'Together we can raise awareness'
Yoko Lu is an environmental biologist and mapping expert who works to ensure that public policy takes both nature and social justice into account. In an interview, she shared life lessons from her experiences studying and working on multiple continents and shared her hopes for the upcoming GEF Assembly in Vancouver, a location close to her heart.
What is your current area of focus?
I have an M.Sc. in environmental science, with a focus on environmental policy, GIS/spatial science, and forestry.
I am interested in all aspects of climate change policy and response and try to be as involved as possible in all negotiation tracks of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. As part of YOUNGO, the youth constituency to the UNFCCC, I am co-leading the development of a Global Youth Statement that will be shared at the COP28 summit in Dubai. I am also part of YOUNGO working groups on adaptation, migration, finance, loss and damage, nationally determined contributions, nature, the ocean, energy, and human rights, working on policy recommendations as well as capacity-building and training workshops and webinars.
I am also involved in advocacy around the Convention on Biological Diversity, through the Canadian Youth Biodiversity Network, and was pleased to have an opportunity to attend COP15 where the Global Biodiversity Framework was agreed. I recently attended the UN High Level Political Forum as a panelist on SDG7 (energy), and am looking forward to focusing on women’s empowerment, gender equality, and other issues at the upcoming UN Sustainable Development Goals Summit, UN General Assembly, and Partnering for Green Growth and Global Goals 2030 Summit in Colombia.
Beyond this international advocacy and public speaking, I work hard locally to help raise awareness and support action in my community and with municipal officials. Having moved a lot as a child – between Tokyo and Shanghai, and to Canada – it became clear to me early that environmental outcomes are strongly affected by the decisions of individuals and communities even as they combine to have larger effects. It is all connected. Regardless of where we live, we all need to offer our support for progress and improvement.
How did you get involved in this field?
I grew up with my grandparents in China, while my parents were working hard in Japan to build a better life for our family. This experience has stayed with me and made me deeply interested in the experience of migrants, refugees, and families facing difficulties. Moving to Canada at the age of 9 also broadened my point of view and made me realize that environmental issues need to be prioritized in all places.
When I was in university in Vancouver, I was surprised to find that my fellow students had very little interest in or awareness about environmental conservation. Together with a classmate I started a Wildlife Conservation Club, and then took on leadership roles as a Student Senator and as a Board Director with a sustainability non-governmental organization at the university. I also got involved with several local organizations and started to focus my attention to the international level, joining international meetings first as a virtual participant and more recently as an in-person delegate and youth representative.
If you could say one thing to today’s political or business leaders, what would it be?
What are the dreams of your children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and young family members? How do your actions affect them?
What are your other interests and hobbies?
When I have free time, I enjoy outdoor activities, travel and exploration, making music, and photography.
What are you looking forward to at the GEF Assembly?
It is special to me that this event will take place in Vancouver. As my graduate studies and subsequent work has since taken my to other places including Finland, the United Kingdom, Belize, Japan, and currently San Francisco, this is a nice opportunity for me to return to the place where I got my start in this field.
In addition to this personal connection, I am happy to see this opportunity for the collective of young people and civil society leaders from around the world to attend the GEF Assembly. Together we can raise awareness about the small amount of finance being allocated for climate change compared to the need. I also look forward to highlighting the need to fund youth-run projects related to climate change and in other areas.
I am also looking forward to the GEF Assembly as an opportunity to network and build new partnerships with philanthropists and intergovernmental organizations about financing youth projects, supporting capacity-building activities, and promoting knowledge sharing.