Youth Take a Stand for U.S. Climate Action

Only one day of negotiating remains at COP17, the annual United Nations conference to address global climate change. Some are frustrated, others are hopeful, but all of civil society can agree that if anything substantial is to come out of this conference, the time to act is now. Today, U.S. youth present at COP17 turned up the heat, issuing a courageous and strategic call to action aimed at the United States government: 2020 is too late to wait for meaningful climate action.

As the top U.S. envoy Todd Stern rose to address party delegates this morning, he was swiftly cut off by a passionate speech delivered by Abigail Borah, a young New Jersey resident and Middlebury College student attending the conference with the youth sustainable development NGO, SustainUS. Abigail spoke frankly and bravely on behalf of our country and particularly frustrated U.S. youth, highlighting that “the obstructionist Congress has shackled a just agreement and delayed ambition for far too long.” Shortly after, she was removed from the conference center by U.N. security, but not before a supportive swell of applause from many of the world leaders present. See the full text of Abigail’s statement below.  

Many U.S. youth have been vocal about their frustration at U.S. leadership back home, including Ethan Case, a Duke graduate student and SustainUS delegate also immersed in the climate negotiations. “A minority within Congress has consistently stalled progress on climate change.” However, Ethan went on to recognize the Obama Administration’s choices as well: “Decisions about climate are consistently kicked down the road by U.S. leadership…we ask ourselves a lot as youth if we’ve been duped by [Obama’s] message of change.”

As unique stakeholders in the future of our climate, youth will soon face irreversible climate catastrophe if blockading countries like the United States don’t quickly shift their behavior in these negotiations. It’s not just U.S. youth either – young people from across the globe who have attended the negotiations year after year have collaborated and supported each other working as the unified international youth constituency YOUNGO.  

Showing the foresight that we keep hoping to see from our negotiators, youth delegates from the United States at COP17 have made their statement clear in a poignant video released earlier today. “In 2020, we’ll be filling your seats at the negotiations,” they say, “but by then it may be too late to act.”



Carra Beth Cheslin

Earth Day University Campaign Coordinator


Full text of Abigail’s speech:

I am speaking on behalf of the United States of America because my negotiators cannot.  The obstructionist Congress has shackled justice and delayed ambition for far too long.  I am scared for my future.  2020 is too late to wait.  We need an urgent path to a fair ambitious and legally binding treaty.

You must take responsibility to act now, or you will threaten the lives of youth and the world’s most vulnerable.

You must set aside partisan politics and let science dictate decisions.  You must pledge ambitious targets to lower emissions not expectations.  Citizens across the world are being held hostage by stillborn negotiations.

We need leaders who will commit to real change, not empty rhetoric.  Keep your promises. Keep our hope alive. 2020 is too late to wait.