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The UN Will Give You $15,000 To Help Address Climate Change

"More than ever, we need these young change-makers."
May 25, 2017, 4:30pm

This is an opinion piece by Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

During an extraordinary year in Bern, Switzerland, a young German scientist wrote four scientific papers that would change the world. A decade and a half later, he would win the Nobel Prize for his discoveries.

Albert Einstein was only 26 when he revealed his famous equation, E=mc 2, and reimagined the foundations of physics in 1905.

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In 1953, a young Johannesburg teacher quit his job in protest at the abhorrent Bantu Education Act which diminished opportunities for black South Africans.

Desmond Tutu was only 22 when he began his lifelong struggle to secure peace, justice and dignity for all. In building a "Rainbow Nation", his cause reached far beyond his own country and continent, and even his own Anglican religion.

In 1957, a young British woman set out to the African bush and made a discovery that would change our notion of what it means to be human.

Jane Goodall was 26 with no collegiate education when she first observed chimpanzees using tools, and upended centuries of anthropological thinking. She was only 23 when she first cast off from England.

History is filled with stories of young people who changed the world. They reframed the world with their ideas and actions. The modern era is no different.

At only 17, Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel in 2014 for her passionate advocacy for the right to education.

Still in his 20s, the fearless Chinese journalist, Hongxiang Huang, has risked life and limb to expose illegal wildlife trafficking.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a formidable climate activist in the US, and still just a teenager.

More than ever, we need these young change-makers.

The environment is under stress and the evidence is everywhere. It's in the soil, rivers, oceans and atmosphere, the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.

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Tests show that our hair, lungs and blood contains heavy metals. Species are dying out. Whole continents are melting. Entire nations are sinking beneath the sea.

Safeguarding the environment is the defining challenge of our time. The question is: what are we doing about it? Those of us who care for the natural world must stand up and be counted.

That's why the United Nations is looking for the next generation of environmental leaders to help get their big ideas off the ground.

At UN Environment, we know nobody is too young to change the world.

Over half of the world's population is under 30. It is ultimately the fate of coming generations that is most at stake. Above all others, they should be empowered to shape it.

UN Environment has teamed up with Covestro—a leading materials science company—to make that happen. We have launched Young Champions of the Earth, a multi-year competition and mentorship scheme aiming to identify, celebrate and support talented individuals between 18 and 30 with outstanding potential to create positive environmental impact.

Each year, six Young Champions—one each from Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, and West Asia—will receive US$15,000 in seed funding, expert mentoring, tailored training, global publicity and access to influential networks, including trips to the UN Environment Assembly and the UN General Assembly. Additional support will be extended to 24 regional finalists.

Albert Einstein famously said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

That's why the solutions to the most difficult environmental challenges are likely to come from creative, idealist and energetic young people.

So if you have a big idea to protect or restore the environment, a strong track record of instigating change and a vision for a brighter future, then you might just have what it takes to become a Young Champion of the Earth.

Apply by 18 June 2017 at UNEP's Young Champions site.

The future is yours to shape for the better, and UN Environment wants to help you do it.