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College and Wharton junior Brandon Nguyen was named a Top 25 Environmentalist Under 25, and in 2018, a Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leader.

Credit: Amanda Jiacheng Shen

College and Wharton junior Brandon Nguyen recently represented his home country of Canada at the United Nations Youth Climate Summit.

Nguyen was one of 100 different college students from 100 different nations to attend the UN Youth Climate Summit. The inaugural event took place on Sept. 21 in New York City, where students and heads of state from around the globe were brought together to develop creative, sustainable solutions to climate change.

Nguyen has been an active advocate for environmentalism long before the UN recognized his efforts. He was named a Top 25 Environmentalist Under 25 in 2017, and in 2018, a Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leader.

Nguyen said his passion for environmentalism began at an early age and stemmed from a love of Animal Planet and an interest in wildlife.

“I think I was really lucky because in grade five, I had a teacher who was super interested in teaching us about social issues and environmental issues," he said. "I realized the negative implications that my own actions had on these animals that I found so fascinating." 

Credit: Amanda Jiacheng Shen

Nguyen said he enjoyed collaborating with and hearing from other young activists, including  Greta Thunberg.

His interests eventually turned to environmental education. In 2015, Nguyen started the Toronto Coalition of EcoSchools, a network of students across Toronto who are also involved in environmental clubs at their schools. As part of the group's goal to make environmental literacy more accessible, Nguyen helped draft a climate policy education module for teachers across Canada so they can better educate students about the topic.

In an effort to bring his passion about mitigating climate change to Penn, Nguyen became an Eco Rep in the Penn Sustainability Club, president of Penn International Impact Consulting Group, and has conducted research with the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy.

Fellow Eco Rep and College junior Calais Cronin said working with Brandon “was super empowering,” and highlighted the impact of youth involvement in climate change activism.

“So much of it comes from young people,” Cronin said. “It kind of gives you more hope that you can be really close to change — that you can enact change.”

College senior David Zhou, vice president of the PIIC, said Nguyen has a broader focus on long-term growth as the leader of the student organization.

“I think that motivation, that passion, that drive is what has allowed PIIC to continuously grow and develop over the years, and it’s what basically has allowed us to become the organization that we’ve become,” Zhou said.

While representing Canada on a global stage, Nguyen said he enjoyed collaborating with and hearing from other young activists, including 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who began the movement #FridaysForFuture and has been striking every Friday since September 2018. 

“The energy in the room — you could feel it shift when you had young speakers up there, versus when it was other heads of state,” Nguyen said. “There was an emotional appeal in the young speakers that wasn’t there with lots of heads of state and political leaders.”

In reflecting on discussions from the summit, Nguyen said that climate change needs to be looked at from a “non-partisan perspective."

“It’s a very real, tangible issue that is not only going to be happening in 50 [or] 100 years, but it’s happening now,” he said.