide. People of all ages took the streets and organized huge demonstrations. Our actions and demands fighting for the climate were all over the media. Still, most demands are far from getting implemented into the agendas of our political and economic leaders.

In 2019, however, something extremely surprising happened: The Federal Council of Switzerland asked me to join the Swiss delegation for the upcoming United Nations climate negotiations. I would represent Switzerland in the negotiations on the topic of «Action for Climate Empowerment and Capacity Building». I have always had a passion for these topics and followed the international negotiations related to climate education, awareness, capacity building and public participation closely. Although this is in my opinion one of the most important negotiation topics, the Swiss administration was not very engaged in it and, thus, had relatively low expertise in this field. Of course, this was a big, somewhat intimidating responsibility for me. But finally, I had the chance to contribute with my ideals on a political level and support Switzerland in this crucial topic. And even more: I could prove that young people are able to take on responsibility and sit at the table when the decisions are taken that concern everybody’s future.

In hindsight, the developments in the past years have helped me to see the climate crisis no longer as a personal issue. More and more people are passionately engaging in this topic and almost all nations around the world have committed to important agreements such as the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals of the Agenda 2030. It is very much true that the scientific predictions are still horrifying and we might not even have nine years left to act. But I have gained some optimism that my generation can step up to prevent this catastrophic future. It is just a matter of time.

--

--

Global Shapers Zurich

We portray people who commit a large part of their professional and/or private life to working towards more sustainability and combatting climate change.