“Stop Talking and Act!” Demand Student Climate Activists in Viet Nam

The United Nations were given their marching orders by Hanoi students this week when they joined the Under Secretary General online for a private audience to discuss climate change.

On Tuesday January 19, a select group of students in Viet Nam spoke directly to the United Nations Under Secretary-General, Mr Fabrizio Hochschild and the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Viet Nam, Mr Kamal Malhotra as one of the culminating events of the #UN75 celebrations.

Hosted by the United Nations International School of Hanoi (UNIS Hanoi), the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity afforded students the chance to speak truth to power and make key recommendations that would protect their planet. 

Opening the event online from her home in Brussels was a former UNIS Hanoi student, Adelaide Charlier who not only launched Belgium’s Youth for Climate Action movement alongside Greta Thunberg, but who has also met a host of world leaders and attended the UN’s annual COP climate conferences to ensure the voice of youth is heard.

She told her gathered peers that young people were best placed to lead on climate issues because they still believe that change is possible. She added, “As youth, we have to ‘disturb' because that’s the only way we’re going to get attention on a forgotten topic. We have to be creative and can’t stop because if we stop, the media stops and world leaders stop. So the question is; what can we, as young people, do?”

Spurred on by Adelaide’s passionate key-note speech, the students who attend UNIS Hanoi, British International School Hanoi, Concordia International School and Hanoi International School, worked together to formulate their ideas and present them to the UN Under Secretary-General and the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Viet Nam. Students from Grade 5 upwards highlighted their concern regarding worsening air pollution, rising sea levels, and inefficient renewable energy sources. They asked officials to consider implementing more effective policies such as a smooth transition from current economic practices to a carbon-free economy, mass scale use of sustainable transportation and an end to deforestation. 

“I felt pretty lucky to be given the opportunity to speak to such important people,” said 10 year old Keira Meko. A UNIS Hanoi student, Keira said she hoped that decision makers would put young people’s ideas into practice,  “If no-one follows up with these ideas, they won’t be useful”. Her classmate, Dylan Lord, 11, was pleased to participate in the event and said, “I thought sharing my voice would be a good thing so that Mr Hochschild is aware of the problems in the world and the many things that need to be improved upon.”

Angela Lee, a Grade 11 student at British International School Hanoi (BIS) was glad Mr Hochschild was genuinely interested in the ideas generated by students. With plans to bring schools together to form a climate action movement, Angela was pleased to hear Mr Hochschild encourage unity among young people. Taking action at a local level is something Bao Nguyen a Grade 10 student at Hanoi International School believes in. Boldly highlighting displacement as an urgent issue that needs attention by the UN, Bao said traveling around his country and seeing the after effects of the flooding in the central region last year shocked him into action. 

For Binh Vu, a Grade 11 student at UNIS Hanoi, the event empowered and motivated her. She remarked, “Being pushed out of my comfort zone by digging deep into the core problems in Viet Nam made me realise that there are many things we can do as youth to educate, improve and inspire our community.”

Impressed by every contribution made, Mr Hochschild thanked all 40 students in attendance and promised he’d relay their comments to the Secretary-General. “This has been very inspiring and very educational for me,” he revealed. “We’ve been having conversations like this throughout the year in every member state and we’ve involved millions of people around the world. Based on your proposals, we’ve pledged to do better in twelve specific areas including one you demanded - better integrated youth decision-making at a national and international level. We hope that the advocacy and mobilization of unity will help create an atmosphere of action. You asked for less words and more action. If there’s one thing I will take away from tonight it’s that.”

Ms Emma Silva, Director of Advancement at UNIS Hanoi said it was time for the adults in the room to listen to the youth. She added, “Our job as adults is simple; listen and empower. They have proved tonight that they understand both the urgency and complexity of solving the mess that we have given them. Let’s not stand in their way.”

Closing the event, Mr Malhotra commended the students for recognizing the pressing climate issues in Viet Nam. He added, “I was very impressed by the messages that we heard tonight and it’s clear that even students in fifth grade are aware that we need to talk less, act more and that time is running out”. 

UNIS Hanoi’s Head of School, Ms Jane McGee said it was an honour for the School to host; “As one of only two UN schools in the world, we are deeply committed to playing our part in realising Agenda 2030. Tonight is a continuation of our efforts to address global concerns such as climate change and encouraging our students to be the change they want to see. We look forward to future collaborations with UN agencies so that our young people are given the right platform to make a difference.”

Comments and recommendations solicited from young people around the world have been captured as part of a special report - ‘UN75 - the future we want, the United Nations we need’. Download the full report by visiting the UN.org website.