Cassia Moraes, Founder and CEO of Youth Climate Leaders


Cassia Moraes, is a climate change and sustainable development expert and entrepreneur, with experience working on both national and global level programmes, policies and campaigns. Her experience has seen her work for the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change and United Nations Development Programme and attending Rio+20 and UN Climate Change Conferences.


As Founder and CEO of Youth Climate Leaders (YCL), please can you tell us what the organisations’ main objectives are?

Youth Climate Leaders (YCL) catalyzes climate action by providing youth with training, networks and concrete opportunities to start their careers in the field of climate change. Although they represent the largest percentage of the world’s population, youth continue to face great barriers to secure employment and economic security, while facing uncertain futures with mounting externalities from the climate crisis. Therefore, YCL offers unique pathways to equip young people with the tools needed to engage in the climate economy. This includes immersive learning journeys, where participants develop an understanding of climate change in theory and in practice through hands-on work with climate solutions. And a Global Network that facilitates connections between climate practitioners, experts, and young leaders to foster professional development opportunities and climate job placements around the world.

Our main goal is to empower a diverse group of young leaders from all over the world with leadership and entrepreneurial skills to be used right now to address climate change. With this unique approach, we thus transform a daunting challenge as the climate crisis into an opportunity to include millions of young people through the new climate economy. Youth Climate Leaders (YCL) provides innovative solutions to the climate crisis. Through structured channels and methodologies, we are positioned to focus the energy and passion of thousands of young leaders on supporting innovative projects on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

What have been some of the biggest impacts that YCLs have had on the sustainability of cities globally?

Our work in the cities is still under development and it was impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, as we had to cancel all in person activities. Last year, our YCL 2019 Immersion was about Cities and Climate Change, hosted in Germany partnership with ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability). Using innovative methodologies, such as Theory U and Design Thinking, our program gathered young people from 14 countries, who developed solutions for urban challenges over 2 weeks of immersive learning. This year, we were planning a similar Immersion in Lisbon, Portugal, focusing on recommendations for the second phase of Sharing Cities, a program from the European Union.

Although we had to cancel this year’s immersion, we are using this time to adapt our strategic plan and develop other YCL components, such as the YCL Network and its local Hubs. YCL Hubs are innovation-driven spaces, boosted by resources from the Global YCL Network, where YCL alumni can team up with each other and with local youth and community to foster and multiply local climate actions. Hub activities include regular meetings, lectures, and educational courses organized by YCL Fellows and dedicated staff appointed as Hub Curators and serving as focal point for YCL in their region. YCL Hubs will be hosted in together with key partners, who will offer their space to better facilitate resource exchange and long-term engagement. So far, we are planning to structure 6 Hubs in Brazil – Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Amazonas, Florianopolis and Bahia – and 3 national Hubs worldwide – Portugal, Italy and USA.

You previously worked on developing long term climate strategies in Brazil, in conjunction with the UNFCCC. What do you consider to be the most important climate related issues for cities in Brazil?

At the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change (FBMC), we facilitated a multi-stakeholder process to develop recommendations for the Brazilian LTS, which was finalized just before our team was exonerated by the president. In the case of Brazil, cities must consider their own challenge (both of mitigation and adaptation), but also contribute to stop deforestation and promoting sustainable agriculture, as most of our GHG emissions come from the AFOLU sector. However, if we consider emissions from consumption, not only production, promoting changes in diets, such as decreasing consumption of animal products, would also decrease the ecological footprint of Brazilian cities. Although Brazilian cities are very diverse, they all face two main challenges (even if in different levels): increase resilience and decrease inequality. Both challenges impact not only the response to climate change, but also to current and future crises, such as COVID-19. The good thing is that Brazil has potential and natural resources to succeed if we also build political leadership. Related to both challenges, climate education and upskilling is crucial to ensure we have skilled professionals to lead the transition to zero-carbon societies.

How have you found the COVID-19 crisis impacting your work and YCL?

Leadership is not a skill to be used only during easy times. It is precisely in moments like the one we are facing that we need innovative and brave leaders the most. To walk the talk, we decided to reinforce our commitment of catalyzing climate actions and careers by connecting young people with training and professional opportunities. Therefore, we decided not only to keep hosting the YCL Brazil Course this semester (fully online, of course!), but also to reduce prices and increase scholarships to have as many participants as possible in these troubling times. This course, as other YCL programs, is just the beginning of a journey as member of the YCL Network. Our team is already looking for alternatives to reinforce the continuity of the Network’s activities, such as virtual networking, continued learning and professional opportunities. We believe that it is in times of uncertainty and crisis that our Network is even more necessary.

This global health crisis is causing a lot of insecurity, but it also has a lot to teach us. Crises like this show the urgency to promote necessary transformations for our society to prosper in the 21st century, which faces challenges at a global level. As Professor Otto Scharmer from the Presencing Institute says, times like these are also an opportunity to let old structures go and start building the future that wants to emerge. We can’t return to normal, because the normal that we had was precisely the problem. So we should not only rebuild our societies but take this opportunity to build fairer and more sustainable ones. It is time to work with even more commitment and empathy. We are joining forces with other changemakers to effectively face the challenges of our time. The whole YCL Network is more engaged than ever to catalyze the transformation needed to ensure that better days will come.

Do you think that the current global public health crisis provides an opportunity for the world to have a new impetus to act on climate change?

This global health crisis is causing a lot of insecurity, but it also has a lot to teach us. Crises like this show the urgency to promote necessary transformations for our society to prosper in the 21st century, which faces challenges at a global level. Overall global and unilateral actions to the COVID-19 pandemic have been much faster and more effective than in response to the climate crisis. For almost 30 years, the international scientific community has sought to coordinate efforts to reverse the increase in the average temperature of the planet. The collective response to the current pandemic, in turn, can share important lessons for tackling climate change and other challenges of this century.
We must not only rebuild our societies but take this opportunity to build fairer and more sustainable ones. We must strengthen local production of food, which reinforces food sovereignty in face of future crisis at the same time that reduces transportation’s emissions. Additionally, increase the consumption of plant-based products, which emit less GHG and are not related to pandemics such as COVID-19, SARS, and other ones which might come if we do not change the way we produce and consume food worldwide.
Youth knows it best, and we are already leading the way in this transition. While policymakers negotiate business-as-usual improvements, we are starting a revolution. Every day, we are building this new world that needs to emerge. We build it when we choose a bicycle over a car, or a vegetarian meal instead of a burger. We build it when we decided to dedicate our lives and careers to finding a solution to a problem we did not create, but we must solve. We will build the future we deserve together, a world that is more just and sustainable than the one in which we were born.
Understanding what kind of risks we face, as an individual, country, company or world, is essential to be prepared for the anticipation, onset and aftermath of a crisis. The pandemic has shown that we are able to act quickly, promoting changes in behavior and economic activities, when there is interest from society and political will, while science strives to find a solution. May we know how to replicate the same formula to contain the climate crisis while there is still time!


And how do you think this could best be achieved?

Unfortunately, society still seems unprepared for reality shocks like the fires in Australia or the COVID-19 pandemic. We are witnessing the collapse of health systems in many countries due to a lack of beds and care capacity, which has increased the lethality of the pandemic. The same can happen with the intensification of climate change in the coming years. Resilience, therefore, involves a reflection on the ability of the next generations to respond more quickly and minimize damage. The cost of prevention will always be less than the costs of inaction. And at the current stage of the two crises, prevention efforts must be accompanied by measures to adapt to the existing and projected impact.

For almost 30 years, the international scientific community has sought to coordinate efforts to reverse the increase in the average temperature of the planet. If the international community had taken its commitments since Paris in 2015 as seriously as it has done for COVID-19 in recent weeks – taking into account the level of urgency that science says is necessary – we would probably have a drastically different outlook for the future. The COVID-19 crisis has shown us how bad is to leave in a disrupted world. If you do not want to make it worse, we should invest in recovery plans that also make us more resilient to the climate crises. It is clear that we cannot go back to normal, so we should rebuild our society through a Green New Deal: investing in renewable energy, universal income, new diets and sustainable agriculture, reforestation, and much more. Here in Portugal, where I live now, I have been involved in initiatives such as Planetiers World Gathering and LIDERA, which propose solutions for the way forward. I hope YCL Hubs contribute with new ideas and partnerships, as well as with concrete professional opportunities and green jobs to foster a just transition to a new climate economy.

Photo credits: Cassia Moraes

Richard Lambert

About Richard Lambert

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Richard Lambert, Coordinator of Liveable Ciiies Prorgam. He has been working for 11 years creating sustainable urban communities in London, UK and Internationally. Specialising in the development of urban green infrastructure and pedestrian walking related improvement projects, policies and strategies.