There was a recent quote from Microsoft founder Bill Gates that resonates with New Zealand's Lit Wei Chin: "By 2060, climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly".
It's a rallying cry for Chin – one of New Zealand's four young 'Voices of the Future' delegates to this year's APEC meeting, an annual event bringing together 18-24-year-olds (four from each APEC economy) to grapple with big issues facing the world – climate change, in particular.
It's not just a talk-fest. The delegates will present their declaration to APEC chair, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on behalf of the nearly one billion young people across the APEC region at the end of the November event starting tomorrow. It's a part of APEC Leaders' Week, the culmination of New Zealand's hosting of APEC 2021.
While young peoples' voices are being increasingly heard because of the activism of Greta Thunberg and others, Chin, 24, a graduate from Auckland University, believes there is more to say – and more volume required.
He should know because he almost literally lives and breathes climate change. It's not just that it is a subject he holds dear but he also works at it in his role as a climate change and sustainability executive for Auckland Unlimited, the city's economic development agency.
"Young people should have a voice at the table," he says. "The world is suffering from the effects of climate change. We have the opportunity to make it right and recover from the Covid-19 crisis by working together to transition our economies to a greener and more digital future for all.
"We [young people] are being heard more but there is a need to be on top of this issue – and an opportunity for us to be at the sharp end of the APEC meeting and to have our voices heard there."
Chin earned his place as a delegate after applying and making a video setting out his message on climate change. As APEC looks set to agree a plan spanning the next two decades, he says this event has never been more relevant: "Decisions are being made now that affect current and future generations.
"Climate change is happening now and it is vital to have young people in attendance – so they can make those generational voices heard."
At Auckland Unlimited, Chin addresses climate change with external and internal audiences: "Internally, we look at our own corporate responsibility in taking action over climate change – things like measuring emissions and putting plans into action to reduce them, building our capability to help reduce climate change. We also instil thought leadership in climate change in everything Auckland Unlimited does.
"Externally, we support Auckland to adapt to and help to lessen the effects of climate change by building a climate-resilient and low emission economy. It's a plan which dovetails with the national plan to be net zero in CO2 emissions by 2050."
Chin says representing Aotearoa at Voices of the Future "will not only raise the profile of our country but will allow me to champion the voices of rangatahi from Aotearoa on the international stage".
"It will build a greater understanding and cooperation amongst young people between New Zealand and APEC young leaders," he says, "and provide the opportunity to learn from experts and support our peers in the Asia-Pacific to carry the same mana in achieving a future for all."
The other New Zealand Voices of the Future delegates are
Sophie Handford (20) – the former head girl at Kapiti College (20) came to national attention as the co-ordinator of the School Strike 4 Climate NZ in 2019; later that year she was elected to the Kapiti Coast District Council at the age of 18. Sophie says: "Young people inherit the decisions made now. We are the ones who will have to navigate our careers through the currently intensifying challenges in our midst."
Jess Jenkins (18) – the winner of the Race Unity Speech Awards in 2020 is now national co-ordinator at Race Unity Aotearoa. She left Tawa College last year, was accepted into Harvard University but has put those plans on hold for a year due to Covid-19. An advocate for inclusivity and diversity, Jess says she wants a future where "economies can thrive alongside and not in spite of each other, a place where the success of one is not dependent on the downfall of others, where we stand in harmony with our planet. When we work together, adapt and create, our economics may flourish."
Shisla Macleod (22) – a graduate policy analyst in trade at the New Zealand Customs Service in Wellington, Sustainability and equitable opportunities are her particular interests: "The opportunity to represent young people and have our voices heard by influential decision-makers is incredibly important, and APEC, as an incubator of ideas, is the perfect forum to discuss our ideas."