World Environment Day (WED) is celebrated on June 5th every year, and is the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of our environment. 

This year, the theme is #TimeForNature, with a focus on its role in providing the essential infrastructure that supports life on Earth and human development. However, for many young people in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), the impacts of climate change are very real and present and their ties to nature is strong. So we chatted with 4 young people from the LAC region to get some insight into their work as activists and here are the messages they have for you.

Elenita Sales, Brasil

world environment day

Elenita Sales is a 22 year old black, Brazilian, lesbian, artist and climate activist. She recently interrupted her graduation in Sanitary and Environmental Engineering to participate in the Sail For Climate Action Project that aims to uplift LAC youth voices. Elenita does volunteer work and has a blog called Preta No Verde, where she talks about her experiences and about socio-environmental issues.

Elenita laments that long periods of drought in Brazil have caused great damage to agricultural production. It’s one of the major climate change-related issues in the country. What makes it worse though, is a system which enables inequality. 

The vast majority of Brazil live in poor conditions and to survive on informal and temporary jobs. Most of the country’s low-income population lives in slums and hills, which leaves them especially affected and vulnerable to the effects of climate change, landslides and floods caused by heavy rains. Consequences of environmental racism. In addition, because of the long periods of drought, several small agricultural producers are suffering losses from their production and several regions are facing shortages in water supply.

For Elenita, climate action means fighting for the conservation of the biodiversity of our planet, as well as fighting for the improvement in the quality of life of those who suffer the consequences of the acts of a privileged minority. 

Her key message is that every good intention is valid. 

The reality of most young Brazilians is very hard and complex. Like me, many need to ensure their survival in an overtly racist, sexist and LGBT-phobic system, and may think they cannot help fight climate change. But there are simple things that can be done and if everyone does their part it’s the beginning. Like, for example, changing your consumption habits, ways of separating waste, among others. If many do small acts, together we can make a difference!

world environment day

YAQUEMILSA FREDELINDA MATIASHI VICENTE​, peru

Yaquemilsa Fredelinda Matiashi Vicente is Peruvian, a student of Environmental Engineering at Universidad Peruana Unión filial Tarapoto.  She is  from the Camisea native community of the Cusco region and she is a leader of Indigenous Amazonian youth of the Megantoni District.

According to Yaquemilsa, In Peru the biggest climate issues are the results of deforestation and poor management of solid waste. 

These have major impacts on the indigenous communities because we do not have landfills and there is no environmental education in our communities.

This is why Yaquemilsa believes climate action is very important and real and effective action needs to involve everyone, regardless of any perceived differences. She believes an important weakness in the global climate movement is the lack of involvement and inclusion of indigenous voices from the countries around the world.  

We are all in the same place and we are facing this issue together, so that means union for a better world. I promote climate action with all the young people and adolescents in my community, letting them know what is happening, making them understand that if we do not act now, it will be too late so that they can join in this great task that we have, as the union calls and we are all a big family. We must join together and act now, to leave positive impacts for future generations. 

world environment day

Devon Carter, anguilla

Devon Carter is a Research Assistant at The Anguilla National Trust where he works on a number of species and ecosystem conservation initiatives, including the restoration of islands and species recovery programmes. 

For Devon, the biggest environmental issue in the Caribbean is unsustainable development. On the island of Anguilla one of the pressing environmental issues is how to become more resilient to hurricanes. Caribbean countries are being battered and destroyed every year as hurricanes and storms increase in frequency and intensity. 

Devon wants to see the Caribbean engage in climate action and him that means building climate resilience.  

I push for climate action within my community by taking action with different projects such as Anguilla National Trust coastal resilience project and mangrove restoration project. 

According to Devon, as more young people get involved in the climate movement and more to the forefront of it, there needs to also be more inclusion. Similar to Yaquemilsa, Devon sees that there currently not enough space provided for youth from the global south, who are most vulnerable and affected by climate change impacts. Noting this, he urges us all to be kind to each other, in spite of it all. 

Be kind to your neighbour, be kind to your loved ones, be kind to those that oppose your views, be kind to my youth.

A great message, as in kindness, we will be open to understanding the pain that others are experiencing and be more inclined to work together to improve our world. 

world environment day

Ati Gunnawi Viviam Villafaña Izquierdo, Colombia

Ati Gunnawi Viviam Villafaña Izquierdo is 22 years old and belongs to the Arhuaco indigenous community located in northern Colombia. She is a political science student at the Javeriana University of Bogotá. 

I defend the need to enter the global environmental movement from the voices of indigenous communities to diversify its general vision.

For Viviam and the Arhuaco people, the land and everything on and in it is sacred. Biodiversity loss is a major impact of climate change and it is worsened by irresponsible use of natural resources. 

This impoverishes the indigenous communities who depend on these resources to survive. 

Climate action for me means a commitment to environmental struggles, it means a commitment to the coherence of life and it means demanding for clear and decisive decisions in the face of the serious environmental problems that afflict our regions. As a member of my community, I have been a group teacher in the first and second grades of primary school. There we spoke repeatedly about indigenous identity and our environmental related actions, which are also related to our territory, our education and the fight against racism. We also work towards motivating new generations, especially through action. 

These young environmentalists inspire us to continue pushing for climate action and knocking on the doors until all persons are represented and all voices are heard.

Azul Schvartzman

About Azul Schvartzman

Azul Schvartzman is Argentinian and is 25 years old. She studied Environmental Sciences at University of Buenos Aires and works as an advisor on youth engagement and climate change in different organizations. She is currently Projects coordinator in Agenda Ambiental and is part of the Core Team of Sail for Climate Action.