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Climate activist Aniek Moonen: 'At 24, I can already make a huge impact'

No full-time job, but full-time voluntary work instead. That’s what Aniek Moonen decided on graduating from Leiden University College The Hague, when she started work as a committee member of the Young Climate Movement (Jonge Klimaatbeweging). As its Chair, she joins CEOs and government ministers in discussions about the climate goals.

Moonen wasn’t particularly interested in the climate debate when she was younger. It wasn’t until during her studies Liberal Arts and Sciences: Global Challenges at Leiden University College in The Hague that her enthusiasm was kindled. ‘As far as the climate theme is concerned, the more you find out about it, the more difficult it is to look the other way. When I was on an exchange in California, the deadliest forest fires ever in that region were raging at the time. Classmates couldn’t attend classes because of asthma, or were called out of a lesson because their parents’ house had been lost to the fire. That had such an effect on me that when I got back to the Netherlands, I thought: “My mission in life will be to combat climate change”.’ 

‘My mission in life will be to combat climate change’

Full diary

We talk with Aniek Moonen during the only free hour in her diary this week. In addition to the Young Climate Movement, I am also taking the Master’s in Global Business and Sustainability at Erasmus University. But if I’m being honest, I’m not even studying part-time. I spend more than 40 hours a week on my committee work. The Young Climate Movement is an umbrella organisation which, together with more than 70 youth organisations, is drawing up the agenda for the world of 2050. As Chair, I’m also the spokesperson for the organisation, so I hold talks with government ministers and parliamentarians and maintain contact with the media by speaking on radio and television. I’m also on the expert team that advises the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate on how the energy system of the future should be.’

Making an impact

Moonen thinks there are advantages and disadvantages to taking part in discussions with government and industry at such a young age. ‘I have the feeling that I have to work twice as hard to prove myself when the person sitting opposite me has more experience. In that situation, I have to demonstrate that I know what I’m talking about and can discuss things at their level. But there are also advantages. At 24, I can already make a huge impact and I speak with inspiring people and visit interesting places. For example, last week I was in Stockholm for a United Nations environment conference.’

With Liesje Schreinemacher, Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation.

Leiden University College The Hague

How does the young alumnus benefit from her studies at Leiden University College in The Hague? ‘At the time, I chose Liberal Arts and Sciences: Global Challenges, based purely on gut feeling. The only real connection was that I liked geography as a subject. After the info session at Leiden University College, I said straight away: “This is it, this is what I’m going to do”. It’s really cool that you can take a lot of different programmes, but with a focus on global challenges such as climate change and social inequality.’

She applies the skills she acquired in her time at Leiden University to her work at the Young Climate Movement. ‘You learn how to tell a story, both on paper and during presentations. That has stood me in good stead in verbal assignments. Also, you learn critical and integral thinking. You’re forced to look at topics from the perspectives of politics, economy and administration. That helps me now to see the big picture. Because we not only have a climate crisis, but also  biodiversity and raw materials crises.’

‘I’ve chosen to take a different path, which has taken me further than I would have gone if I’d stuck to the safe path.’

Advice to students

Moonen is only 24 and has made a flying start to her career. What’s her advice to other students? ‘I haven’t been afraid to delay my professional career in order to do voluntary work. As a student, you’re told you should start internships and build your career as soon as possible. I chose to take a different path, which has taken me further than I would have gone if I’d stuck to the safe path. That felt quite risky, but I’m very glad now that I did it. Dare to let go of everything those around you expect of you. Do what you enjoy and make an impact.’

Text: Lisanne Bos

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