Commonwealth youth unite to tackle ocean challenges and spur sustainable change

23 August 2023
A man holding a sign saying 'Less pollution'

Young people from across the Commonwealth have shared strategies and actions to address the urgent environmental crises affecting their generation.

To mark International Youth Day, which was celebrated on 12 August, several young leaders convened virtually to discuss the topic, "Empowering Future Stewards: Commonwealth Youth for Ocean Science, Policy, and Advocacy". The webinar was organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Blue Charter programme.

The event highlighted the disproportionate impacts of climate change and ecosystem decline facing today’s youth and future generations, as well as young people’s pivotal role in shaping a sustainable future.

In her opening remarks, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland, emphasised:

“There can be no healthy future for the ocean or the planet without the full, committed and sustained engagement of young people everywhere… [They] bring unique perspectives, imagination and an innovative spirit. They bring fresh energy for advocacy and change.

“And ultimately, the only way to ensure the work we are doing now is sustained for the long term is to involve the very people who can take it forward into the future.”

With 2023 declared as the Commonwealth Year of Youth, the focus is on harnessing the power of 1.5 billion young people under the age of 30 – equivalent to 60 per cent of the total population across 56 nations – to save the ocean and fight climate change.

Catalysts for change

Moderating the session, Mauritian scientist Dr Josheena Naggea applauded the Commonwealth’s collective commitment to putting youth at the heart of ocean conservation. Dr Naggea, an Andre Hoffman Fellow at the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions and the World Economic Forum, described young people as “the catalyst for transformative change and the torchbearers of hope.”

Guest speaker, H.E Hon Therese Rath, High Commissioner of Belize to the United Kingdom, urged young people to foster a personal connection with the ocean to drive meaningful advocacy and to “think global, act local”, adding: "People protect what they love and respect, so build your army.”

During the panel discussion, Ruth Guiterrez-Corley, a PhD candidate from Belize studying at the Islands and Small States Institute in Malta, also advocated “finding one's passion” early on, as well as pursuing studies and volunteerism to make a lasting impact.

Lucky Abeng, a Nigeria-based Climate Justice Expert for the South-South Youth Platform for Climate Justice, focused on intergenerational equity and underscored the need to build young people’s capacity to engage meaningfully in global processes such as the UNFCCC (United Nations Convention Framework for Climate Change).

A Jamaican early career marine biologist, Matthew-Pierre Rogers, also stressed effective communication and networking as pivotal tools to create real change.

James Lloyd, an undergraduate student from The University of York in the UK, called for the democratisation of ocean management and greater inclusion of diverse voices in policymaking. In particular, he urged a precautionary approach to resource extraction from the ocean, avoiding environmentally destructive practices unless proven manageable.

Lindsay Getschel, Senior Associate for Outreach and Engagement, Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance (ORRAA), acknowledged the challenges posed by climate change but remained optimistic about the potential for innovative solutions.

Youth at the helm

In conclusion, Paulo Kautoke, Senior Director for Trade Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, welcomed youth action to deliver on the global Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, including SDG14 on ‘Life below water’. He thanked the panel for their continued support for the Commonwealth Blue Charter, which prioritises the role of youth in ocean conservation.

One of the panellists, Ms Guiterrez-Corley, who serves as Commonwealth Ocean Youth Outreach Assistant, is developing the Commonwealth’s first Ocean Youth Working Group, in partnership with the Commonwealth Youth Climate Network (CYCN). It is envisioned that this group will raise awareness of ocean-climate issues at the grassroots level and promote collaboration with government programmes and youth-led initiatives.

The webinar was an opportunity to showcase the commitment of Commonwealth youth, across multiple regions, in shaping a sustainable and equitable future for our planet.  

Watch the webinar

For more information on the Ocean Youth Working Group under the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network, email [email protected]

Media contact

  • Josephine Latu-Sanft  Senior Communications Officer, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat
  • +44 20 7747 6476  |  E-mail