International students take action to promote global sustainability

Approximately 200 students, teachers and parents from around the world gathered at Government House in Victoria to share their unique perspectives on the role youth can play in protecting and restoring life on land for the benefit of future generations.

Approximately 200 students, teachers and parents from around the world gathered at Government House in Victoria to share their unique perspectives on the role youth can play in protecting and restoring life on land for the benefit of future generations.

The students, aged seven to 17, and their supporters are delegates at the ninth annual Trust for Sustainable Living 2019 International Schools Debates and Children’s Conference, held July 8-12, 2019, in Victoria and Vancouver. This is the first time the event has been held in the Americas. This year’s event is focused on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15: Life on Land.

“It is an honour to host so many engaged young people at Government House for this important event and I look forward to hearing their ideas and perspectives throughout the week,” said Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of B.C., who is also serving as the chair of the event’s host committee. “I am so inspired to see the impact of these young leaders.”

The Trust for Sustainable Living is a global education charity, based at the Living Rainforest centre in West Berkshire, United Kingdom. Every year, the charity hosts an International Schools Essay Competition with a global sustainability theme. Contest participants are then invited to attend the International Schools Debates and Children’s Conference.

“We’re so excited to bring this year’s conference to British Columbia,” said Karl Hansen, executive director of the Trust for Sustainable Living. “There’s no place better for children from around the world to come together and explore positive solutions to protecting life on land.”

British Columbian students participating in this year’s event include Caitlin Foster, Mount Douglas Secondary (Victoria), Ines Khoudier, St. Margaret’s school (Victoria), and Cassidy Fuller, Tsawalk Learning Centre (Nanaimo) — all essay competition finalists.

B.C. students also received honourable mentions, including nine students from Pender Island Elementary, five students from Brechin Elementary (Nanaimo), three from English Bluff Elementary (Delta), two from Mount Slesse Middle School (Chilliwack), one from Sutherland Secondary (North Vancouver) and one from Erickson Elementary (Erickson), a number of whom are also participating in this week’s conference.

“The achievements and involvement of B.C. students in this prestigious competition and conference will inspire children around the world to become champions of sustainability,” said Rob Fleming, Minister of Education. “Ensuring students are educated about ecology, sustainability and stewardship is key to ensuring our environment will be protected for generations to come.”

Fleming was among the speakers at the conference’s opening ceremonies, along with Austin, Hansen, Judith Guichon, 29th lieutenant governor of British Columbia and Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands. The debates will be held July 9 and 10 at Government House, with students divided into two groups — primary schools (ages seven to 11) and secondary schools (ages 11 to 17) — to give individual speeches on the topic, “Young people are key to achieving SDG #15.” The students will then work in groups to continue to make their arguments, with award ceremonies following.

On July 11, conference delegates will come together at Government House to share highlights and lessons learned from the previous three days. Attendees will have the opportunity to exchange ideas with representatives from the local First Nations community, renowned artists, eminent scientists and other leaders in the fields of conservation and sustainable development. David Suzuki, co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, will give a keynote address.

Over the course of the week, conference delegates will have an opportunity to explore a number of ecologically focused destinations in Victoria and Vancouver, including the Royal BC Museum, VanDusen Botanical Garden, Bloedel Conservatory, Stanley Park and Bowen Island. Workshops for teachers will also be offered.


Caitlin Foster, B.C. student finalist —

“I’m excited to start a discussion on how the loss of native environments and urbanization have an adverse effect on sustainability and the climate crisis and to start looking for solutions to these issues. I look forward to learning how these problems affect communities around the world as well as hearing from diverse perspectives about life on land.”

Ines Khouider, B.C. student finalist —

“With the increasing importance of environmental action, it’s imperative to empower youth. This conference allows youth from all around the world to connect and gain a truly global perspective. It’s very exciting to have the conference in Victoria. When I look at my beautiful hometown, I realize that the time for action is now.”

Stephen Cornish, CEO, David Suzuki Foundation —

“The David Suzuki Foundation is thrilled to be a partner in welcoming young people from Canada and around the world to British Columbia to learn, debate and share environmental solutions for enhancing all life on land for generations to come.”

Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands —

“I am so honoured to be included in the youth conference, focusing on life on land. We are fully committed to the 17 sustainable development goals. Just as our climate goals and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change mandate require that action by 2030, so too the SDG goals have a deadline of 2030. The role of youth is not as leaders of the future, but to force action now. Now is when we must act and our young people inspire us to do so.”

Quick Facts:

  • Each year the Trust for Sustainable Living International Schools Essay Competition focuses on a different global sustainability theme and attracts the participation of schools in around 70 countries, with over 1,500 children and teachers taking part annually. Previous topics have included:
    • 2018 – oceans (sponsored by the Seychelles government)
    • 2017 – climate action (Oxford University) and
    • 2016 – sustainable cities (Dubai)
  • This year’s theme, United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15: Life on Land, is based on when, in 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 goals for a better world by 2030, focused on ending poverty, fighting inequality and stopping climate change.
  • Goal 15: Life on Land seeks to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
  • In addition to Government House and the Trust for Sustainable Living, additional host committee members are from the B.C. Ministry of Education, Victoria Foundation, Vancouver Foundation, VanDusen Botanical Garden and Coastal First Nations.

Learn More:

For information on the Trust for Sustainable Living 2019 International Schools Debates and Children’s Conference, visit: