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From RHS and beyond, Kate Catlin is making an environmental impact

Redmond High School graduate Kate Catlin speaks at the 18th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar. The event was held Nov. 26 through Dec. 8. - Courtesy photo
Redmond High School graduate Kate Catlin speaks at the 18th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar. The event was held Nov. 26 through Dec. 8.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Kate Catlin was first introduced to environmentalism when she was a student at Redmond High School (RHS).

“I’m a ‘Townie,’” she said, referring to her former science teacher, Mike Town.

Since then, the 22-year-old Gonzaga University senior has become an environmental activist, working at various levels. She spent a year in Washington, D.C., helping high schools go green and has worked with young people worldwide on developing policies to address climate change.

Most recently, Catlin attended the 18th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha, Qatar, as leader of the youth delegation with SustainUS.

The convention was held Nov. 26 through Dec. 8 and brings world leaders together to try and negotiate a legally binding agreement to mitigate climate change.

“This process has been largely unsuccessful,” Catlin said.

She said part of this has been due to the United States’ hesitation and the fact that this country does not have any type of legislation in place nationally. As a result, anything the United States brings to the table is not taken seriously.

“It’s kind of making us look bad on the international scene,” Catlin said. “We’re ignoring international justice for the sake of a little comfort here.”

The UNFCCC allows non-governmental organizations (NGOs), indigenous groups, women’s groups and youth groups such as SustainUS to attend as observer parties.

As an observer party, Catlin said they are able to meet with the negotiator for the United States to ask questions and get information. Observer parties are also able to give an intervention, which means making a public statement in a plenary with representatives from all countries. Catlin said observer parties can also hold sanctioned protests within the conference in designated areas.

“You can use that to try and get at a negotiator,” she said, adding that gaining media attention is another goal of a protest.

Catlin and her fellow youth protested and held up signs about the lack of leadership that has blocked progress on any type of international agreement.

Doha was Catlin’s second UNFCCC. She attended last year’s convention in South Africa and said she felt “an overwhelming amount of emotion” at being able to attend when she was only 21.

“I’m still kind of shocked that this is even an opportunity,” she admitted.

The first time Catlin attended was also with SustainUS. SustainUS chair Louise Yeung said Catlin, who is studying economics with a concentration on entrepreneurship, was very active in lobbying for innovative climate finance policy.

“As one of the outstanding stars of the 2011 delegation, we brought her back on as the delegation leader for this year’s negotiations,” Yeung said. “Through her effective leadership, she has helped to build a tremendous amount of capacity for this year’s delegation.”

As leader, Catlin organized trainings and working sessions on a range of science and policy topics to prepare the delegation to be effective on the ground. She also managed the logistics of sending 20 young people to Doha.

SustainUS is a youth-led NGO that empowers young people to advance sustainable development. Catlin said everyone involved is 26 and younger. The organization was started in 2001 by a group of young people who decided to organize a delegation to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.

“Over the past decade, SustainUS has expanded its presence to send youth delegations to U.N. conferences on climate change, sustainable development, social development, women and biological diversity,” said Yeung. “At these conferences, SustainUS delegations work with hundreds of young people from across the globe to advocate for robust sustainable development policies.”

While at the UNFCCC, SustainUS delegations lobby government officials, stage actions to bring attention to pressing issues and work to generate media attention.

“One of the major campaigns that SustainUS conducted this year was calling for U.S. Congress to move forward with climate legislation, given that U.S. inaction on climate change has been one of the largest hurdles to achieving an international climate treaty,” Yeung said.

Catlin said while there are so many issues that need to be addressed nowadays, climate change should be a top priority because it affects so many things, ranging from the global gross domestic product to national security.

“It’s very much the steak, it’s the meat (of the issue),” she said.

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