Kyle Gracey was the chair of SustainUS: U.S. Youth for Sustainable Development from 2008-2010. He has participated in the United Nations climate negotiations since 2007 and the U.S. youth climate movement since 2003. Bio: www.sustainus.org/board#kyle
That’s the basic conclusion of a big new report by the United Nations on the impacts of climate change on youth and how young people around the world are reacting.
Why so much attention on youth? For starters, we’re celebrating the International Year of Youth from August 2010-2011, in case you’ve missed the party.
And oh, climate change is messing up young people’s future, so there’s that.
As the report highlights, climate change violates the principle of intergenerational equity – a fancy way of saying don’t ruin other peoples’ future. Because the costs and deaths from increasing climate change are felt over decades, young people today are suffering from the greenhouse gas pollution their parents made years ago. Worse, the quality of young people’s future will keep going down the more we pollute the climate today. It also means that young people could benefit their whole lives from smart changes we start making today, like creating clean energy jobs.
Young people all over the world get this, and they are worried. Over more than one hundred pages, the report shows how youth are working hard to express their serious concern and, more importantly, to create solutions. Youth in Guatemala are using puppet shows to educate their peers about indirect climate change impacts like more and bigger landslides. “Child champions” in Nepal, a country whose freshwater is at risk from melting glaciers, are stepping forward to promote environmentally responsible projects. Hundreds of thousands of youth in the United States and Canada have called for, and helped create, clean energy through actions like the Campus Climate Challenge, Power Shift summits, and Power Vote election campaigns.
And now, youth are an official grassroots power recognized at the UN climate negotiations, with more than 1,500 in Copenhagen and almost a thousand in the negotiating halls and streets of Cancún last December. The Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change already released a report on youth actions there. Even before that, youth wrote their own.
Youth still have a long way to go, though. There are more than 1.2 billion just between the ages of 15 and 24, and many have little money to fight climate change, access to a green job (or any job), or lack even a space or rights in their societies to speak up for their needs. Young entrepreneurs are creating clean energy companies, but who will buy from them if the public doubts even the basic science of climate change? Youth are running for office to pass climate change-fighting policies, but their young campaigns are often outspent by adult competitors.
The youth struggle against climate change and dirty energy seems endless, but so are young people’s energy and optimism. The diversity of youth efforts to stop climate change leaps beyond the pages of any report. But the UN’s new document is still a great history cataloging some of the youth climate movement’s story so far.
Disclaimer: My research is cited in the World Youth Report. I did not contribute to the report or provide advice on its content.