The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has announced the winners of the fifth annual Youth Innovation Challenge, selected among submissions from Canada, Mexico and the United States.

The CEC was established in 1994 by the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States through the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, a parallel environmental agreement to NAFTA. As of 2020, the CEC is recognized and maintained by the Environmental Cooperation Agreement, in parallel with the new Free Trade Agreement of North America. The CEC brings together a wide range of stakeholders, including the general public, Indigenous people, youth, nongovernmental organizations, academia, and the business sector, to seek solutions to protect North America’s shared environment.

For the first time ever, the CEC chose four winners for the Youth Innovation Challenge:

  • Gabriel Saunders (Canada): “Decomp” – an organic plastic waste disposal solution that utilizes proprietary, plastic-degrading microbes to facilitate the degradation of plastics in weeks.
  • Claudia del Carmen Cornelio Caraveo (Mexico): “Sustainable Habitat for Honey-Producing Bees” – a device that physically supports apiaries, prevents ant infestations, and provides water during droughts and dry seasons, supporting marginalized communities that have seen declines in honey-producing bees.
  • Emilio Gómez (Mexico): “Mobile School for Community Forestry” – a pilot continuous training program supporting producer families with tools and education to empower communities and local leaders to produce sustainably.
  • Xiangkun “Elvis” Cao (United States): “C2X” – an initiative for transforming ‘fugitive’ CO2 emissions from power plants into sustainable solar commodities, particularly helping marginalized communities located near coal-fired plants.
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Gabriel Saunders, Decomp founder, and winner of the CEC Youth Innovation Challenge.

This year, the annual challenge focused on the theme of “Climate Change and Environmental Justice Innovations for Resilient Communities.” North American youth aged 18 to 30 were challenged to submit innovative entrepreneurial solutions that can address environmental challenges and opportunities for communities in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

“Facing climate change, supporting environmental justice, and building community resilience are some of the most salient environmental challenges in North America,” said Richard A. Morgan, executive director of the CEC Secretariat. “Increasingly, youth are making headway and finding solutions for a sustainable future in North America. This year’s winners demonstrate how young people can bring fresh perspectives and tangible solutions to environmental justice and community resilience in the face of climate change.”

The winners of the Youth Innovation Challenge have been invited to join the North America’s top environmental officials to discuss their solutions at the annual CEC Council Session (#CEC28), which will take place on September 9 and 10, 2021. The Youth Innovation Challenge winners will present their solutions via live webcast on September 10 from 2:00 to 4:00 pm EDT.

This year’s Session will also feature the CEC’s first-ever youth roundtable discussion, on “The Role of Youth in Ensuring Environmental Justice Through Responses to Climate Change”, which will be held on September 9 from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm EDT. The event will include a moderated discussion about the key role that youth play in facilitating and ensuring environmental justice in North America. To register for this upcoming session, click here.

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