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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TUPPER LAKE, NY – The Paris Climate Agreement, adopted by world leaders last December at the Climate Conference in Paris (COP21), officially entered into force on Friday, November 4th. To commemorate this historic day, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited civil society representatives to a 45 minute meeting at the UN Headquarters in New York City. This meeting provided fifty representatives of civil society groups the opportunity to share with the Secretary-General how their organizations will contribute to the objectives of the Paris Agreement, as well as their visions and concerns. 

Caroline Dodd, a Saranac Lake, NY native and Cornell University sophomore, attended this historic meeting. Dodd had been selected as a Civil Society representative to attend the 2014 United Nations Climate Conference through a global selection process.  Last week she was called by the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service to once again represent youth climate leaders at this historic  event. Dodd represented the civil society organizations Plan International and The Wild Center’s Adirondack Youth Climate Program.

Eleven civil society representatives spoke during the meeting. Individuals from the Climate Action Network, Greenpeace, MIT and others presented their thoughts on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The meeting included several video statements, including one from Marshall Islands resident Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, whose opening poem at the 2014 UN Climate Summit prompted a standing ovation from world leaders.

“There were statements of support for the Paris Agreement, but each included emphasis on the fact that countries and civil society representatives are responsible for upholding the agreement, as it is not legally binding and there is no mechanism for enforcement,” Dodd recalled. 

Following the input from civil society members, the Secretary-General set his script aside to make his closing comments. “I found out later that this is quite unusual,” Dodd said. “The Secretary-General referred to civil society as the ‘Kings and Queens without crowns’ that have made the Paris Agreement possible. Shaking the Secretary General’s hand and then sitting a few feet from him for the meeting to commemorate this historic day is something I will never forget. I left the meeting feeling empowered and hopeful.”

The Paris agreement is a climate change accord adopted by nearly 200 countries in December 2015 and has been ratified by nearly half of these nations. The agreement commits world leaders to keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, an agreed upon threshold beyond which climate disaster is virtually guaranteed. The carbon emissions targets are not legally-binding, but the framework of the accord is binding and includes a mechanism for periodically increasing the targets. The agreement also has a long-term goal for net zero emissions, which would require phasing out fossil fuels.

The Wild Center’s Adirondack Youth Climate Program engages youth in climate change education and catalyzes action in schools and communities through youth-driven projects and leadership. The program has created a White House Champion of Change and sent student leaders to the United Nations and COP 21 in Paris. The Program also has helped to seed Youth Summits around the world, bringing its unique organization and focus on youth leadership to Finland, Seattle, Vermont and Detroit. Dodd is an alumna of the program and a former intern at The Wild Center working on the Youth Climate Program.  She plans to create a Western New York Climate Summit in the near future.

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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.

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!