As San Mateo County reels from the effects of smoke, fires, and other environmental issues, local high school students in the Youth Climate Ambassadors (YCA) environmental leadership program are developing projects and solutions to address climate change.

The YCA program was launched earlier this year in collaboration with the Citizens Environmental Council of Burlingame, Peninsula Clean Energy, and the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability. It gives ninth- to eleventh-grade students opportunities to dive into social and environmental issues that take action on climate change. Since January, over 50 students from across the county have attended monthly workshops and two retreats to build their environmental knowledge, individual skills, and capacity to mitigate climate change. 

While the program has shifted entirely online due to COVID-19, the youth ambassadors continue to be passionate, driven, and eager to see changes in their communities.

“A big misconception about climate change is that it affects people equally,” said Connie, a Youth Climate Ambassador and sophomore at Carlmont High School. “Climate change discriminates based upon race and economic status. However, if we don’t take action now, it will affect all of us in devastating ways.”

Environmental literacy and sustainability have become an increasingly important aspect of school curriculum, operations, and culture. The negative impacts of climate change affect students’ health and ability to learn, disproportionately affecting students in low-income communities more than others. By educating students about climate change and empowering them to address issues in their local communities, schools can help students develop into 21st-century learners equipped to create a healthier world for generations to come.

Now in the second half of the program, this year’s youth ambassadors are designing and implementing projects that improve environmental sustainability and mitigate climate change in their own communities. For their community impact project, Connie and her fellow Carlmont students have fused art and watershed sustainability by creating an art contest for first- through sixth-grade students on the world water crisis. The team created a website to teach students about the water cycle, offer ways to reduce water use, and invite students to submit their visual art by Wednesday, September 30th.

“Being a Youth Climate Ambassador has been an incredible learning experience,” shared Connie. “I’ve been able to grow both as a climate activist and a human being because of the support I’ve received from the staff and my fellow ambassadors.”

Other student projects are focusing on pressing issues such as carbon neutral energy, zero waste, increasing biodiversity in land-based ecosystems, and sustainable transportation.

Learn more about the program on the County Office of Sustainability’s website.