Climate Action

Climate change: Inadequate governmental response is causing climate anxiety in young people

Climate anxiety: Young people holding up climate change posters at a protest

Many young people are experiencing climate anxiety, with 75% describing the future of the planet as 'frightening' Image: UNSPLASH/Callum Shaw

Kayleigh Bateman
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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Climate Crisis

  • More than half of young people worry about the future of the planet, according to a new survey.
  • 75% described the future as “frightening”.
  • Despite the lack of action from global governments, young people are taking action.

Governments around the world must protect the mental health of young people by taking action against climate change, a study from The Lancet Planetary Health has concluded.

Young people are "extremely" worried about the climate crisis, according to the data, published on sciencedirect.com. Surveying 10,000 young people worldwide (aged 16 to 25), participants say they feel frustrated with world governments’ lack of action.

Investigating “climate anxiety” in young people and how they perceive global responses from governments, the report finds that just over half of respondents are “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change. Furthermore, 75% described the future as “frightening” and 83% believe people have failed to take care of the planet.

This chart shows levels worry about climate change, by country
More than 45% of respondents said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily lives. Image: Science Direct

Psychologically damaging

Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed that July 2021 was officially the hottest month on Earth since records began in 1880. In July, the global land and ocean surface temperature hit 0.93 degrees Celsius above the 20th-century average.

Caroline Hickman, from the University of Bath, Climate Psychology Alliance and co-lead author on the study, warns that government inaction is psychologically damaging and potentially violates international human rights law.

“Our children’s anxiety is a completely rational reaction given the inadequate responses to climate change they are seeing from governments,” she said in a statement about the report. “Children and young people are now mobilizing around the world and taking governments to court; arguing that failure to act on climate change violates their human rights.”

“The decisions that those in power are making now will have the greatest impact upon the youngest and future generations, but they feel dismissed and ignored,” added co-lead, Dr Liz Marks, from the University of Bath's Department of Psychology. “We must consider the futures of young people, listen to their voices and place them at the centre of decision making.”

“It's so damaging to put this problem on the shoulders of young people,” said Beth Irving, a 19-year-old climate activist. “Hope needs to come instead from palpable structural action,” she said.

This chart shows global land and ocean surface temperature anomalies in July (compared to the 20th century average).
July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. Image: Statista

What are young people doing to help solve the crisis?

Regardless of the perceived government inaction, Melati Wijsen and her sister Isabel are training up a generation by giving them the tools to make a difference.

YOUTHTOPIA offers on-the-ground local workshops and training for young people who want to become “changemakers”. YOUTHTOPIA is the second project from the pair after they helped bring about a ban on single-use plastic bags six years ago in Bali - a movement called Bye Bye Plastic Bags.

Greta Thunberg and other young climate activists sat in front of the Swedish parliament every day for three weeks in August 2018 to protest the lack of action on climate change. As a result, she launched the Fridays for Future school climate strikes.

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Felix Finkbeiner took matters into his own hands when he launched Plant for the Planet, an initiative to plant 1 trillion trees, 15 years ago, at the age of nine.

Indigenous people and local communities have been badly affected by climate change but are offering solutions to these issues too, as Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, President of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad, discussed in an article for the World Economic Forum.

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What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

“Here in Chad’s Sahel region, I developed a participatory mapping approach to leverage indigenous knowledge and nature-based solutions to protect and share fresh-water resources, identify drought-resistant crops, and help combat climate change and desertification through sustainable pastoralism,” she writes.

Research conducted by the World Economic Forum and McKinsey & Company confirms that natural climate solutions (NCS) can provide one-third of climate mitigation to reach a 1.5- or 2-degree pathway by 2030.

The Nature and Net Zero report sets out five actions to accelerate the scale-up of NCS implementation through the combined efforts of business leaders, policymakers and civil society.

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Climate ActionWellbeing and Mental Health
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