The first smile of the day stemmed from the sheer joy of being together on planet Earth.
Terry Godwaldt, executive director of the Centre for Global Education at Queen Elizabeth High School, had just kicked off the morning’s video link with students around the world.
He had made a simple request.
“I want everyone to unmute their microphones and then let’s hear a big, big shoutout,” said Godwaldt facing the giant screen with the video images of students. “Express your excitement whether the time where you are is 7 o’clock in the morning or 8 o’clock at night! Let’s have a big shoutout for being here!”
Godwaldt counted “1-2-3, go,” and for the next 30 seconds, the second-floor classroom he shared with Edmonton students that January morning was filled with the sights and sounds of hoots and hollers and giggles and waves and fist pumps—including at least two ya-hoos!—from China, Indonesia, Slovenia, Peru, Colombia, Kenya, India, Ghana, Mexico and Calgary.
The youth of the world had convened technologically on 132 Avenue in Edmonton’s north end. And they were talking climate change.
Those students are among the hundreds of students around the world chosen to work on a white paper to be presented in March at the CitiesIPCC Cities and Climate Change Science Conference in Edmonton.
The conference, co-sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will bring together top academic researchers, city planners, policy makers and practitioners, united by the need to share the latest information and challenges faced by cities that contribute to and are affected by climate change.
Among the blue-ribbon who’s-who will be a group of those students, who will be flown to Edmonton to present the paper in person.
Jim Andrais, the project’s manager at the City of Edmonton, told the young leaders that this wasn’t just another high school class project. This will be a chance to build cities.
“As you carry out your work over the next several weeks, you and the hundreds of students contributing to the white paper, will have a chance to influence research at the highest level involving cities and climate change,” Andrais said via video link.
“In other words, you have an opportunity to influence the future of cities,” he said. “That’s a big deal. The delegates will be listening to you. For a few days in March, you will be very important players on the world stage.”
The exact topic of the white paper will be the students’ choice, and the result of bilateral and trilateral online collaboration under the baton of mentors from the University of Alberta. The work period will also feature a virtual global town hall as the white paper begins to take shape.
The kick off meeting continued with the students taking time to introduce themselves and tell their online community something about their school, and then sharing thoughts about climate change and what they hope they learn through the white paper process. They talked about environmental issues in their cities and what they are doing at school to protect the environment.
When it was his turn, Queen Elizabeth Grade 12 student Andrew Hui told the gathering his high school was a UNESCO school.
“We follow the pillars of UNESCO, with one of them being education for sustainable development,” said Hui. “Our school was the first school in Edmonton to install solar panels. And another cool thing is we are a very multicultural school: 86 countries are represented here.”
Before wrapping up for the morning, and before sending the students to their white paper work, Godwaldt told the young leaders their role at the Edmonton conference will not be ceremonial. He poked a little fun at organizers who use young people for photo opps, but little more.
“They have an afternoon where they bring in the people under 18 and they say [with affected sarcasm, tapping a student’s head], ‘It’s wonderful to have you here. You are the future of the planet. We want to listen to you. [end affected sarcasm].’ Then they give you pizza, then you’re gone.”
Godwaldt urged the students to never accept that role. Unmute your microphones, he told them.
“The world wants to hear you.”
Edmontonians will have the chance to meet about 25 of the international students who are authoring the White Paper when they visit the city before and during the conference. They will be in attendance at the Change for Climate: Festival of Youth Voices at NAIT February 27, and on the EPCOR Stage in Hall A of the Shaw Conference Centre on Monday, March 5 from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m.
The world gathers in Edmonton from March 5-7 for the CitiesIPCC Cities and Climate Change Science Conference. More info here: www.CitiesIPCC.org.
Coming soon to Transforming Edmonton: Hear more from three Queen Elizabeth High School students working on the international white paper.