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Joining hands, raising voices

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December 2009, Hanoi - Sporting a huge smile, 14-year-old Nguyen Thi Ngoc Tuyet from HCM City is barely able to keep still as she describes how she was introduced to the issue of climate change. “I first heard about climate change about four or five years ago because I am a member of the CLB Khan Quang Do Journalists Club and I became very interested in this issue,” she explains. 

It’s the day before Tuyet and five other Vietnamese children leave for Copenhagen to participate in the Children’s Climate Forum and needless to say, they are all very excited.

 

“I am really looking forward to discussing climate change with many children from other countries so we can work hand-in-hand with each other to raise our voices and share our ideas,” says Tuyet.

It’s the first trip to Europe for the children and for many it will be the first time they have even left Vietnam.

Organised by UNICEF and the City of Copenhagen during the first week of December 2009, the Children’s Climate Forum will bring together 160 children between 14 and 17 years of age from 44 developing and industrialized countries around the world to add their voices to the climate change debate.

Raising awareness
The trip to Copenhagen caps a series of community events, media appearances, conferences and workshops in Vietnam that began in April 2009 when two adult facilitators and one child from 21 provinces across the country were invited to participate in a two-day training course on climate change. This was followed by provincial-level climate change children’s forums in four different provinces and a National Forum for Children and National Programme of Action in Hanoi, where 126 Vietnamese children from 21 provinces gathered for three-and-a-half days to speak with government leaders about issues they were concerned about and activities they thought should be included in the next planning cycle.

Following the national forum, a two-day national climate change workshop was organised to orientate and raise awareness among children and young people about climate change and to contribute to preparations for the child delegates’ participation in the Children’s Climate Forum in Copenhagen.

The last step in this process was a meeting between the child delegates and the high-level Vietnamese Government delegates attending COP15.

“Before the meeting I didn’t have a chance to meet the adult delegation and government leaders so I thought they would be very serious and strict, but they turned out to be very friendly and helpful and they gave me a lot of comments and suggestions about my presentation,” says Tuyet.

All this media exposure, education, preparation and training has certainly paid off, with Tuyet demonstrating an understanding of the issues that would put most adults to shame.

“In Copenhagen I would like to say to world leaders that they should to investigate the issues surrounding the 350ppm [parts per million of CO2] figure and if it is true then all the richest countries should find a way to reduce their emissions to that number,” she states confidently.

Real impacts
For Tuyet, climate change isn’t just an idea, it’s something her family has already felt the effects of.

“For us, climate change is closely connected to our real lives. The weather is getting more and more unpredictable in Vietnam and there will be more severe floods and storms, like we just saw in the two recent typhoons this year [Ketsana and Parma],” she explains.

And it’s not just the storms that are causing problems. Both her mother and father sell clothes in a market in HCM City that becomes inaccessible when the tidal floods rise above a certain level, which has been increasingly regular and more severe in recent times. On these days, the family’s sole source of income is cut off, leading to growing financial pressures for Tuyet’s parents and her two siblings.

“I live in HCM City and the flood tides have been much higher than normal,” Tuyet says. “When the tide is high it’s also very hard to go to school and water gets into the house.”

Experts predict that Vietnam will be one of the countries most affected by climate change, however the issue is only recently beginning to receive widespread public attention.  

For 16-year-old delegate Nguyen Thi Ngoc Anh, the first time she heard of climate change was only four months ago when she was selected as a participant in the National Forum for Children and National Programme of Action in Hanoi.

For her and her family, the impacts have already hit home on a very personal level.

“I live in Danang in central coastal Vietnam, which is prone to natural disasters. But these days, more frequent typhoons are hitting my region and they are more severe and unpredictable than before,” she says. “In 2007, a very strong typhoon came and tore the roof off my family’s house and all my books and belongings were destroyed by the water.”

“Before I knew about climate change, I thought the increasing number of storms was just natural but now I know it is due to climate change. I am very scared about the future if these storms get worse because if this happens in my area, there will be more disasters and more people will be killed.”

Anh understands that it’s not just her region that will be affected.

“If climate change continues and sea levels rise, the Mekong Delta, where they produce a lot of rice, will disappear, which will have a direct effect on the people there. In other areas, the drought will reduce agricultural production, so life could totally change in Vietnam.”

Her father died just after she was born and with only her mother and older sister earning money as nurses in the local hospital, any extra costs or injuries to the two breadwinners could be catastrophic for the family’s finances.

Taking action
Anh has learned over the last few months that there are real activities that can be done now to address the problem and she will be taking her message to Copenhagen.

“I would like to contribute to the discussions [in Copenhagen] so that leaders and scientists can come up with solutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and work in the best interests of all nations while tackling the problem,” she said. “People can start helping by reducing their use of private vehicles and using public transport and planting more trees. Local governments can start looking for different technology for renewable energy sources.”

For someone introduced to climate change only a few months ago, she has a very solid grip on the key issues at stake.

“The richest nations should do everything they can to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and they should act not only for their own countries’ interests because although poor countries contribute the least to climate change, we suffer the most.”

When coming from someone so young and sincere and with so much to lose from the effects of climate change, it’s very difficult not to agree.

- Photos and text by Eddy McCall

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