Faced with the existential threat of climate change, young people have been mobilizing all over the world over the last couple of years, successfully taking their governments to court over climate inaction in some places. Indeed, the largest public opinion survey on climate change, the People’s Climate Vote, reveals that in every country across the world, more young people than older people see climate change as a global emergency. Yet, in a pivotal year for climate action ahead of COP26, international climate strategies still largely ignore young people, overlooking their right to meaningfully participate in formulating and implementing the climate policy that affects them.
In a recent Chatham House event, the diverse ways that youth activists and entrepreneurs are leading local action on climate change were showcased. The discussion made clear how the decisions made today will influence the remainder of this century and beyond. It is crucial, therefore, that young people have the opportunity to contribute to the green recovery if the world is to succeed in avoiding the most dangerous impacts of the climate crisis.
The UN secretary-general’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change has been key in amplifying the voices of young people in decision-making spaces so far. In 2020, for example, the group spearheaded a Global Consultation on Climate Action to elicit the perspectives of young people on the secretary-general’s six climate positive actions which encourage governments to recover their economies – and communities – from COVID-19 sustainably.
With the participation of hundreds of young people globally, including national youth delegates, the group produced the Global Outreach Outcome Report which highlights the challenges of current approaches to shaping a green recovery according to young people. So what are some of the key interventions needed according to young people?
Priorities for a green recovery
The manifold impacts of the coronavirus crisis have raised the question as to whether climate action could be moved down the political agenda but investment in green jobs is a promising solution. Indeed, young people are concerned about the lack of prioritization of green jobs and a just transition in current COVID-19 stimulus packages.
Decision-makers should support economic packages for green entrepreneurs as the desired economic, social – and moral – investment in a green recovery. It will be important to have a green jobs landscape that addresses both sustainability and employment, however, this cannot be achieved if the resources that could be directed to achieving this goal are instead used on bailing out polluting industries in a post-COVID era.
There is widespread anger among young people about money wasted on fossil fuel subsidies as seen in the protests leading up to the G7 summit in the UK. Halting the support of polluting industries paired with a just transition is crucial: the pathway towards a net-zero transition away from fossil fuels must work in a manner that supports communities reliant on the oil and gas industries while reallocating those resources to re-skill, and where needed, up-skill, those workers who may be impacted.
This highlights the importance of climate finance for climate action where funding is allocated for effective mitigation, adaptation and resilience mechanisms to combat the climate crisis. It is important for political leaders to recognize the link between the international debt crisis and climate action and act swiftly to allow the most vulnerable countries to convert part of their debt into resources to fulfil their nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) based on the IMF-endorsed debt-for-nature swaps beginning in July 2021.
Working together and leaving no one behind
It will also be crucial to ensure free and safe enabling spaces for all people to voice their opinion on climate action. With strong safeguarding mechanisms, we must support meaningful youth participation as well as work correct historical and systematic injustices.
The inclusion of indigenous peoples, for example, in particular young indigenous peoples, has to be at the core of climate policies in order to ensure their rights to their lands are protected through climate action. COVID-19 has adversely affected not only the health of these communities but it has also increased gross human rights violations against them. The international community should do more to support indigenous communities, ensuring they have their informed consent and adequate participation in a green recovery.
More broadly, education, skills-training and capacity-development for all people, especially young people, is going to be vital to promoting the long-term change in mindsets, behaviours and lifestyles needed to realize a climate-resilient future that prioritizes the health of people and planet.
But working together requires ample intergenerational dialogue, a racially diverse discussion, inclusion of women, LGBTQ+ and indigenous people as well as people with special needs, refugees and internally displaced people. Justice, equity and fairness cannot simply be talking points.
Whether through activism, education, technology, science or the law, young people across the globe are becoming a driving force for environmental change. But climate policymakers must do better to recognize them as important agents of change. It is only when the visions and values of young people are seen, heard and implemented that progress can be made on building a healthier and safer planet for us all.