Here at the UN Climate Talks in Cancun, the US and Chinese official negotiators sit on the opposite sides of the plenary hall, often trading diplomatically coded barbs or working to leverage their influence to move the talks in different directions. 

Tonight, however, Chinese and Americans sat together at the same table and talked about the need for increased collaboration. The presentation wasn't from the official delegations, but from a group of youth that have taken part in the China-US Youth Climate Exchange, a new initiative to foster ties between the two countries. 

The initiative came together during the climate talks last year in Copenhagen and is a great example of the way young people are paving the way for innovative solutions to the climate crisis. 

At press conference this evening, youth from each country spoke about the experience of taking part in the exchange and observing the official negotiations here in Cancun. 

One of the participants, Chen Yingao, a graduate student from Peking University, explained "Before Cancun, I didn't have a lot of experience communicating with American youth. The past five days have provided me a totally new view of the United States." 

She emphasized the need to adapt, listen to others, and take time to understand the culture and history each side is coming to the table with. "It's high time for youth to build a new style of leadership based on shared knowledge and communication," she concluded. 

Another participant in the exchange was Caroline Henderson, a Senior at the University of Maryland and a delegate with the Sierra Student Coalition. "As a young person from the US, I'm very concerned with our nation's role in climate change," said Caroline. "I'm also committed to the notion that in order to make a difference as youth, we have to blunt and we have to be specific." 

Caroline admitted, however, that she and her Chinese colleagues often take different views of how to push their governments to take action. By beginning to know each other as individuals and sharing insights about their different cultural and political contexts, they began to understand that their different approaches could be complimentary.  "Our dialogue did not feel like a series of concessions, it felt like a collaboration," concluded Caroline. 

That's exactly the type of spirit we need to see at the official level as well as amongst civil society. This year, has helped lead a campaign called the Great Power Race, a clean energy competition between students in China, India and the United States. Later this week in Cancun, we'll be hosting an awards ceremony for the winning campuses that took part in the competition. 

The youth from the China-US Youth Climate Exchange have already met with Jonathan Pershing, one of the lead US climate negotiators and will meet later this week with the official Chinese delegation. Let's hope they get the message that a collaboration (not just competition) is the way forward!