• Young people are more aware of the climate crisis than older generations, and more engaged in responding to it.
  • When it comes to decision-making on climate, however, young people often lack a seat at the table.
  • Governments must harness the skills and energy of young people in order to respond effectively

From organizing global climate strikes to planting over 5,000 trees in Abuja during the pandemic, young people are finding ways to play a role in the response to the climate crisis. And yet when it comes to decision-making, they often find that they have no seat at the table. When the youth constituency meet at Glasgow for COY16, the UNFCC's Conference of Youth, they will present the Global Youth Statement, the official youth document from the meetings and negotiations during COP. There has never been a better time for governments around the world to listen to and act on what young people have to say.

Young people are aware that, as the UN has found, they will bear the brunt of the climate crisis. In Nigeria, 76 percent of young people aged 16-25 believe that people have failed to care for the earth, which has led to anthropogenic climate change. Over 77 percent of people between 17-19 years in Japan are aware of global warming risks. In the United States, a 2018 survey found that 51 percent of people aged 18-34 agreed that climate change could have devastating impacts in their lifetime. In contrast, only 29 percent of those aged 55 and above agreed to this assertion.

Despite their engagement on this issue, young people continue to be sidelined in decision-making. A white paper by the South African Institute of International Affairs found that youth inclusion in climate-related matters is still considered an afterthought, and young people are seen as beneficiaries rather than stakeholders. Here are three ways in which governments could act to engage young people in their climate crisis response.

Figure showing youth perceptions about climate change, and their willingness to act
Young people are more willing than older generations to take action on climate change
Image: Yale

1. Engage and harness their skills

As nations seek to achieve their respective Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDC) targets, they must harness the skills and experiences of young people. There is data to suggest that young people are taking the initiative to address climate change, from volunteering with organizations to donating to environmental initiatives. They must be encouraged to actively contribute to the current climate action framework and help build a green future.

2. Invest in youth-led solutions

Young people are developing products and services, and leading campaigns to build a green world. For example, Rafael Alonso is building Cultivo - a startup unlocking investments for nature restoration; Jennifer Uchendu leads SustyVibes, a social enterprise making sustainability actionable for young Africans. There are various innovative solutions that are credible and scalable, in need of support.

Governments, businesses and investors must support youth-led solutions to climate change through grants, venture capital, debt financing, or in-kind support. This is why programs such as the Youth Climate Action Challenge organized by the Global Shaper Community and the Climate Reality Project are important. They will help to develop and promote innovative solutions by young people and increase the scale of climate action.

3. Give young people a seat at the table

According to the UN, there are an estimated 3.7 billion people below the age of 30, representing 48 percent of 2021 global population estimates. For climate-related decision-making to be inclusive and all-encompassing, youth inclusion should not be an afterthought. As governments set and review NDCs and develop policies that have climate implications at the national and global levels, young people should be represented and involved in this process.

Effective climate action must be inclusive, allowing everyone to contribute their quota. Young people will play a pivotal role over the next decades, it is important for governments, corporations, and leaders to support and encourage them to actively participate in the global fight against climate change.