Environment Network Manawatū sponsored Emmy Hucker and Charlie Higgison, two local secondary school students, to attend the Climate Challenge Conference in Wellington recently. The Climate Challenge Conference is a celebration of our future leaders, innovators and change-makers. Eight conferences have been run over the past four years, “challenging stereotypes about who can be a leader, equipping high school students with skills and connections that they need to be leaders in their communities”.

Emmy is a student at Palmerston North Girls’ High School, and helped organize a secondary students’ Environmental Conference in Palmerston North last year. She said “The Wellington Climate Challenge Conference was not only a brilliant opportunity to network with like-minded individuals, but brought some inspiring speakers to further encourage our dialogue. It was a privilege to hear Dr Jane Goodall speak to us in person with her insightful stories. Political figures in New Zealand were also present and eager to engage with our questions. I was amazed by the lineup of high-calibre guests who taught us valuable skills and thought processes. One thing I find remarkable is that the entire event was organised by young people under the age of 19. To have teenagers take charge of their futures and recruit us all to take part was a real honour, and I am grateful for ENM who made this experience possible!”

At fifteen years of age, Charlie is already known locally as a filmmaker, winning an award in Reel Earth's 2018 short film competition. He has produced footage of environmental activities around the region, including Palmy’s Plastic Pollution challenge, a citizen science project currently underway, gathering data on plastic in Palmy’s waterways. He tells us, “My experience at the Wellington Climate Challenge Conference was an incredible one. The conference is a good step in supporting the youth of today to be informed and empowered to take action on climate change, but also on other environmental related issues facing us today. It was also a great opportunity to network with other like-minded young people, I made valuable friendships and connections that we will come in handy in the future.

“I'm sure that the information and inspiration we got from the conference will help us make a difference in our own backyards, this is all thanks to ENM. ENM supported us in going to the Climate Change Conference and without them it would not have happened.

“The organisation is doing so much good work for environment in the Manawatu region, but they're also investing in us youth and our ability to look after our environment. That's why I'm sure ENM will continue running projects like Palmy's Plastic Pollution Challenge which saw student groups, schools, churches and other community groups doing 41 stream cleanups around Palmerston North.”

Stewart Harrex, Co-chair of ENM, said “we are so pleased to support these young people to upskill. They get not just information but energy from their new knowledge, and opportunities to spread the word.”