Showcasing the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders: Y4WC Side Event at CITES CoP18

Youth for Wildlife Conservation’s first Youth Delegation at CITES CoP18. (L to R: Kushaal Selvarajah, Sultan Khan, Cécile Tang, Shannon Noelle Rivera, Josephine Crouch, Alexandra Kalandarishvili, Felimon Jr. Feliciano, Thandiwe Knutson, Emily McIntosh, Tatiana Ivannikova)

Youth for Wildlife Conservation’s first Youth Delegation at CITES CoP18. (L to R: Kushaal Selvarajah, Sultan Khan, Cécile Tang, Shannon Noelle Rivera, Josephine Crouch, Alexandra Kalandarishvili, Felimon Jr. Feliciano, Thandiwe Knutson, Emily McIntosh, Tatiana Ivannikova)

“You often hear that young people are described as the ‘future of conservation,’ but we are here today, we are already contributing, already working, already dedicating our lives to wildlife, to the science, to the management”

— Y4WC delegation, CITES CoP18

Our very first youth delegation to CITES came together for the 18th Conference of the Parties from 10 countries, with backgrounds varying from on-the-ground species monitoring, to national policy, to sustainable use, to ethics and law, to the nonprofit sector, and more. While each has different experiences under their belt, and different opinions on conservation topics, our delegation is united with one goal – to make the voice of youth heard in international conservation policy. Our side event, Showcasing the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders, focused on just that.

After an introduction by Y4WC and statements from Matt Collis, Director of International Policy at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and Carolina Careres, Chair of the ‪CITES Standing Committee and head of the Canadian Delegation, our delegates presented a call to action. They have asked the Parties to reach out, to involve youth – because with 50% of the world’s population under 30, youth are the ones who will be most affected by the policy decisions made at the CoP.

Y4WC research has indicated that access to networking was one of the major barriers for early-career conservationists. So our event wrapped up with informal poster presentations and networking, when our delegates had the opportunity to share their work with experts in the field and make (we hope!) lifelong connections. Y4WC would like to send special thanks to our attendees, including CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero. Your support for youth engagement is greatly appreciated.

 Youth voices are just beginning to be truly heard, but young and early-career conservationists are already making a difference in conservation, and one of the aims of our event was to highlight that.

I will leave you with this, an excerpt from our delegates’ statement: “Our hope is that in the future, we won’t need to have a separate side event, as our goal is for young, diverse voices to be integrated into the structure of this convention and in the decision-making process.”

#StayWild

— Tiff DeGroot

See the full Y4WC Delegation statement text below.


Youth for Willdlife Conservation Delegates Shannon Noelle Rivera and Kushaal Selvarajah read the joint statement prepared by the youth delegates at the Y4WC side event at CITES 18th Conference of the Parties.

“We want to start by thanking you for joining us this morning. Just by being in this room, you are recognizing the importance of young, diverse voices in the extremely important conversation of conservation and wildlife trade.

 My name is Kushaal and I am here representing Malaysia

 And my name is Shannon Noelle Rivera and I am representing Hawaii, USA.

 We have the privilege – but also the responsibility – of representing so many young voices that didn’t have the opportunity to be present at this year’s conference of parties.

 For this delegation, thousands of capable conservationists between the ages of 18-30 applied to join us. From those thousands, 20 people were selected to join Youth for Wildlife Conservation as the youth delegation in Sri Lanka, but like many agencies and organizations can relate to, we weren’t all able to join in Geneva. However, seven of us were lucky enough to join – can I ask the rest of our delegation to stand up?

 You are looking at the first official youth delegation of Y4WC, and that’s a huge accomplishment. As you’ve heard, this organization was created by young conservationists that had a similar opportunity to join the CITES Cop17 in Johannesburg three years ago. They recognized that even being present at an event such as this can change the trajectory of someone’s life, and the contribution they can make for wildlife. We want to thank Youth for Wildlife Conservation for being the ones who created this opportunity for all of us.

 In this field, we work to incorporate diversity at all levels – and young voices need to be a part of this. We often think of youth involvement as a teaching moment, but that is actually discounting a lot of important viewpoints.

 Also, you often hear that young people are described as the “future of conservation”, but we are here today, we are already contributing, already working, already dedicating our lives to wildlife, to the science, to the management – and our hope is that in the future, we won’t need to have a separate side event, as our goal is for young, diverse voices to be integrated into the structure of this convention and in the decision-making process.

 As we mentioned, it truly is a privilege to be here, but it comes with a heavy weight. We are representing an entire demographic from all regions of the world. We are speaking on behalf of over 50% of the worlds population- with nearly 90% of people under 30 living in emerging and developing countries. and we need to recognize that their absence could never be fully represented without them at the table.

 We want to end our time with a call to action. For everyone in this room, we hope that in in future meetings, in your future projects, in future CoPs, we urge you to consider bringing in young, diverse professionals. We look forward to seeing each Party incorporate these professionals into your delegation in 3 years. How amazing would that be to have 183 young professionals representing each country! We need to remember: creating space for marginal voices is not done without strategic action.

We welcome everyone to come introduce themselves and engage with us! Our backgrounds represent a spectrum of interest – we have delegates working on sustainable hunting and wildlife management, to species monitoring and data collection – from animal behaviour, to working in government on marine issues, forestry, animal welfare, to community based conversation and wildlife policy.

I guarantee we want to talk you!

This event, and this delegation is just the beginning, and thank you for taking your morning to welcome us! “

 

 

Imogen Scott