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Sino-American Youth Dialogue “Making Carbon Neutral, Youth in Action”


On April 17, China and the United States issued the China-U.S. Joint Statement Addressing the Climate Crisis, committing to cooperate bilaterally to fight climate change and bolster the implementation of the Paris Agreement. To foster intellectual exchange around the climate crisis ahead of COP26, CUSEF, along with Tsinghua University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), hosted the Sino-American Youth Dialogue (SAYD), a two-day conference engaging young scholars in a discussion about climate change and sustainable development.

The Sino-American Youth Dialogue was conducted as an online and offline hybrid event.

Centering around the theme, “Making Carbon Neutral, Youth in Action,” a group of youth delegates--hailing from several Chinese and American universities--presented on a chosen topic. Then, the students engaged in a moderated discussion with various academic and field experts, who provided their own remarks and policy recommendations.

One of the delegates from Tsinghua University, Xu Yuan, focused on marsh restoration, looking at the role that vegetation plays in coastal protection. He introduced the idea of a vegetation system that involves the transfer of carbon into sediments, a key ingredient to replenishing riverbeds. Yuan’s presentation illustrated the degree to which climate change depends on technology and innovative solutions. However, science-based technologies cannot be the only solution. Each person has a role to play, whether it be information-sharing or implementing new technologies. “Let others know you are taking action,” Yuan said.

Another presentation specifically focused on the role of youth in climate activism. Tsinghua University student Wang Zongnan made a video titled, “GREENgage,” which garnered 3 million views on WeChat within a week. The aim of the video was to create content that both educates and engages with the broader Chinese community. For Zongnan, the young generation has the potential to mobilize public opinion through social media. Ultimately, “responsibility falls upon the digital youth.”

Wang Zongnan, one of the students from Tsinghua University giving his presentation.

Among the American students, Kieren Rudge, studied the role of reporting in addressing climate change and economic development, using the U.S. Virgin Islands as a case study. Finding a lack of integrated solutions between community engagement and climate change, he highlighted the need to reflect the overlap of these issues in news sources. Instead of only engaging scientists or field experts, journalists should involve “people on the ground,” said Kiernen. He concluded that “bottom-up public engagement” would enable journalists to publish more integrated reporting and get the message across by working with local governments and community events.

While the presentations differed in their approach, all of them illustrated the importance of local solutions. “If local action can be deployed now, that could be very strong,” remarked Laur Hesse Fisher, program director of the Environmental Solutions Initiative at MIT. Da Wei, director for strategic and international security studies at the University of International Relations (UIR) in Beijing, argued that mobilizing Chinese citizens was the “most important issue” to addressing the climate crisis in China. “The average Chinese understands that climate change is a significant thing, but a lot of them think it is far from us.” For the U.S., Da argued that the biggest challenge is reaching a two-party consensus between Republicans and Democrats, since both parties differ greatly in their outlook on climate policy. Rick Durham, a former journalist who covered U.S. politics in Washington, D.C., is more optimistic. He believes the media can help mediate party clashes and play a “constructive role” in achieving carbon neutrality.

Qi Ye, Director of Institute for Public Policy, was among the experts who provided remarks following delegates’ presentations.

In addition to local solutions, both groups emphasized the importance of activism on a group and individual level. “We need information and collaboration to address this [climate change] issue,” remarked Zhang Xiliang, professor and director of the Institute of Energy, Environment, and Economy at Tsinghua University. The important question is, “What is your role?” asked Qi Ye, director of the Institute for public policy at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He wants to see more young people in action, taking on more important roles. Addressing all of the youth delegates, Qi added: “We should be in the driver’s seat.”

Clearly, it’s the youth in action that will be leading the charge for carbon neutrality, and as the Sino-American Youth Dialogue proved, we’re all in this together.

To view the event, click here.

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