As members of the climate movement, we constantly hear that the youth voice is integral to obtaining momentum for change.
We constantly hear that youth play a critical role in building compassion towards action. We constantly hear this and that, and considering that these sentiments are repeated in such a blaring tone, they suggest extensive interaction and involvement with this specific demographic.
However, youth representation at the largest, most revered climate conference (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s COP24) remains dismal. With three high schools in attendance (each maintaining fewer than twelve delegates), a handful of other youth groups (again, fewer than twelve), and a smattering of significant and prominent activists, minors have a minor appearance.
But when they make an appearance, it matters. When youth are presenting their ideas, voice, and perspective, there is a significant sense of attentiveness as observers evaluate with watchful eyes and careful ears. Creating an environment unlike any other intergenerational forum, there is a mutual sense of respect for individual knowledge — this respect surpassing the boundaries of age. While there is oftentimes age superiority in politics, and politicians don’t want to listen to the kids (as youthfulness can be associated with immaturity), this is not reflected in the context of this event.
In fact, when youth appear — in halls, conference rooms, press briefings, cafeterias — they aren’t clustered into a group and shoved into a box, relating ideas only with those of common age; they break free from generational boundaries, exchanging the wisdom from elders for the currency of youth.
For our voice is demanded as the inheritors of the planet and the mobilizers for progress.
However, the best way to explain this trend, this demand, is anecdotal.
Let me begin with an example of this exchange by prefacing: conference rooms are rarely full at COP24. There are far too many simultaneously occurring events, far too many interesting topics, and to get a full scope of the international climate challenges, diversity in attendance is mandatory.
But when I went to see Greta Nunberg, 15-year-old Swedish wunderkid and activist, the seats were packed. Journalists scurried into their seats as politicians and environmental leaders shuffled papers, and everyone, no matter the age, was enthusiastic to hear what this influential adolescent (she served as a model for Australian, Swedish, Belgian, Finnish, German, and Dutch strikes) said.
And, as a continuation, I’ve seen this reflected in my experiences. These adults want to understand my presence as a high schooler, my interaction with the movement, and all that I intend to draw from this experience. And through this collaboration I only feel empowered to share more.