To mark the launch of a new report by the UN on youth action on climate change, Luke discovers that despite problems in the international arena, youth are taking up the fight against climate change: “The contrast could not have been starker. The climate negotiations were stalled and rooms left empty for an entire two weeks. Meanwhile, youth were implementing projects for climate action, not simply talking about it.”
The contrast could not have been starker. The climate negotiations on “implementation” were stalled and rooms left empty for an entire two weeks. Meanwhile, a hundred metres away at the German Ministry of Environment, a civil society event demonstrated that action was already happening around the world. Youth were already implementing projects for climate action, not simply talking about it.
The initiatives on display covered all grounds, from constructing bamboo bicycles to help reduce emissions in Ghana, through to youth built rock dams in Morocco that are helping the country adapt to climate change. The projects provided both an opportunity for youth to build capacity and develop leadership skills as well as have an actual concrete impact. This wasn’t just rhetoric or tokenistic actions. The examples shown in the event were providing real benefits to the environment and the community on the ground.
One inspiring example was the “Investigative Journalists” program from the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom. A small group of students initiated an ambitious sustainability program for their local school (Queen Elizabeth II High School) after seeing the impacts of climate change in The Gambia first-hand. Motivated by their trip, the students helped plant over 4000 trees, increase bus travel to school, created a battery recycling scheme and raise environmental awareness through seminars and blogs. This led to a reduction in power bills by over £1000 and the school is now considered one of the greenest in the UK.
The students still maintain close ties to The Gambia and host a fundraising “Gambian Evening” to help support climate adaptation in The Gambia. Developing and developed countries are so often divided and antagonistic at the international level. Yet, as this example shows- youth from the global north and south are already working together to support and inspire one.
But youth are not working alone. Many of these projects and networks are facilitated and supported by a large number of UN bodies. Tree planting in Ethiopia was run by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). An International Youth Conference was organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and youth assisted coastal protection on island states was facilitated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
Youth together with the UN are showing how the distant world of international diplomacy and organisations can be linked to actions at the local level.
After dirty tactics and a complete standstill of negotiations in Bonn, it was refreshing to see what youth can do even in the absence of an international agreement. With a bit of a help from the UN, youth are already making a difference. But, we must remember that emissions are still rising and have already surpassed 400 parts per million. Youth may be taking on the challenge of climate change, but we cannot do it alone.