This young Macao climate activist took the cause to COP26 and the Global Youth Summit on Net-Zero Future
From researching environmental systems at university to volunteering with the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate, Macao student Cheng Hao Sheng is working hard to build a more sustainable future.
The impact of climate change has intensified in recent years, with extreme weather conditions devastating communities worldwide regularly. Many young people have realised that they may be left to face the worst of the climate crisis.
Instead of watching and waiting, young people are taking the future into their own hands by protesting, organising awareness campaigns and demanding urgent action to avert disaster.
Cheng Hao Sheng, 20, is among these young climate activists. The Macao-born engineering student is currently in his third year at Tsinghua University’s School of Environment in Beijing. He’s also a member of the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate (GAUC), an international initiative launched in 2019 by 15 universities from six continents, including Tsinghua University, University of Oxford and Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
This October, Cheng started volunteering with GAUC’s Global Youth Summit on Net-Zero Future to communicate with regional leaders and influence climate policies. The five-day summit, which took place both offline and online from 25-29 October, aims to mobilise climate actions by youth and higher education in the areas of Nature & Biodiversity, Food & Health, Energy, and Transportation and more.
As a volunteer co-organiser, Cheng shared his first-hand experience with climate change via video, drafted the Climate X Global Youth Declaration and spread the word on social media. In November, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (also known as COP26) featured his video with its audience of global climate leaders.
We connect with Cheng to hear about his experience at the summit, academic and community projects, and vision for a more sustainable Macao.
Macao News: Why did you choose a career in environmental protection?
Cheng Hao Sheng (CHS): When I was a teenager, I learned at the Affiliated School of the University of Macau that we have been burning a lot of fossil fuels and that if we did not start conserving energy and water, we would face a resource-scarcity crisis. But what really struck me was Typhoon Hato, which hit Macao in 2017. It made me aware of the impact of climate change, which is affecting our lives right now.
In 2018, I learned about the Global Environment Programme offered by Tsinghua University during a summer camp. The class teaches technical skills in science and engineering, as well as environmental-related subjects such as diplomacy, management, economics and law.
Environmental protection is closely intertwined with our society and economy and, to tackle global environmental issues, we need people who specialise in technical skills, management and diplomatic law. I believed this programme could offer me the necessary skills to contribute to environmental protection, so I enrolled.
MN: Tell us about your experience with the Global Youth Summit on Net-Zero Future.
CHS: The Summit includes more than 30 student-led events, such as climate-research competitions, a “hackathon”, Voice Track [a collation of multimedia messages about climate change by students] and solutions-oriented meetings on how to energise youth across the world. I recorded a video for Voice Track sharing what I witnessed during Typhoon Hato, my thoughts on climate change, and the awareness campaigns and community work I do in Macao.
I also helped draft the Climate X Global Youth Declaration with students from around the globe. The declaration calls upon governments at all levels to enact legislation to combat the devastating effects of the climate crisis. Other responsibilities included writing press releases about each event and publishing them on social media.
MN: What did you learn by volunteering?
CHS: I realised once again the importance of regional and global cooperation for combating climate change. Many scholars, students, young people and citizens from around the globe are already working on the issue.
Facing large-scale crises like climate change and biodiversity loss can make us feel helpless and lonely. But GAUC has provided a dynamic platform to engage global citizens to tackle the problem together. We are not alone in this fight.
MN: What do you like to research in school?
CHS: I am particularly interested in the area of environmental economics and system analysis. [The former focuses on ecosystems’ monetary value and cost-benefit analysis; the latter researches the interaction between human activity, the environment and the economy]. When we try to formulate a solution to reduce carbon emission, it’s important to consider society, economy, environment and energy.
For instance, in 2020, China announced its goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. But how do we accomplish this goal while taking care of society and providing a smooth transition for the coal workers to another industry? That’s where environmental economics and systems analysis can come to the rescue.
MN: How else are you tackling the environmental issues in Macao and Beijing?
CHS: I am involved in community projects to spread awareness and knowledge about low-carbon and eco-friendly lifestyles. For instance, I am a core member of Genervision House, a Macao-based platform for knowledge sharing and advocacy that promotes the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Meanwhile, at Tsinghua University, I work with other students to organise environmental campaigns, such as recycling events and cleanup drives. Through these activities, we hope to inspire actions and behavioural changes.
MN: How does Macao compare to Beijing when it comes to environmental efforts?
CHS: People from Macao and Beijing may have a similar level of environmental awareness. But the implementation of environment-related policies differs. Beijing does better than Macao in promoting recycling because the city has stronger administrative means and executes more efficiently.
To help improve the environment, Macao could further promote electric cars and citywide recycling, and raise the plastic bag levy. But the government needs to be more courageous and innovative in adopting new and timely measures.
MN: What are your plans for the future?
CHS: The Global Environmental Programme at Tsinghua aims to cultivate two types of talents: environmental diplomats and specialists working at international organisations, such as the United Nations.
I am quite interested in working for these kinds of organisations, where I can help facilitate sustainable development negotiations and simultaneously balance the interests of each participating country. I may also want to become a scholar so that I can contribute to environmental protection from an academic perspective. I can’t say I have a concrete plan yet since there are a lot of possibilities.