The Wild Center: Adirondack Youth Climate Summit, New York State, USA

The Wild Center’s Youth Climate Program is a global initiative that works to convene, inspire, and network young people through youth climate summits, empowering them to lead on climate change solutions in their schools and communities. 

The heart of the program is the annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit, a two-day conference that brings together over 200 high school and college students to learn about climate change in a student-led, hopeful atmosphere. The summit consists of more than 20 plenary sessions and workshops on topics such as farm to school, youth leadership, resilience, civic engagement, communication through art, energy efficiency, and waste management. School teams consisting of students, administrators, and faculty use information from the session to create their own Climate Action Plan, which they bring back to their school for implementation. Each year, the Adirondack Summit is intentionally modified to incorporate student feedback and to best support student needs as they lead on implementing climate action plans in their schools and communities. This has included the creation of a full time Youth Climate Program Coordinator to support student plans year round, as well as a Climate and Communities Coordinator to build capacity at other sites, and a mini-grants program to help fund student’s action plans. 

Due to recognition for emphasizing the value of project based learning and action competency, the Youth Climate Program is a case study and leader in the global conversation surrounding youth climate empowerment and preparing youth to be active citizens in a global society. Beyond serving as a convening force, the work done by The Wild Center’s Youth Climate Program in developing their local program is now viewed as a model for other youth climate initiative, and the successful ideas from the local program are consistently thought of as the leading edge for best practices in youth engagement and leadership around climate change. The Program convenes discussions between partners across the globe and serves in a leadership role with number of national organizations, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN), which has resulted in their participation in planning an affiliate event at the upcoming Global Climate Action Summit. Highlights of Youth Climate Program leadership include recognition by The White House’s Climate Literacy and Education Initiative in 2014 and leading youth education components of COP21 in 2015. 

The core of this innovative work is creating space for authentic youth voice and leadership at all levels. At a local scale, youth are given tools to identify their passions and lead their own climate action projects in their schools and communities. This has led to success beyond school environments, and has spurred collaborative relationships between students and municipal leaders, leading to climate commitments and action work at a local level.

Now in its 10th year, the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit model has inspired over 30 similar Youth Climate Summits around the world and built an impressive, powerful network of empowered young people. Throughout the United States, The Wild Center has since helped to start Youth Climate Summits in Washington, California, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Vermont, Texas, and Massachusetts, as well as multiple other New York State summits. Additionally, Wild Center has inspired and advised international summits in Finland, Sri Lanka, Germany, and Liberia. The Wild Center's Youth Climate Program has a free, downloadable DIY Youth Climate Summit toolkit. 

The Wild Center is a science center and natural history museum located in the heart of the six million acre Adirondack Park in northern New York State. The 115 acre campus features a indoor space with live animals, interactive exhibits, and a panoramic theater featuring the natural history of the Adirondacks. Outside, Wild Walk - an elevated walk across the treetops, iForest - an immersive sound experience, The Pines nature play area and our waterfront along the 176 mile Racquette river creates uncommon experiences for visitors to explore their connection to nature. The Wild Center's mission is to ignite an enduring passion for the Adirondacks where people and nature can thrive together and offer an example to the world.

Jenny Newell