Raising a voice for the future

Interview with Rebecca Freitag, German UN Youth Delegate for Sustainable Development 2017 - 2019

Rebecca Freitag yellow raincoat , credit: Kristoffer Schwetje


Rebecca Freitag (28) lives in Berlin and studies Integrated Natural Resource Management. She has been to the Caux Forum many times with her family, and in 2012 she was part of the Caux Interns Programme. She was the German UN Youth Delegate for Sustainable Development from 2017 to 2019, promoting her generation’s concerns about sustainability at the United Nations.


Rebecca, your two years as Germany‘s UN Youth Delegate were packed with encounters and new experiences. How would you describe this time in five keywords?







What motivated you to apply for this mandate and what did your work consist of?

I think that political decisions are made on too short-term a basis: they are not sustainable. Young people and future generations have to live with the consequences but are hardly given any say in today’s decisions. Germany's UN Youth Delegate for Sustainable Development is one of the few institutional offices for young people that can help shape national and international policy-making. I understood my job to be a voice for a sustainable world.

As an official part of the German governmental delegation to the UN conferences on sustainable development, my fellow youth delegate and I carried our generation’s position into national and international politics.

This position was based on many encounters with young people in Germany. Throughout the year I spoke in schools, at scout camps and in lecture halls about the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how we can only achieve this transformation if we are united. It was my task to present the wishes, criticism and questions of those young people to the UN – and also the actions they had implemented. I was able to show that we young people are already working on our transformation on a small scale. For the big structural changes, we called on today's politicians to make courageous decisions.


Rebecca Freitag UN , credit: Kristoffer Schwetje


Which encounters or experiences from this time have impressed you the most?

My encounters with young women from the global South were particularly inspiring and encouraging. In spite of the many limitations they face, they are the ones who promote sustainability in their communities. The former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, once said to me: ‘Climate change is a man-made problem which needs a feminist solution.’

I believe that we need to take more balanced decisions about the future: a better balance between gender, between generations and between regions.

Visiting activists from Fridays for Future in Kenya and Brazil was also very formative. These young people face much more urgent problems than we do in Europe – such as issues around education, violence and political leadership. But, in spite of security concerns, they take to the streets to call for action on climate change.  This demonstrates both our privilege and also our responsibility towards these people. The consequences of climate change are felt very strongly in these countries and the roots can be found in our lifestyle.

It was also exciting to see how the attention to the concerns of my generation at official events increased when the Fridays for Future protests started. This proves that our generation’s combined action on the streets is worthwhile – that active intervention catches society’s attention (even if the results may still not be adequate).



You are a climate activist, you are the co-founder of the FahrradBande working group on mobility and you were present at the Fridays for Future demonstrations in New York. How do you apply environmental sustainability in your own everyday life?  

I try small changes that we can all implement: I use my bike, eat plant-based nutrition, try to consume less, share more and so on...

However, as there are limits in what we can do in everyday life, major structural changes need to be initiated on a political level, such as creating an infrastructure for sustainable mobility for everyone, imposing higher fines for polluting, integrating closed-loop thinking into businesses, measuring contributions to the wellbeing of society and the planet instead of GDP.

When I broke my hand at the end of my term of office, I came to another realization: during the exciting but stressful time as a UN Youth Delegate I hadn’t used my own personal resources in a sustainable way. My injury was very painful and suddenly my daily routine became so much slower. That was a good thing.

How sustainable and healthy are we in relation to our own lives, our neighbours and the environment? I believe that once we have corrected this relationship we will see policies on a global level that don’t contradict our human existence.


Rebecca Freitag Greta Thunberg , credit: Kristoffer Schwetje


Trustbuilding, ethical leadership and sustainable living are at the heart of IofC’s work. How have IofC's values influenced your life?

My father used to work fulltime for IofC and as a child and teenager I often went to Caux. The encounters there with people from all over the world, and hearing their stories built the foundations of my cosmopolitanism, tolerance and striving for global justice.

At Caux I often heard people say that change begins within ourselves. This is especially true for the transformation needed for a sustainable world. I will continue to raise my voice for those who are rarely heard: young people, future generations and nature.


The COVID-19 crisis has changed our world a lot. What have you learnt from lockdown?

Alongside the suffering it has brought, the virus has also done us the service / had the merit of removing superficial concerns and making us focus on what is essential in life. We start to realize, that we can also live along with less; less flying, less consumption, less distraction. At least for me, I appreciate things which seemed unimportant to me before the pandemic: community, honest caring for others, being able to get out into nature. I hope that we will not lose this feeling and that it will make it easier for us to undertake innovations for a sustainable future.


Interested in more? Read Rebecca's " A Letter to Future Generations"


Interview: Ulrike Ott Chanu

Photos: Kristoffer Schwetje Photography

Featured Story

related stories

Water Warriors 2022 square

Help the Water Warriors save water in Kenya

Water Warriors is a groundbreaking collaboration between experts and activists in Kenya, India and Sweden launched by Initiatives for Land, Lives, and Peace (ILLP), the organizers of the annual Caux D...

Zero waste square for social media

Sofia Syodorenko: A zero waste lifestyle is a mindful lifestyle

How did Sofia Syodorenko become involved in the zero waste movement, and what does it mean to her? Now Chair of Foundations for Freedom, she is also a representative of the Zero Waste Alliance Ukraine...

Summer Academy 2021 screenshot square

Forging a network of problem-solvers to build a secure and sustainable future

The Summer Academy on Climate, Land and Security 2021 brought together 29 participants from 20 countries. From Egypt and Senegal to the United States and Thailand, zoom windows opened for six hours ev...

Salima Mahamoudou 21 July 2021 FDFA workshop CDES 2021

Remaking a world in peril

The Caux Dialogue on Environment and Security (CDES) 2021 ran online from 20 July until 30 July, for the second consecutive year, comprising three open plenaries and seven workshops. This year’s discu...

FDFA Baobabcowherd-1 Noah Elhardt through WikiCommons square with logos

A pathway to peace and prosperity in West and Central Africa

In the context of their partnership, Initiatives of Change Switzerland (IofC) and the Peace and Human Rights division of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs organised a webinar on the them...

CDES CDLS 2018 credit: Leela Channer

A decade of Caux Dialogues: Impact and recommendations

This report, written by Alan Channer and made possible thanks to the support of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, looks back on a decade of Caux Dialogues on Environment and Security an...

Dhanasree Jayaram CDES 2020

A closer look at links between environment and security

Food security is a key to understanding the complex connection between climate and security, Dhanasree Jayaram, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations Manipal...

CDES 2020 IofC Bards meditation bowl square

The art of making a difference to the climate crisis

‘Artists are uniquely positioned to face what is happening to the climate, to reimagine the world and create a new narrative,’ says Sveinung Nygaard (Sven), a Norwegian composer and musician. He was i...

Darfuri refugee camp in eastern Chad – photo with kind permission on CORD UK

Governance of Land in the Sahel

How can we catalyse human security and building climate resilience through land restoration? Held on 2nd December 2020, this live webinar followed that of the 10th July 2020 on “Land and security in S...

Summer Academy 2020 Geneva fountain lake, credit: Leela Channer

Environmental peacebuilding must define our era

The theme of 2020’s Geneva Peace Week was ‘Rebuilding Trust after Disruption: pathways to reset international cooperation’. On 6 November, Initiatives of Change and the Geneva Centre for Security Poli...

Water Warriors, vegetable gardens

The language of water – the language of the heart

The Water Warriors, a collaboration between experts and activists in India, Sweden and Kenya to share water management solutions across the globe. Rishabh Khanna from IofC's Initiatves for Land, Lives...

Irina Fedorenko CDES 2020 screenshot

Caux Dialogue on Environment and Security 2020

The Caux Dialogue on Environment and Security aimed high in its first online edition, with more than 15 sessions and a cumulative total of 450 participants. Experts discussed the connection between se...

Summer Academy 2020 screenshot participants cropped credit: Alan Channer

Summer Academy 2020: expansive possibilities for the future

The effusive feedback from participants in the five-day 2020 Summer Academy on Land, Climate and Security vindicated the difficult decision to take the course online. Four months ago, this had seemed ...

CDLS 2019 Chau Duncan

Retooling the wheel for regenerative investment

Chau Tang-Duncan, co-founder and chief operating officer of Earthbanc, has been coming to Caux regularly since 2010. It was there that she first embraced the role she could have in connecting people a...

Karina Cheah

Overcoming the challenges of online dialogue groups

I have never been to Caux. I had also never moderated a dialogue group before, in or outside of the Caux Forum. As I faced the prospect of co-facilitating an online dialogue group in the Caux Dialogue...