It’s a 26 degree day in April, and I’m sitting on the AYCC Balcony looking at a thick cloud of fog over Sydney Harbour that the news bulletins are reporting on, but can’t explain.
Today is my last week as Co-Director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. I’m retiring at the ripe old age of 27. I’d always promised myself that I’d leave when I hit this milestone in my life, after having spent a large part of my life (since I was 14) as an environment activist, and the majority of my twenties working on AYCC. Although I will stay on as a board member, it’s time for me to move aside to allow our fantastic young(er) leaders to step up. It’s time for the next generation of young climate leaders to take ownership of this movement that belongs to them and time to make way for the tens of thousands of other youth who are the heart and soul of AYCC.
I was 22 years old, and in Montreal at the UN Climate Negotiations when I had the idea of a national youth coalition to build a movement to solve climate change. It was at the end of a year convening the Australian Student Environment Network and working with the National Union of Students, and I was exhausted. But after meeting so many inspiring young people from around the world – especially those from the US who had already established an organization called the Energy Action Coalition, and those from the Pacific and Bangladesh who were already seeing the impacts on their communities – I knew that there wasn’t any time to waste.
After returning to Australia, I spent my second last year of law reaching out to Australian youth organizations – all of them. One after the other, they expressed interest in being part of a united youth movement. They understood that climate change is fundamentally an issue about of intergenerational equity, and the most basic human right of all: survival. In November 2006, we finally pulled everyone together at the AYCC’s founding summit in Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne – the day after the G20 protests, which many of us had participated in. It was at that summit that I met some of the most inspiring, intelligent, strategic and open-hearted people in Australia, including my future partner Simon & my future Co-Director Amanda.
The summit involved many late night deliberations, including a long drawn out session finalizing the content and text of the AYCC’s founding declaration. It involved a huge dinner at the dumplings place in Tattersall’s lane, which has now become AYCC’s official eatery of choice. At the summit we received national media attention, including an interview on JJJ’s Hack program where I proudly and possibly pre-emptively announced that the formation of the AYCC would change the Australian political landscape forever.
Little did I know back then, that AYCC would go on to do exactly that. After our formal launch on World Kyoto Day in February 2007, we went on to build the largest and most innovative youth movement that this country has seen for decades. AYCC is now the largest youth-run organization in Australia, with 50,000 individual young members in addition to all major youth organizations participating as member and partner organizations.
Our campaigns have been many and varied, and we’ve learnt so much along the way. From Adopt a Politician, Switched on Schools, Targets Tag Team, snap actions involving cupcakes, kites and stalking Kevin Rudd, sending youth delegations to the UN Climate conferences in Bali, Poland and Copenhagen, and of course the huge highlights so far: Power Shift and Youth Decide – we’ve grown exponentially with the support of an immense number of dedicated people and organizations.
We couldn’t have done it without the hard work and generosity of literally thousands of people: our brilliant volunteers (some of whom turned into staff when we received funding), our office hosts The Climate Institute (in Sydney) and Docklands and Greenfleet (in Melbourne). We could not have done what we’ve done without our supporters: The Purves Environmental Fund, the Foundation for Young Australians, The Myer Foundation, VISY, ClimateWorks, Monash University, University of Western Sydney, University of Technology Sydney, GetUp, Greenpeace, WWF, Friends of the Earth, the Mullum Trust, International Youth Foundation and many generous individual donors. Also a huge thanks to our pro bono partners: Baker & McKenzie lawyers, KPMG; our music industry partners Illusive and bands Cat Empire, Blue King Brown, Kisschasy, Bliss N Esso, and our online partner Wired for Change. Also the incredible celebrities who’ve been our ambassadors and helped us out including Ian Thorpe, Steph Gilmore, Brooke Satchwell & Tim Flannery.
I’d also like to thank my mentors Susan Lenehan (former SA Environment Minister), John Connor (Climate Institute), the late Phil Clapp (Pew Environment Trust) and my family for all their advice. Huge thanks to Mum for being unwaveringly supportive, even when I dropped out of law school for a year to work on ASEN, and for not freaking out when I refused a well-paid corporate law job to do AYCC without any guaranteed income stream.
I want to personally thank, from the bottom of my heart, all of the AYCC team across the country for your support, encouragement, constructive criticism, and commitment to the cause. We still have a long way to go before we solve climate change, and I know you will continue to work towards this goal, as will I, in a different capacity.
I’m excited to announce that I’ll be taking up a new role with the strategy & consultancy group Make Believe, and helping fulfil their mission of helping not-for-profits, socially-responsible companies, foundations, passionate individuals and progressive political parties do good, better.
I’ll also be focusing on my writing – after the success of co-authoring the book Future By Us last year, I’m keen to keep putting my thoughts into words, so expect some blogs and articles in the near future!
Last weekend I held 27th my birthday party at Coogee Beach. Ever since I was little, I’d been grumpy that my birthday was in April, because it’s always too cold to do anything outdoors, unlike my friends who had fantastic pool parties every January. This year was different. This birthday, I spent the day swimming with my friends at Wylie Baths. It felt like summer – and even though I was enjoying myself in the sun, I have to say it scared me.
So far, humans have increased temperatures almost a degree Celcius since pre-industrial levels, and it’s already created the huge changes that we’re experiencing now: a world where the natural systems have fundamentally changed from the ones that used to exist when my grandparents were born. We’re experiencing increased drought, extreme weather events, hurricanes, cyclones, floods, bushfires. The tropics have expanded, increasing the spread of mosquito borne disease. Oceans are acidifying and coral reefs will most likely cease to exist within my lifetime. I know I don’t need to tell you this – I know that you’re already aware of what’s happening – but this is our new reality.
I won’t stop working on climate change until we solve it, and I know it will be a long struggle in which the role of youth will continue to be crucial. I’m excited to be leaving AYCC in the capable hands of Amanda McKenzie (who will remain as National Director) and Ellen Sandell (our General Manager), and our other staff Emily, Kirsty, & Morgan as well as our core volunteers like Lisa, Sophie, Tash, Lucy, Ramya, Ahri, Jane, Hilary, George, Charlie, Sasha (and the rest of the Canberra crew), Erin Raggat, Jacqui, Katie, Jodi, Sarah, Milo, Rufus, Larissa and so many more. Also I want to mention Jarra McGrath who has really been crucial to the success of the AYCC through his supernatural design skills.
Once again, thank you so all much for all the inspiration and support you’ve given me over the last few years. Please stay in touch – my new email is anna [at] itsgettinghotinhere.org.