As the world moves closer to missing the greenhouse gases emissions reduction targets set in the Paris Agreement and with increased warnings of severe harms caused by global warming, active and equitable engagement of the public becomes even more critical for the long-term success of climate policies. If we want climate policies to outlast electoral cycles and contribute to sustainable communities, it is crucial to engage young people, as we will be the ones to implement the systemic changes needed, as well as among the groups most impacted by the effects of climate change. However, more action is required to embed youth engagement in policy processes and political commitments.
Over the last few years, as the youth climate movement gained momentum, we increasingly heard world leaders acknowledge the powerful role that youth could play in pushing for necessary climate and energy policies. While this acknowledgement is a first step, policymakers still have a long way to go to engage young people as actual partners in decision-making, and to ensure policies meaningfully consider and mobilise resources to support youth-led solutions. Here are three ways decision-makers can go beyond “nice speeches” about youth engagement:
1. SPECIFICITY IS KEY: OUTLINE POLICY IMPACTS ON YOUNG PEOPLE, AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR PARTICIPATION
We have heard numerous times from young people around the world that they have reviewed a national or regional climate policy, only to see scarcely any mentions of young people at all, let alone specificity in how young people are impacted by or how they can contribute to the implementation of that policy. And research bears this out - for example, only 7 of the 160 Nationally Determined Contributions outlined for the Paris Agreement "positioned youth as stakeholders to be included in decision-making and climate action", and only 12 describe young people as “agents of change”. (Benkenstein et al., 2020).
Historically, policymaking processes have a reputation of being jargon-heavy and inaccessible to young people who are unfamiliar with the field. One tangible way policymakers can change this is by explicitly outlining how young people were considered in the development of the policy, how it will impact youth in the short and long term, and in what ways contributions and input from young people could have the most impact.
2. INCREASE TRANSPARENCY ON HOW YOUTH INPUT IS INTEGRATED INTO POLICIES
In recent years, many policymakers, governments, companies and civil society organisations have developed numerous initiatives to consult young people on upcoming climate policies, which is a welcome first step. Young people globally have also self-organised to publish collective position statements, manifestos, and research reports that synthesise youth perspectives and priorities. One worry that many young climate advocates have is that after these powerful collective statements are published, they are never acted upon or referenced again by decision-makers. Without proper follow-up, we worry that these youth consultation processes are mere ways to placate young people, rather than a catalyst for course-correction or real change.
Policymakers can demonstrate meaningful commitment to youth engagement by demonstrating awareness of existing youth contributions, and outlining how youth feedback has been taken into account. Has youth feedback made its way into actual climate policy? Operational plans? Budget allocations? Increased transparency helps not only to build trust with young people, but also to ensure that young people have effectively directed their time and effort to where it can be most impactful, and that we can move onto next steps and implementation, rather than duplicate work.
3. FROM WORDS TO ACTION: MOBILISE REAL RESOURCES TO SUPPORT YOUTH-LED SOLUTIONS
The third - and arguably one of the most powerful ways that policymakers can engage young people - is by allowing young people to access tangible resources and decision-making power to shape their own futures, and their communities. We have heard time and again that it is near impossible for young people to access the training, networks, and financial resources they need to develop and scale clean energy solutions. As an example of how we are tackling this problem, we launched the Student Energy Solutions Movement in 2021, a youth-led umbrella project bringing together voluntary commitments with the support of the United Nations (UN Energy Compact). The aim is to raise 150 million US dollars by 2030 to support the launch of 10 000 youth-led clean energy projects. We have welcomed several partners to this Compact who share this mission, like the Governments of Denmark and Canada, along with New Energy Nexus, and are looking forward to building more partnerships with governments and organisations who want to mobilise resources toward youth-led solutions.
To mainstream the idea of going beyond consultation, we encourage policymakers in all countries and at every level to consider how they can allocate resources to youth within their scope of work, whether through a fund for youth-led projects, partnerships with existing youth-led initiatives, or increasing youth representation within critical decision-making spaces.
- Benkenstein, A., et al. Youth Climate Advocacy. South African Institute of International Affairs, 2020, http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep29503
- Student Energy. Global Youth Energy Outlook, 2021, https://studentenergyoutlook.org/
- Kwauk et al. National climate strategies are forgetting about girls, children, and youth, 2019, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/education-plus-development/2019/12/10/national-climate-strategies-are-forgetting-about-girls-children-and-youth/
- UN Energy Compacts: https://www.un.org/en/energycompacts/page/registry#StudentEnergy
Student Energy. Announcing the Student Energy Solutions Movement, 2021, https://www.newswire.com/news/announcing-the-student-energy-solutions-movement-150-million-youth-led-21419643
About the author:
Shakti Ramkumar is the Director of Communications and Policy at Student Energy, where she advocates for meaningful youth engagement and energy justice in the global energy transition. As a selected representative for the Youth4Climate Summit in 2021, Shakti recently worked collaboratively with 400 young people from around the world to draft detailed climate action recommendations for world leaders in the run-up to COP26. Shakti graduated from the University of British Columbia with a BA in Geography, where she was the co-Director of Common Energy UBC.
Student Energy is a global youth-led organisation empowering the next generation of energy leaders, with a network of 50 000 young people in 120 countries. At COP26 in Glasgow, Student Energy launched the Global Youth Energy Outlook, a report that surveys over 40 000+ youth on their perspectives on energy, as well as the Student Energy Solutions Movement, a youth-led UN Energy Compact that aims to raise $150 million dollars to launch 10 000 youth-led projects by 2030.
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Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on behalf of the Commission is responsible for the use that might be made of the information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) only and should not be considered as representative of the European Commission’s official position.
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