Young Islington environmentalist heads out to UN climate summit

16:05 17 November 2012

Sophia McNab

Sophia McNab


Too many young people today have no interest at all in saving the environment, according to 23-year-old Sophia McNab.

“When I talk about my climate change campaign with my friends,” she says, “they tend to switch off – and I end up having to change the subject.”

Since becoming a student at Edinburgh University five years ago, Sophia, of Mercers Road, Tufnell Park, has made it her mission to try to get her peers interested in environmental causes.

This year, she has been selected as one of seven to represent British youth at the UN’s annual Climate Change Conference in Doha, between November 26 and December 7.

Working with 500 young people from as far afield as the US, the Maldives and New Zealand, the British team will push for changes in climate change policy and discuss ways to get more young people involved.

“This is an amazing opportunity and I’m so happy to be involved,” says Sophia, who has a history degree and now works as a volunteer at the UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC).

“In Qatar, world leaders will be negotiating our futures. It’s important that we connect with young people from across the world before and during the summit to push for the progress needed at the talks.”

During her time at university, Sophia worked as production assistant at the social justice film festival Take One Action and was an active member of People and Planet, a student-led environment and human rights action group.

People and Planet campaigns have included a “lie-in” outside a central branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland in protest against the bank’s funding of fossil fuel extraction. Dozens of protesters – including Sophia – dressed up as clowns.

However, she admits she was too embarrassed to tell some of her close friends: “It can be quite alienating when you have a passion your friends don’t share.”

She continued: “The economic crisis has been so dramatic and disempowering that it makes young people feel like they can’t have an impact on the world around them.”

While she realises that attitudes are not going to change overnight, she is confident that the issue is being tackled one small step at a time.

“Unfortunately, many people consider talks like this a waste of time – and it’s true not much progress has been made since Rio+20 [the UN’s Sustainable Development Conference held in June this year]. It’s not going to be a revolution, but it’s a step.”

She is confident the young people’s presence will have a positive impact. “We can provide energy and creativity to a process which can otherwise be quite dry and stale,” she insists.

“After all, young people are the ones who have to live with the effects of climate change.

“It can be really frustrating working in the environmental movement and not feeling like you can make an impact. But one of the things that’s so exciting about the UN is that young people are welcomed as part of the process.”

Global agreements, however, are not the only way to make an impact, she believes.

In particular, Sophia would like to see the British government banning fracking – the extraction of shale gas, which scientists have linked to air and water pollution and earthquakes – and investing more in long-term infrastructure such as wind farms as part of the “No dash for gas” campaign.

As one of many thousands of currently unemployed graduates, she hopes one day to turn her campaign work into a paid job and work in an organisation such as Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth.

Next year, she plans to get more involved in local environmental groups and start giving talks at schools in Islington.

In March, Sophia will be working as a paid intern at Climate Week, Britain’s biggest climate change campaign.


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