Youth Climate Program

The Wild Center's Youth Climate Program was born out of a major national climate conference held at the Center in 2008. The conference, Land of Opportunity: The American Response to Climate Change,  brought leaders from around the nation into a closed-door gathering to find a way that we could map a path to lower carbon emissions for the United States. The Conference attendees included John HoldrenFrances BeineckeMichael Levi and more than 150 others.  What this conference, and another Adirondack conference that followed, did not have, was student participants.

A few students were invited to watch the proceedings, and for one, Zach Berger, watching wasn't enough. He approached The Wild Center to see whether he could help organize a Youth Summit for students in the region, where students could come, learn, and develop their own action plans for their schools. The Adirondack Youth Climate Summit was hatched from that idea.

Each year the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit reaches more than 25,000 students represented by the 150 participants from 27 high schools, colleges and universities across the North Country. It has also reached across the Atlantic, as a model for a Finnish Youth Climate Summit. For the past five years the Summit has given students the tools to make changes in their own schools. The Summit has led to financial savings and shifts in mindsets across the Park.  Students who participated over the past few years returned to their schools implementing changes including creating school gardens to provide food for their cafeterias, expanding recycling and composting programs, and carbon audits for energy programs.

The Summit has grown to encompass a full-year program with outreach, educational and leadership opportunities for the students.

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Last December, 195 countries came together in Paris and reached an unprecedented agreement to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.  This past Friday, April 22 – Earth Day, more than 170 countries joined in a historic event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City to sign the landmark Paris climate agreement. 

University of Vermont sophomore and Adirondack Youth Climate leader and Saranac Lake High School alumna, Gina Fiorile along with The Wild Center’s Director of Programs, Jen Kretser, were at the United Nations for this historic Earth Day event. Gina had the honor of opening the US Pavilion as a featured speaker on youth engagement and climate change at COP21 in Paris last December. “I am grateful that the United Nations has recognized that young people are key stakeholders in combatting climate change and that we need to be part of the conversation.  COP 21 was just the beginning and in order to solve this, we need to engage everyone,” said Fiorile of the days' events. 

Leader after world leader remarked on the critical importance of the putting the agreement into action.  Speakers included Secretary of State John Kerry, the President of France Francois Hollande, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and many more.  UN ambassador of peace, actor Leonardo DeCaprio concluded the opening ceremony with “Now is the time for bold unprecedented action. Which side of history will you be on?”

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said: “Today is a remarkable, record-breaking day in the history of international cooperation on climate change and a sustainable future for billions of people alive today and those to come.”

Figueres added, “The urgency now is to implement the Paris Agreement’s visionary pathways at a speed and scale that can deliver the next crucial steps; namely a swift peaking of global emissions, a climate neutral world in the second half of the century and the building of resilient countries and communities for every man, woman and child.”

The Paris Agreement marked a watershed moment in taking action on climate change.  After years of negotiation, countries agreed to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, while pursuing efforts to keep temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. 

Youth also spoke at the signing ceremony. Gertrude Clement a 16 year girl from Tanzania remarked “Youth are leading our communities in taking action. We expect more than words on paper and promises – we expect action – action on a big scale. And we expect action today – not tomorrow – the future is ours and the future is bright.”  Secretary of State John Kerry brought his granddaughter to the podium to sign the historic document, a symbol of safeguarding future generations from the impact of climate change. 

Over the past year The Wild Center has been working to spread the Youth Climate Summit model across the country, inspiring events in Detroit, Vermont, Houston and even Finland. The Center has also become involved with #Youth4Climate, a campaign organized by a coalition of partners with a goal to inspire young people around the world to take action on climate change. By providing a platform for young people to be heard and by carving out space for them in places where they’ve historically been marginalized, #Youth4Climate is empowering young people to have influence in the global climate conversation.

The #Youth4Climate social media campaign is an effort led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Department of Energy, the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), the CLEAN Network, The Wild Center, the World Bank Group’s global partnership program Connect4Climate, Climate Generation, Earth Day Network, Climate Interactive, Climate Sign, Alliance for Climate Education, and others. It is an open discussion for all to join the youth call for climate action.


As for the signing on Friday, the hard work is really just beginning. We need to expand the idea of what is possible. 

Report from COP 21

Jen Kretser, Gina Fiorile and Stephanie Ratcliffe were at the heart of the climate change movement - the UN COP 21 talks in Paris in November 2015. It was a whirlwind few days when world leaders from 156 countries descended to open the 2 week negotiation period – they left and the work began for countries to come to an agreement to keep climate warming below 2 degrees Celsius. As part of this historic event there were 40,000 people, from around the world, in Paris to not only work on the negotiations, but also make their voices heard. 

The Wild Center and our partners attended to represent youth. Gina opened the US Pavilion as a featured speaker on youth engagement and climate change.

The momentum continued with Our Time to Lead: Youth Engagement on Climate Change, a youth climate engagement and leadership event hosted by Universcience - the Paris Science Center and coordinated by the Association of Science and Technology Centers. Participating science centers from Finland, South Africa, India and Argentina joined the conversation live & online to COP21 participants. Youth delegates on site had a conversation on how they are working in their communities including interviews with Gina Fiorile and a local audience. In addition, a panel of climate scientists participated including Frank Niepold – Climate Education Coordinator for NOAA; Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Professor of Climatology and Environmental Sciences at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; and Owen Gaffney - Director of international media and strategy at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and writer and analyst working in global-change research.


2015 Summitk

The 2015 Adirondack Youth Climate Summit was held on November 12th & 13th and reached over 200 students at 35 schools. The materials and details can be found here. Please use this page and our Facebook page as a way of keeping in touch.

AYCS 2015

Hear the thoughts and plans of Adirondack students at the 7th Adirondack Youth Climate Summit as they plan the future of their schools in ways to help mitigate climate change.



The Adirondack Youth Climate Summit has garnered attention, awards, and praise for both its model and its leaders. See a sampling of what that has been like.


Summits in Situk

Youth Climate Summits have been spreading across the country and around the world. Take a look into some of the places Summits have been held!



What has come out of the Youth Climate Summits is beyond anything that seemed possible eight years ago. Take a look at a few highlights of what Summit participants have done!