New kids on the block: Youth take climate action in Mississauga

By Malkeet Sandhu, Charged Up Community Engagement Organizer

On June 19, 2019, the City of Mississauga joined a growing number of cities in Canada and around the world in declaring a climate emergency, committing to immediate and significant citywide action.

Behind this historic motion was a team of inspiring changemakers. These weren’t your average climate activists, though. They weren’t policy analysts, government relations specialists, campaigners or scientists.

This was a group of seven middle school students from Camilla Road Sr. Public School: Aliza Baig, Kiran Suresh, Ksenia Chmurzynski, Luxmeena Arulanantham, Omnea Fakhri, Siyona Rathore and Sophia DeGraaf. They’re 12 to 14 years old, of different ethnicities that truly represent Mississauga’s diversity. Many are second-generation Canadians whose families are learning about the climate crisis for the first time through their children’s activism. With the support of their school’s EcoClub and teachers including Camelia Stoica, they turned their passion for the environment into action.

The students recognized a very real challenge: Canada has a lot of work to do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with our Paris Agreement targets. Together they decided that they could make an impact by first taking action in their own city. They chose to focus on a climate emergency declaration because it would help create awareness and commit current and future city councils to effective action.

“Not a lot of people recognize that climate change is a real emergency,” Sophia says. “We need to start treating it as the emergency it is by first recognizing it and taking action.”

The students spent weeks putting together a deputation to city council. According to Omnea, “We worked with each other and our EcoClub to brainstorm ideas, research and write and edit the final script. We practised so much that we drove our families crazy.”

On May 29, they sat in council chambers, nervously but eagerly awaiting their turn. When it came, they lined up in front of the city councillors and Mayor Bonnie Crombie. Taking turns at the podium, some standing on their toes to reach the microphone, they courageously gave their deputation, which began:

“The human-induced climate crisis we are now all facing is of serious concern to us. We are here today not only as representatives of our school, but on behalf of your own children and one day grandchildren, of an entire generation, and the generations to come on this beautiful planet.”

“My heart was beating very fast,” Luxmeena recalls, “but knowing I had my peers and teacher with me gave me a boost.”

Mayor Crombie later said it was the best deputation she had seen at council.

The human-induced climate crisis we are now all facing is of serious concern to us. We are here today not only as representatives of our school, but on behalf of your own children and one day grandchildren, of an entire generation, and the generations to come on this beautiful planet.

On June 19, council unanimously voted in favour of the motion to declare a climate emergency and recognized the important role the students played.

“It’s weird because you see politicians in the news or on lawn signs, and [you know] they’re important people,” Sophia says. “It was great to be able to speak to them and know they’re listening to what we have to say.”

Now that the motion has passed, Aliza feels proud that their hard work has helped the community of Mississauga. Like many of the students, she never believed she would be part of something like this.

Ksenia says she feels like she “can really make a difference now. I hope the government will now make a real change. I want everyone to think of ways we can improve our actions.”

While these declarations are important, we need governments to back them up with real targets and actions. Mississauga’s declaration comes at an exciting time: during the planning phase of its climate action plan, to be completed this fall. In the works since 2017, this plan will lay the foundation for the city’s climate action with an ambitious goal to reduce emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050 (below 1990 levels).

While most students are dreading the end of summer, this group is excited for the fall, when they’ll review and comment on their city’s climate action plan and continue working with city council on meaningful action.

This is what the future of the climate movement looks like. It looks like youth, racialized people, newcomers, women, students and educators.

It looks like everyday community members using their collective voices to work with their representatives to create positive change. It looks like you.

As Sophia says, “Don’t give up. All you have to do is speak up and be that positive change.”

Renewable energy is empowering communities across the country. Charged Up is the story of you — of all of us — on a mission for a cleaner, healthier charged-up Canada.

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