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Connecting With Mr Felix Finkbeiner
July 05, 2017

Q. Children in Hong Kong are getting much more and more homework. “Homework” becomes a daily routine, rather than a source of innovative ideas. As you initiated “Plant for the Planet” at age of 9, can you share with us how you turn a school presentation into a world-wide planting movement?

Actually, I just did my “homework” as well. I did research about the climate crisis. Doing so, I found out about Wangari Maathai, a woman from Kenya who planted together with other women 30 million trees within 30 years. I thought: why shouldn’t we children do the same? Let’s plant a million trees in each country of the world. 

My classmates and my teacher liked the idea and supported me. I had the feeling that many children were really worried about the future and the effects of climate crisis. And when we children gave speeches and talked to the adults, they understood: it’s about our future and it really is urgent. 

Q. The world’s cities occupy just 3 per cent of the Earth’s land, but account for 60-80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 per cent of carbon emissions. The impacts of climate change are being felt by millions in the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized communities. Do you think climate change is now a social and environmental justice issue, and how we could contribute to reduce further climate change?

That’s true – the climate crisis is a justice issue. And the world we are living in is highly injustice in terms of who emits greenhouse gases and who is or will be suffering because of the climate crisis. That’s why we, the children and youth of Plant-for-the-Planet, developed a three point plan that we handed over to governments. It says: 

1) Plant 1,000 billion trees. As additional carbon reservoirs, 1 trillion trees will bind another 10 billion tons CO2 every year. 

2) Leave the fossil fuels in the ground. The technology for a CO2-free future has existed for a long time. Mankind must reduce the CO2 emissions to zero by 2050. That means: no more burning coal, oil, or natural gas. Reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Reduce the use of CO2 intensive materials like cement. 

3) Put poverty in the museum using Climate Justice. In order to limit further warming to the pledged 2°C, only 420 billion tons more CO2 can be emitted by 2050. 420 divided by 33 years makes 12.7 billion tons CO2 per year. This must be fairly divided among the world population: everyone receives the same, namely 1.5 tons CO2 per person per year. Whoever wants more must pay. This principle of climate justice ensures that poverty too is put in a museum.

Q. For long, children and young people have struggled to have their voices heard in planning process and decision about their future. Would you please share your experience in drawing public attention on youth voices and harnessing the power of the young people?

That’s exactly what we have been sad about: adults making decisions that will influence our futures – but they themselves will never have to experience droughts, wars, floods, hunger and all those impacts of climate crisis. 

But if we young people raise our voices, the adults listen to us for three reasons: first, we are authentic. It’s about our future. We will experience those dramatic crises. Second, we are creative! We started the campaign “Stop talking. Start planting.” The photos show children holding their hands in front of adults’ mouths. Many VIPs supported us, for example Harrison Ford and Gisele Bündchen. And third, anyone can plant a tree. That’s why anyone can join Plant-for-the-Planet. If you can’t plant it on your own, you can donate 20 Euros and we plant 20 trees. We already planted more than 14 billion trees with the help of governments, organizations, companies and many, many people!

Q. How does your dream city look like? In your mind, which city / country is the best place to live?
In my dream city, there would be a perfect public transport which guarantees that you can go by train or bus anywhere at any time. No car burning oil will be on the street. Instead, calm and clean e-cars will drive next to bikes, electrified buses and other new vehicles. 
People will live in carbon-neutrally built homes. Today, our consumption of concrete is responsible for CO2-emissions three times as high as those of airplanes. Instead we could build out of wood, which stores carbon for centuries. 
The houses will be as smart as the Plant-for-the-Planet headquarter: it produces more clean energy than it needs. Because of the wood insulation, it meets the passive-house standard and therefore has a very low rate of energy consumption. Additionally, a photovoltaic system on the train station rooftop generates electricity which is stored in batteries. Warm water is obtained by a solar heating system on the rooftop and a geothermal installation. We have all those technologies to live carbon neutrally. We just need to use them. 
Although London is far away from meeting this vision, I love to live there. But on the other hand, I really enjoyed my trip to Campeche, Mexico, where we plant our trees. There are too many fascinating places on earth to decide which one is the best to live. I think people all over the world deserve their environments to stay or become healthy ones.  

Q. The term “Green City” embraces the essence of concepts like “Eco-City” and “Low-Carbon City”, which aim to reduce carbon footprint whilst not compromising development potential. Can you share your tips of having a low-carbon lifestyle?
I mentioned some before in my vision of the perfect city. But as this is still a vision, here is what anyone can do today: If possible, buy electricity from a provider which only use renewable energy sources and invest into those. 
Take the train or bike instead of the car, and avoid flights. Eat less meat, because the industrialized production of meat is responsible for a large amount of greenhouse gases. And of course, plant trees! In average, one tree annually binds 10 kg of carbon. That’s how trees give us more time to switch our whole system to carbon neutral. 

Q. The combination of high rises and rural villages is a characteristics landscape of Hong Kong. However, there are extensive debates on the dilemma of urban development and nature conservation. What are your suggestions for our young active citizens to be a good advocate to tackle the problem?
Make a plan that contents the most important steps that the government should take to solve the problem. Find arguments the government will listen to. Often, arguments concerning money work best. We all know that destroying nature or rich soils will be later much more expensive than preserving it today. Be sure to not only talk about problems, but also suggest a good and working solution. Try to find important people of civil society or business who support your idea. Communicate a message that is as precise and clear as possible. That works best when you address media, but also when you address potential supporters or responsible persons. And be authentic. Tell them why it is important to you and for your future to change something.   

Q. Do you think technological innovation is a catalyst of increasing or reducing resource and energy consumption? Why?
That’s a tough question. It can be both. IT for example needs a lot of energy, but it can help us saving energy. We can connect with people to carpool; we can meet on-line and avoid flights; and so on. We have to use technology in a smart way that helps us saving resources. There are so many examples showing we can do so!

Q. As JCI members, we believe “Service to Humanity is the Best Work of Life”. Do you share the same belief? What does “Best Work of Life” mean to you personally?
Actually, we children and youth are acting selfishly: we want to save our future! But yes, you are right. In terms of climate crisis, we really preserve people from suffering. You can work on the necessary change every day – no matter what your job is. Take the right decisions and influence others to do so. 
The “Best Work of Life” is for me to give speeches and talk to CEOs, to convince them of helping us planting trees or of investing into sustainability. 
Q. Can you share a personal motto that motivates yourself and inspires others?
This is a motto I already shared in a speech I gave in front of the UN (at the age of 13, by the way. I never have been so nervous!): “one mosquito cannot do anything against a rhino, but a thousand mosquitoes can make a rhino change its direction.”

Q. What’s your new year resolution that you would like to achieve this year? 
Well, our most important resolution was that we will plant two million trees on our planting area in Campeche, Mexico in 2017. Last year we reached one million. I think we are doing quite well thanks to the help of so many people donating trees.