How the Climate Crisis Became Personal

Saza Mana, director of the organization SWiTCH, based in Shibuya, Tokyo, aims to create a sustainable society with young people from around the world—those who will be most affected by climate change.
Saza Mana at Shibuya QWS, where the SWiTCH Association of Sustainability holds its office. 

Mock COP: A Conference for Young People, by Young People

The 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28) was held in the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates from November 30 to December 12, 2023. COP is an international conference that has been taking place since 1995, in which countries come together to discuss measures against the climate crisis.

COP 26, held in Glasgow, Scotland in the UK in 2021, was originally scheduled to be held in 2020, but had been postponed by a year due to COVID-19. Saza Mana, who began studying at University College London's graduate school in 2019, felt uneasy about this postponement. After all, it came at a time when it was critical to keep global warming under 1.5 in order to stop the climate crisis, and COP presented a valuable opportunity for various countries to come together to discuss climate change—an issue that will have a direct effect on her own future as someone from the younger generation. In response, Saza worked with other young climate-change experts from around the world to launch Mock COP, a mechanism through which the younger generation and those in developing countries could make their voices heard at COP.

A total of 330 young people (11-29 years old) from 140 countries, all making their own efforts when it comes to climate change, attended Mock COP. Discussions during the event were held online, and centered around what kind of policies the younger generation would establish if they were the ones participating in the conference. Saza served as the global coordinator. As part of this role, she organized the opinions of the attendees into 18 policy proposals, and presented them to the various heads of state and others at COP 26, garnering worldwide attention in the process.

Mock COP went beyond simply presenting policy proposals from the younger generation, however, with Saza announcing that they would be involved in the implementation of these policies as well. Mock COP 26 had received acclaim for creating a system in which young people could take the lead in policy making. This acclaim led to their being officially invited to negotiations at COP 26.

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Saza participated in the Together for Tomorrow: Education and Climate Action Summit, held at COP 26 and run by Mock COP, the UK Department for Education, UNESCO, and the Italian government. Photo: courtesy of SWiTCH Association of Sustainability

Tokyo's Pivotal Role

Saza, who established the SWiTCH Association of Sustainability in 2021, now works out of the Shibuya area of Tokyo. She set up the organization, she says, due to a growing sense of unease regarding Japan's attitude towards climate change.

"The expectation from other countries was that Japan would set high-level goals when it came to climate change—become a role model and have a global impact. But what's actually happened is that Japan has set relatively easy goals for itself. And over time, these expectations have faded, and we're starting to be seen as a country that's perhaps not very aware of the risks of climate change. If we want to raise Japan's international standing, I think that each of us as an individual needs to be more conscious of the urgency of engaging with this issue."

In terms of why she set up her office in Shibuya, Saza says, "Shibuya is known to people all around the world for its busy crossing. But think about the major impact it would have on the world if we could 'green' this town."

"The idea is to bring the Japanese spirit of mottainai (a desire to not let things go to waste) into discussions of climate change," Saza says.

"Youth in Japan feel powerless when it comes to changing society. Surveys demonstrate that only 18.3% of Japanese youths believe that they can change their country or society, whereas this figure is 65.7% in the US and 50.7% in the UK.* The climate crisis is an imminent threat and we cannot postpone the solving of this issue. Therefore, we need to provide spaces for youths to actively participate in activities that will have a socio-environmental impact and where they can be trained to take ownership of climate-related issues."

Saza's current concern is education, with a focus on climate-change awareness among young people. She hosts workshops on environmental issues, for students from the elementary to high-school level, and offers the free online toolkit called "Challenge 1.5 ℃" that allows people to understand climate change on a deeper level and implement methods for keeping warming within 1.5.

If young people and adults in Japan are able to see these environmental issues as a top priority, and rush to implement policies to counteract them, it will raise Japan's international standing as well. This is why it is vital that this kind of effort is being made in the high-profile city of Shibuya in Tokyo—a bustling place, and perhaps a 'green' one in the future.

Saza Mana

Born in 1995. Graduated from University College London, with an MSc in Sustainable Development. Involved in the establishment and operation of Mock COP. Selected for the Forbes JAPAN 30 UNDER 30 2023 list in the BUSINESS & FINANCE & IMPACT category. Currently working on the "Challenge 1.5 ℃" project, which aims to change people's behavior in order to save this one planet we have, towards Expo 2025 Osaka.

SWiTCH Association of Sustainability
Japanese language site
* “Awareness Survey of 18-Year-Olds; Results of 19th and 20th installments announced”

Interview and writing by Onodera Fukumi
Photos by Ito Satomi
Translation by Amitt