Hi Rebecca, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. You can make them as long or as short as you like! 

Rebecca, you are the UN Youth Delegate on Sustainable Development of Germany, can you tell us about where your journey as a sustainable development voice started?

—> (correction: one of the two)

Well, I started to help to solve a problem that encountered me every day: enough space for biking in Berlin. As a bike activist, we used creative actions to turn the first German bike referendum successfully into the first German bike law. 

Soon I started to realize that living sustainably as an individual has its restrictions. We rather need changes in the political frameworks.  And as the sustainability challenges we are facing are global, I hoped to find an answer at the United Nations. 

Rebecca Freitag Cycling activist

The beginning of the sustainable road was on two wheels for Rebecca (Credit: Rebecca Freitag)

You (co)-founded the Mobility Working Group “Bicycle Gang”, which supports the referendum on cycling. Can you explain where this project is today, and what the Bicycling Referendum refers to?

I think the bike referendum is the perfect example that a small group of people can make a difference. In a „law-hackathon“, we came up with 10 major points, that we wanted to see changed in the city, e.g. bike highways, more parking spaces for bikes, more cycling paths, ….  So that by 2030, Berlin would look like Amsterdam in terms of bike infrastructure. 

Within less than 4 weeks we collected more than 105,000 signatures, much more than we have expected. And last summer the bike law was passed by the Berlin Senate and integrated into the „Mobility Law“. 

What is the greatest challenge to climate activism? What is keeping humanity from a rapid sustainable transition?

That is a very good question. And if I knew the correct answer, I would do everything and contact everyone to tell them about it, so the sustainable transition can start off right away. But what is it?  The lack of access to the science-based facts about climate change? Being too busy with maintaining a livelihood which doesn’t give us time for reflection and thinking beyond our everyday life? The lock-in effects? The power of a small number of profit-seeking individuals? The lack of local democratic participation in decision-making? The lack of a system change? Or simply not signing this global call-to-action which we will deliver to the world leaders at the Climate Summit? change.org/allinforclimateaction  
If you have an answer, please let me know 🙂

The climate movement has become particularly active in the last few months, with youth offering a new version of climate action ranging – from Extinction Rebellion to the school strikes. Do you think this message does more to push the climate transition agenda?

It obviously has already an effect, as we can see in the turnouts of the EU elections – where climate action was one of the major topics, as well as in national debates. But we have to be careful in contributing only by applauding to these new forms of activism but not starting to change something for real. People in power (and society in general) have to prove their honest support by taking youth seriously and start working on drastic and much-needed transformation – beyond „Pillepalle“, which is what we see today. The news coming from scientists that we are not only on track with our own climate targets but even speeding up global warming much faster than expected are getting more and more and worries me and my generation a lot!

Rebecca Freitag UN Youth delegate

Rebecca Freitag roams Europe to communicate on SDG and spark the fire of sustainability behind her (Credit: Rebecca Freitag)

Tipping points are about to arrive and it seems humanity only learns it the hard way.  But it is our and the future generations who have to live with the threads we haven’t created. It is more than fair to get us at the table and let us participate meaningfully when it comes to creating our future! We have lots of ideas and visions! 

Environmentalism seems to have the public ear. How do you get people to act?

There has never been a decade that was so historical and decisive than the next decade, that’s what many people working in this area keep telling me. Every single action was never as important and impactful for the future of our society and a livable future for everyone. 

And this is what we have to communicate to people: Yes, the situation is tense and business-as-usual will diminish civilization as we know it. But our actions have never been this impactful and decisive. If not now, then when?!

I meet more and more people who actually quit their jobs and started spending their resources and time on sustainability projects – because they believe in this as the only path for our existence on this planet. This keeps me motivated as well. 

As the Youth delegate for Germany, you attend (are part of) your country’s delegation in UN sustainable events. How does the UN support climate action concretely, and what do you think about its role today?

Actually, climate change has quite a top priority in the UN’s agenda, which is good and necessary. But we should not forget the other interlinked Sustainable Development Goals such as biodiversity loss, resource use, land degradation and of course the social dimension such as gender equality, no poverty, quality education and so on… These topics should not trade-off each other but rather consist of a coherent policy to enhance each other. 

The UN plays an important role in bringing all countries at the table and help to facilitate our common goal, but in the end, it is the countries that have to do „their homework“. 

Can you share a success story from one of these conferences you attended?

My personal success story was wearing a dress made of local single-use plastics at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi which caused a lot of attention and gave me the opportunity to talk to ambassadors I usually couldn’t get a chance to talk to. 

Plastic dress against plastic waste

Getting plastic waste attention (Credit: Rebecca Freitag)

The biggest success story of the UN in my eyes could actually be seen in the 2030 Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals and those (partially) revolutionary 169 subgoals, being signed by all 193 member states. 

An agreement as ambitious as this would hardly be possible today, in times of Trump or Bolsonaro. This is why we have to keep up these goals and keep reminding our political leader on their responsibility to implement them. 

If you could pass one message along to the next wave of changemakers, what would it be?

Never copy the old ones. Because that is mostly how we got into the problems we face today. Rather be brave and foolish to embrace the new! 

Environmental action is now!

Use your voice to send a new message. The tide is rising for climate action! (Credit: Rebecca Freitag)