PEOPLE: 18-year-old Climate Activist who took on one of Australia’s leading energy companies

Ashjayeen Sharif – remember the name. A quintessential example that no matter your age, if you have a vision and purpose, you are capable enough to stand up for what you believe in.

Ashjayeen is an 18-year-old Gen Z powerhouse from Melbourne who led a campaign for a seat on the AGL Energy board. Backed by Greenpeace, he is making waves in ensuring that young people’s efforts in fighting for climate activism is at the forefront of discussions and where better than leading from the front on the AGL board. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers about your campaign and motivation in running for the AGL Energy board? 

Coal is the predominant cause of climate change, and AGL is Australia’s largest coal burner, and therefore Australia’s largest climate polluter. AGL and its coal-burning power stations will leave a disastrous climate-wrecking legacy that my generation, and those to come, will have to live with. 

Meanwhile, the company’s current leadership refuses to act on climate change, which is telling of their ineptitude for the job. If AGL’s leaders won’t be leaders, someone else has to – and that someone is me. That’s why I’m nominating myself to their Board of Directors.

When did you first start getting involved with climate activism?

I first began to get involved with climate activism when I came across the first school climate strike in November 2018. This seemingly by-chance discovery led me to learn of the emerging youth climate action movement, and the newly formed organisation School Strike 4 Climate.

In the following months, I learned much about climate change and the climate crisis. In early 2019, I joined the school strike organising team in Meanjin. This quickly became one of the things I am most grateful for in life as it allowed me to navigate my way around my identity within an intersectional context and understand what it is to fight for safety and justice.

What are you currently working on in your role at School Strike 4 Climate, and more recently, AYCC?

Nowadays, I take on more of a mentor role in School Strike 4 Climate. The experience that I have garnered over the years has equipped me with a diverse skillset which should be passed on to newer activists as more and more young people join the fight. At the same time, I am a fundraiser for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, which is Australia’s largest youth-led organisation.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

It’s completely okay to feel overwhelmed and unsure as to how to get your foot into the door. There is a lot of pressure on young people to take on individual actions and address individual responsibility, but I would strongly encourage young readers to prioritise corporate and government responsibility. Remember: 100 corporations make up the majority of global greenhouse gas emissions.

For me, what has been most useful in joining the fight for climate action has been finding a community. There are thousands of young people out there who are just as passionate as you to fight for change. These communities of young people are united by a bond unlike any other, so I strongly encourage young readers today to join a climate organisation. Many exist, but I’d recommend School Strike 4 Climate, if you’re in school, and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, if you’re out of school, as good places to start. They helped me get into this fight and they can help you too.

Want to follow and support Ashjayeen?

The best way to support my campaign and the broader new wave of climate activism as we venture into uncharted, digitalised, pandemic territory, is to do research, engage with climate organisations on social media and to get involved yourself. In addition to SS4C and AYCC which I’ve already mentioned, check out Stop Adani, Seed and of course Greenpeace, whose support has made my campaign possible.


About the diversity champion:

(he/him) Ashjayeen Sharif was born in Bangladesh and raised in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. He’s now studying for a Bachelor of Arts at Melbourne University. Ashjayeen has been an active leader in the School Strike for Climate movement. Like most young people, he cares deeply about climate action because he cares for people and wants to live on a healthy, thriving planet. He believes AGL, as Australia’s largest electricity company, has a crucial role to play in Australia’s climate solution. 

Image description: Ashjayeen is looking at the camera wearing a green jacket and white shirt in front of a backdrop with trees