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Creating Youth Climate Summits worldwide by partnering schools and colleges with science museums to engage student-driven youth leadership.



The Wild Center, an Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) member, and an innovative and progressive science center located in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, piloted a very successful and popular Youth Climate Summit, now in its fifth year. The Summit impacts up to 30,000 people directly and indirectly each year. It does this by helping students develop and implement action plans for their schools. The summits gather 180 participants (23 teams representing high schools and seven teams representing colleges and universities), where the teams learn basic climate change facts and develop action plans for carbon reduction.

The Wild Center and ASTC propose to replicate this program in other science centers throughout the U.S. and around the globe.

The Youth Climate Summit provides a two-day conference for teams from local high schools and colleges to learn about climate change and sustainability, and to create a Climate Action Plan for their own institutions. Youth Climate Summits are a powerful vehicle for inspiration, learning, community engagement, and youth leadership development. We have five years of experience successfully finding the balance of science and action planning, and as importantly, melding youth enthusiasm and interest with practical and actionable change. An advisory group of students, teachers, administrators, community members, and Wild Center staff organize and plan the conference. There is a strong emphasis on hearing the voices of youth through the planning process and event.

The Summit includes plenaries, interactive workshops on energy, food, waste, and more, youth skill building and communications training, open space and "unconference" opportunities for teams to work on Climate Action Plans. The final session allows each team to showcase its Plan.Students then take their enthusiasm back to their schools and communities to spread the word. This proven model hold the potential to have a huge ripple effect when scaled up.






Category of action

Youth Leadership on Climate Change

What actions do you propose?

We have learned through student surveys and focus groups that in New York’s Adirondack region, students ages 14-21 have identified Climate Change and its impacts as a primary concern; they want to: 1) understand the issue and causes and 2) work to combat/mitigate climate change through direct, positive, and solution-oriented action in their schools and communities. While climate science is very complex, there is a 97% majority agreement from scientists that the high level of carbon emissions in our atmosphere is the root cause of a multitude of climate impacts, concurrent with a low level of understanding. In 2011 the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication published the American Teens’ Knowledge of Climate Change report to share the results of a national study of what American teens in middle and high school understand about how the climate system works, and the causes, impacts and potential solutions to global warming. This report describes how knowledge of climate change varies across both American teens and adults. While knowledge levels vary, these results indicate that relatively few teens have an in-depth understanding of climate change. Fifty-four percent of teens received a failing grade (F), compared to 46 percent of adults. The report also identified that there is a lack of climate science education in schools and opportunities for students to lead and participate in activities that effectively create awareness, knowledge and action about climate change and reducing their own carbon footprint in their schools and communities. The forthcoming Next Generation Science Standards will require that schools teach climate change but these changes will be implemented gradually over time. The Wild Center’s Adirondack Youth Climate Program is ahead of the curve in engaging and empowering students in identifying and implementing opportunities and actions to reduce carbon emissions in schools. The Adirondack Youth Climate Summit, created by and for students, has accomplished the following over time: 

●      Established a green team in all 30 participating high schools and colleges

●      Shared research–based information about the economic and ecological consequences of climate change from a global to local level from scientists, youth and community leaders

●      Disseminated strategies to respond to climate change and save schools money

●      Networked 30 schools to gain new knowledge and share ideas with each other

●      Built capacity and new leadership skills among student participants

●      Created Climate Action Plans (CAPs) that outline goals and objectives for reducing carbon and energy; find service learning opportunities; monitor progress toward goals; establish timelines; and encourage reflection. CAPs are created by students in partnership with teachers, school administration and Wild Center staff, and are used as a guiding framework for students to meet goals throughout the year. Activities range from establishing a recycling program, to educating elementary students, to starting Farm to School food programs, to holding community clean-ups and electronic waste drives.

The Adirondack Youth Climate Summit is scalable and replicable. The Wild Center has already replicated the program once in partnership with another ASTC member museum: Heureka Science Center in Helsinki, Finland. Opportunities for expansion of the Summit program are nearly limitless. Students from the Adirondacks were featured in videos shown to the Finnish students. Participants connected with each other across the globe via videoconferencing and described challenges and opportunities for youth to make a difference in issues of climate change in their respective countries. Students from both summits reported they felt “connected and empowered to know that there were other students around the world that cared about climate change.” Heureka is now in their third year of hosting a country-wide Youth Climate Summit (Fall 2014). The Youth Climate Summit program is ultimately scalable and replicable.

What Would Be the Components of the Program?

The "moving parts" of the Youth Climate Summits would be as follows:

·         Developing a Youth Climate Summit Tool Kit that will guide a science center through each of the necessary steps to have a successful one or two day conference. This will include: introducing the core philosophy; working effectively with schools and colleges; building an effective advisory committee; coordinating all logistics of the event; engaging community organizations, universities and scientists; managing people, time, materials and money; utilizing templates for agendas, timelines, action plans, correspondence with schools, workshop guidelines, ice breakers and evaluations; and providing guidance on how to utilize the resources of the science center and integrate inquiry-based, hands-on learning experiences. Video and testimonials will be utilized. The summit format is flexible and ultimately adaptable to the schools and museum needs.

·         Selecting Science Centers to Participate and Providing Mini-Grants: For the U.S.-only program, we will select five or six science centers from key geographical areas; for the international program, we will select ten or eleven. Each science museum or center will receive a mini-grant ($25,000 each) to help them launch the project. Each participating museum will do local fundraising to supplement this contribution.

·         Utilizing Video Conferencing so that Participants can Share Findings: Students need this step to identify common problems and solutions, and to identify region-specific issues needing a local focus. The idea is for each participant to learn from others within their own community and in the wider global arena.

·         Using Social Media for Learning and Knowledge Exchange: Creating a Facebook Page, for example, and using other social media, will permit students to share ideas and pictures, which will help to create globally and scientifically savvy citizens of the world.

·         Presenting at relevant national and world climate events: Students can obtain expert reactions to their findings and solutions by sharing their perspectives and observing formal activities. For example, in 2015, we will anticipate participating at the UN Conference of the Parties (COP) 21, in Paris, perhaps collaboratively developing a Summit with a science museum nearby).

·         Evaluating Outcomes of the Program: utilizing a third party evaluator, we will use quantitative and qualitative techniques to measure program results. This evaluation would also focus on the social impacts of the summit - how have attitudes towards climate mitigation/adaptation changed, shifts in local and regional policy over time, and the transformative power of giving students a seat at the table when it comes to creating new ideas, problem-solving and decision making.


Other Factors to Consider:

·         The Wild Center Youth Climate Summit works with student and administrative leadership teams that create sustainability plans that affect entire student bodies and schools. Attendees are charged with communicating what they learn to their classmates via school assemblies so that approximately 200 summit team members annually impact a student body totaling 20,000 to 25,000, and also have a huge impact on families and communities. These numbers, based on The Wild Center experience in a very rural area, might be much larger in urban schools and locations.

·         Direct physical activities that result from the summit and impact climate change include things such as: district-wide adoption of policies to reduce energy consumption and waste; district-wide initiatives that get local, healthy food into cafeterias; focused measures like school gardens, climate education awareness weeks, and school-wide Earth Days, events,  and festivals; and educating elementary school classes. In addition, there have been community events: e-waste drives, festivals, community garden initiatives, and student-driven advocacy work. Students in K-12 spend half of their time in school. Students’ behavior in school (efficiency, recycling, food choices, transportation options) and school building policies have a huge effect on their individual, school and community carbon footprint.     

·         Science centers and museums have a tremendous impact on the American public's understanding and knowledge about climate change. A Yale University study funded by the National Science Foundation found that 38% of both occasional and frequent museum visitors received a passing grade on a climate change test, compared to 19% of non-visitors. Even more compelling, on a scale that ranged from "Dismissive about Climate Change" to "Alarmed about Climate Change," the national average for the Alarmed Group was 14% whereas frequent visitors to science centers was at 45%. Additionally, 90% of frequent visitors say that global warming is happening, compared to 67% of non-visitors.


Who will take these actions?

The Wild Center has implemented the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit for the last five years including replicating a summit in Helsinki Finland at Heureka. The Center has the experience to help replicate this idea on a larger scale. 

The Association of Science and Technology Centers has 650 organizational members who are science centers and museums throughout the United States and around  the globe. They are currently represented in 50 countries. Members have a collective mission to educate and inspire the public about science, and to increase public engagement in science related issues that affect their lives. 

Today, these institutions, reaching an estimated 95 million visitors each year, have the opportunity to delve more deeply into the science and, at the same time, dramatically heighten public awareness about the world they live in and the technological advances and environmental changes that are happening around us. Science centers and museums are uniquely positioned as ideal platforms for addressing topical scientific issues that are important to society.

The other key actors are schools (public, private, colleges, and universities). The Youth Climate Summit engages and empowers students to co-lead the summit and then implement Climate Action Plans in their schools and communities. Students work with their schools, local governments, community leaders and others to enact grassroots change. Other potential partners include the US Green Buildings Council, the Alliance for Climate Education, the Green Schools network, government leaders, and others. 

Why Focus on Teens ages 14-18? This group is estimated to be the most connected, media-conscious, financially aware, and digitally savvy generation ever, having a huge influence over their families, peers, popular culture at large, public opinion, and policy. At the same time, adolescence is a defining period in developing one's sense of identity, forming critical thinking skills, independence and opinions.

What are other key benefits?

Reaching schools is a powerful way to reach communities. We have found that the program has two impacts. First, it leads to real plans for schools that, when implemented, reduce waste and emissions, builds sustained efforts at the schools that expand long after the summit is over, and lastly, reach into communities as students and faculty began to spread the word about what is possible around the dinner table at home. Secondly, it strengthens youth leadership. School green teams take on a leadership role within their school and community. These students learn important skills such as communication, team-work, project management, decision-making, critical thinking and problem-solving. Many of the past summit participants are working or studying with a sustainability focus - such as local food, environmental policy, environmental engineering, social justice, and law.  


What are the proposal’s costs?

The $10,000 will be used establish an advisory group of students, teachers, science museum staff and ASTC to develop a full implementation plan for national and international roll-out of the Youth Climate Summits.


For national roll out (Year 1 & 2) the cost is $383,000. This will assist six museums in planning and implementing a Youth Climate Summit in their community/region.


International implementation (Year 3, 4 & 5) would cost $544,500 for an additional 11 museums around the world to initiate Youth Climate Summits.


The Wild Center and ASTC are actively looking for funding through grants and angel investors to implement the Youth Climate Summits worldwide. 





USA Implementation (Year 1-2)



Management of Program



PT Social Media Specialist



ASTC mgmet and operating



Museums (25X6)



Event in Paris






Evaluation Report



Travel (10 people)



Video Conferencing



Tool Kit Development












International Implementation (Year 3-5)



Management of Program



PT Social Media Specialist



ASTC mgmet and operating



Museums (25X11)



Event in Paris






Evaluation Report



Travel (10 people)



Video Conferencing



Tool Kit Development









Time line

Short term (5-15 years): Working with the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) and The Wild Center, the advisory team will implement Youth Climate Summits in about 17 museums (and their communities) worldwide in the first five years. This will result in a vibrant network of museums, schools, and communities, that are working on the ground on climate change mitigation and adaptation. The program will help this network to establish online forums, social media, and gatherings to share knowledge. It will also facilitate ongoing evaluation and incorporate feedback into planning for future phases. Select teams from different countries will meet at U.S. and/or global conferences.


Medium Term & Long term: The Youth Climate Summit is ultimately replicable and can be scaled in multiple ways. We envision Youth Climate Summits that bring together and empower youth to take a leadership role in communities and countries around the world. The most important element of this proposal is to convene opportunities for youth voices to be heard, recognized and included as part of the long-term decision making process. 

Related proposals

The Youth Climate Summit is related to a number of other Climate CoLab proposals.

1. Climate Change Pioneers: Connection to Youth Summit -- use of art and performance to convey climate messages and education.

2. Global University for Climate Innovation and Invention: Connection to Youth Summit - uses distance learning to connect students world-wide

3. How and Why to recycle: Connection to Youth Summit - students work on community based projects to make a difference adn learn leadership skills

4. Climate Change is Elementary: Connection to Youth Summit - student driven and grassroots



  • Please see this site for an overview of the Youth Climate Summit and links to social media:

  • Please see photos of Youth Climate Summit events from recent years:

  • Alliance for Climate Education blog:  Here is a great summary of the youth market research. 5 top reasons why the youth generation have tremendous potential to influence the climate movement.

  • This UN world report on youth and climate 

  • The power of youth marketing and buying trends 
  •  Leiserowitz, A., Smith, N. & Marlon, J.R. (2011) American Teens’ Knowledge of Climate Change.Yale University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
  •  Leiserowitz, A., Smith, N. & Marlon, J.R. (2010) Americans’ Knowledge of Climate Change. Yale University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.