This past week, I hopped on a ten-hour overnight bus from Boston to Washington, D.C. to make the most of a one-of-a-kind opportunity. Thanks to Connect4Climate and the larger World Bank climate and communications teams, I was invited to attend the World Bank Spring Meetings in my nation’s capital and share the experience with youth on social media. I also had the distinct privilege of moderating a conversation with Stephane Hallegatte, Senior Climate Change Adviser at the World Bank. The whirlwind of activity was tiring but undeniably worthwhile.
It was lovely joining forces with Temilade Salami and Manuj Bhardwaj, who conducted the Instagram Live takeover with me. The international youth climate community is relatively tight-knit, but it was actually my first time meeting them. That said, we immediately hit it off, bonding over our shared interests as well as mutual friends in the space. Both Temilade and Manuj have incredible stories of how they came to get involved in the work that they do, and it is in meeting people like them that I find my own motivation to keep driving climate action. Whether I'm helping push the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to distribute grants for meaningful projects or collaborating with my university to signal a shift toward sustainability in higher education, the pressure is always mounting. Youth are often dismissed or patronized in their pursuits, so having networks where we can celebrate each other and resonate is key to avoiding burnout in the long term.
One element of our live-streamed conversation that stuck with me was their commentary on the changing role of youth in the environmental movement. Indeed, I think one of the most effective things the youth climate movement has achieved is broadening the climate conversation from high-level negotiating tables to dinner tables around the world. It is well documented that young people and people generally care more about the issue than they did a decade ago – in part because global warming has become more pressing over time, of course, but also because youth-led activism has drawn valuable media attention and shaped public discourse. Now that discussions around climate action strategy are happening, the natural next step for youth is working proactively with institutions to shape pathways to climate solutions. As Temi eloquently put it, it is not enough for youth to be reactive and reject policies once bills have been proposed. We need seats at the table for young leaders with vision, who know the ins and outs of drawing public and private finance to large-scale infrastructure projects. We need young people who are willing to engage with the institutions that hold the money and have the know-how to help direct it more effectively. Only then will #ReshapingDevelopment for a new era be possible.
Inspired by the realizations I had with Temi and Manuj, after the takeover I resolved to take full advantage of my remaining time and Spring Meetings accreditation. I scanned the schedule with the goal of maximizing my exposure to the different events going on across the multiple buildings. The first I attended was a session held at the headquarters of the International Monetary Forum (IMF) whose registration list included representatives of the IMF, the US Department of State, as well as a number of non-profit groups. What they all had in common was their engagement with the Civil Society Policy Forum. People from across the world were convened to answer the question: How to strengthen the IMF’s AML/CFT engagement with its member countries to achieve real change? Although I admittedly didn’t know going in that these initialisms stood for Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Finance of Terrorism, I emerged from the session with a new appreciation for the work that goes into ensuring allocated funds get where they need to go and aren’t diverted to nefarious ends.
After that, I headed to the other IMF building for the marquee atrium event on Climate Finance and Energy Security, which featured high-level speakers including Mr. Bo Li, Deputy Managing Director at the IMF. It was gratifying to hear about the role of concessionary public funding in crowding in private capital, as I had spent my gap year working with the UN Capital Development Fund in that precise area. Mainstream private financiers for projects in the developing world need to be more ambitious to address rampant inequality; the multilateral initiatives undertaken by the UN system, IFC, and the World Bank are all part of a larger project to coax stronger streams of capital into the Global South where it is needed most. This discussion made clear the connection between development and climate change – always a valuable reminder.
My lunch break flew by once I stumbled on the Moroccan country pavilion, complete with artisanal goods and complimentary pastries imported from Marrakech. Afterwards, I wrapped up the day with a featured program in the World Bank Main Complex on The World Emissions Clock: Fighting Climate Change with Data, where I learned about the complex behind-the-scenes processes that go into the continuous updating of all the industrial and national greenhouse emissions statistics we’re always talking about in my classes. I walked away from the session with a deeper respect for the teams that diligently crunch and re-crunch the data that so often permeates discussions about the environment.
As a whole, the day served as a powerful learning opportunity – one that could not be replicated in the classroom.
Condensed time frame notwithstanding, it was an honor to be able to attend this year’s Spring Meetings. I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of the action. In the years to come, I hope that there will be more young people like me in the audience – and not just the virtual audience. I would love to see young panelists highlighting the fintech and digital infrastructure revolutions taking place in the least developed countries. These change-making youth deserve a platform – sooner rather than later. The work that is being done by the various staff members I met is admirable. But I cannot help but wonder what an event like this might look like once the energy and perspectives of youth are fully blended into the mix. I suspect that when that happens, we will see a welcome shakeup in the ambition and risk appetite around climate finance.
Angela Zhong is a first-generation Asian-American Harvard sophomore. She is studying economics, environmental science public policy, and Mandarin. Hailing from Houston, Texas, Angela has felt the impacts of natural disasters and climate change first-hand. Angela previously served as her school’s first-ever Minister for Climate and Sustainability on the Undergraduate Council Executive Cabinet as well as a 2022 Max Thabiso Edkins Climate Ambassador. Angela is passionate about youth climate advocacy and was fortunate enough to engage at COP27, COP15, EarthX 2022, Stockholm+50, C40 Cities Summit, and many more. Learn more about her at angelazhong.com.