Bridging Borders: A Young Climate Activists Workshop

In December 2019, I concluded my three-month volunteership at the Slovenia Forest Service, as a volunteer with the Interreg BEECH POWER project. This truly wonderful experience was capped off by a one-day workshop, that focused on the themes of climate change, youth activism, and European Cohesion. As a volunteer belonging to the Interreg IVY Youth initiative, I had the incredible opportunity to host such a workshop thanks to EU funding.

The workshop, Beyond Borders: A Transnational Climate Activism Workshop for European Youth, was attended by 37 individuals representing 21 organizations and groups from within Slovenia and its bordering countries (Austria, Italy, Croatia, and Hungary).

Before opening the sessions, participants were greeted by the Slovenian Forestry Institute’s Director, dr. Primož Simončič. They also received a presentation from Boris Rantaša from the Slovenia Forest Service, who explained the correlation between forestry, sustainability, and climate change. This additional knowledge, quite likely unknown by most participants, contributed something unique to the overall experience because it provided a less commonly heard forestry perspective of climate change.

The workshop schedule was broken up into three sessions.

First, participants worked together to identify the successes and challenges faced by their respective organizations. This could range from intra-organizational burn out, to dealing with a lack of faith in science among the public, to managing a lack of time and resources, to developing a consistent external communication plan. Participants then broke off into working groups to try to tackle some of the more poignant of the challenges. This knowledge transfer and capacity-building session set an important foundation for the rest of the workshop.

Second, with the intention of creating a workshop output, the participants then worked together to draft a letter of solidarity, directed towards their European peers. In this session, participants were challenged to agree upon a unifying message. Some argued that a letter should be directed towards the government rather than the public. This type of division represents one of the challenges we face as civil society in our pursuit of greater climate action—collective agreement on a path forward.  In the end, a draft of the letter was written that tried to satisfy both sides. It will be refined over the coming weeks and signed by those committing groups before the end of the year.

Third, time was dedicated to the idea of network building, with a particular focus on cross-border collaboration. To put the potential of such a relationship into perspective, the Interreg projects BEECH POWER and LINKS4SOILS were introduced; as well as the EU’s commitment to cross-border action via Cohesion Policy. Opportunity was also provided to participants to present their transnational activities. One such example came from Zsuzsanna Kray, representative of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, who informed the group about IUCN’s youth-focused initiative #Natureforall. All participants then had the opportunity to share their upcoming activism events and projects, as well as the areas in which they saw space for growth and collaboration.

Overall, the workshop was a stunning success, with many participants commenting on the value of being able to connect with likeminded peers in different organizations and countries. Individual groups and organizations rarely have the opportunity to explore the possibility of working with one another—as a result of this, a certain degree of passion and urgency filled the space. So much more could have been discussed and the event could have easily spanned multiple days.

The possibility of being able to host a CEA is one of the defining features of the Interreg IVY Youth program, and certainly in this circumstance, provides a volunteer with the space and resources to bring their wildest ideas to fruition. The downside of this wonderful opportunity is that it does not allow any easy space for continuity, as it is a one-time event. The hope therefore, is that the workshop served the purpose of providing participants with a primary platform—upon which they can continue to build capacities and connections with one another; thereby allowing them to move forward with greater impact in their fight as climate actors.

Written by Laura Schubert, Interreg IVY Youth, Slovenia Forest Service

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