Youth Leadership in the Struggle Against Climate Change

by Eva Peace, Rwanda

I was able to attend the UNFCCC COP24 as a delegate from Rwanda following the thematic issue of climate finance. That means I got to enter the room where decisions were made, YOUPPIE for me right? But despite this incredible opportunity, I felt a bit intimidated, like a kid at the grownups table. This experience made me question the presence of youth, or lack thereof, in critical decision making processes. Why are so few youths involved in decision making processes that directly affect us? In between negotiations, I attended different side-events and met other youths who had mainly come as observers. After lengthy conversations with other youths, I realized they were willing to participate in the decision making process and work towards finding solutions that go beyond advocacy.

Many of the decisions being adopted have both direct and indirect impacts on youth. However, they are often developed and delivered in their absence, particularly youths from the Global South. My peers and I are disproportionately impacted by the detrimental impacts of climate change, and yet we have minimal say or participation on the issue. Youth in lower-income regions such as Africa, who constitute the largest demographic group and the largest labor force in terms of the agricultural sector and rely mostly on land, are increasingly exposed to growing climate-related threats.These threats include water scarcity, food insecurity, intensive rainfall, frequent flooding, and the current global pandemic of COVID-19, just to name a few.  

Loss and Damage due to climate change will continue to worsen as developed countries continue to block the Paris Agreement’s effort to reduce our emissions, and finance environmental “losses and damages”. When it continues to be blocked by developed countries, as it was the case during COP25 negotiations, least developed countries  and small islands face insurmountable amounts of debt — due to lack of adequate funding from the Global North to cope with the high cost of the damage. Hence, nations in the Global South lack adequate funding. 

 Therefore I ask: How are youth being empowered to deal with loss and damage caused by climate? How many youth were able to access adaptation funds (which also are underfunded) such as the GEF small grants program or other financial mechanisms put in place during negotiations? Do they have the necessary skills to access them, better yet are they aware of all those opportunities? How can youth discuss sustainable development or climate resilience,  if they are routinely omitted from the conversation? What kind of generation are we creating? 

When key actors — who raise awareness, run educational programs, promote sustainable lifestyles, conserve nature, support renewable energy, adopt environmentally-friendly practices, and implement adaptation and mitigation projects — don’t have all the information, knowledge, or necessary tools needed, it is a missed opportunity to mobilize significant change. Instead, they are excluded from the planning and development process. These key actors are used as instruments of mobilization in the implementation of projects that are designed without them. 

Climate resilience will not be achieved without proper inclusion of youth, not only as advocates or activists but also as policy-makers and project designers. There is an urgency to build the capacities of youth, and include them in different levels of decision making by:

  • Building a platform, where youth can share stories, their experiences, and opinions in face of climate change.
  • Making climate change education accessible to every youth, especially in college, and provide them with training in project design and implementation.
  • Financially supporting youth-led organizations and civil societies in their initiatives.

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