When Greta Thunberg sat outside the Swedish Parliament for three weeks in 2018, she could hardly have predicted the scale of the global movement she would inspire. By March 2019, her Friday ‘strike for the climate’ became a global protest involving more than a million schoolchildren and adults alike. The Friday for the Future movement was born and youths from all countries, north and south, became empowered to speak up.
All over the world young people are becoming environmental activists – the only way they can voice their concerns, as many of them are below voting age – amid adults’ bewilderment and too often, belittlement. But, with the younger generation standing to lose the most from climate change, it is no surprise that they are on the front line of efforts to prevent environmental catastrophe. They are fighting for their future and feel deeply the urgency to act, evoking peace marches and human rights movements of the 1960s.
Interestingly, young people understand that the climate crisis does not only mean a rise in temperatures or biodiversity loss, but that human development is a fundamental driver in constructing the ’new world’ we are striving to create. While the adults are discussing the economic measures businesses and institutions should take, young people are concerned about issues of equality and diversity. About minorities and tribal groups. About creating a fair society and equal opportunities for all. A vision of the natural world which aspires to include a better version of humanity.
The National Youth Council Ireland (NYCI) has created an information booklet to support educators to deliver climate justice work to young people. Climate Justice is a term used to frame global warming as an ethical and political issue, rather than one that is purely environmental. Any solution proposed to the environmental problem needs to take into consideration the unjust and unequal situation our current system produces. Climate justice points out that the only way we will overcome the environmental challenges is by working together and that will require a readjustment of the current system.
In real terms, the concept of climate justice is rooted in Human Rights frameworks and therefore, it is linked to gender equality, participation in decision-making involving all communities and rights to education and work. Sustainable development, a term that was only coined in 1987 by the Brundeberg Commission, is a three-faceted triangle giving equal importance to the planet, the people and the profits, although it is clear: a dying planet will jeopardize people and profits' progress if not addressed properly.
Eco-Unesco is another great example of a youth organisation leading the discourse around climate justice. During the pandemic in 2020, four youth groups: The Irish Girl Guides, The Irish Girls Brigade, The No Name Club, and ECO UNESCO took part in an awareness campaign reaching over 20,000 people. They run a number of projects ranging from fast fashion and limiting fossil fuels to recycling plastic and planting trees.
In 2021, Eco-Unesco also conducted a survey to highlight how young people of Ireland feel about climate change and climate justice issues. Over 1200 young people responded, 63% of those between 16-19 years old. Some of the most important findings are that 93% of them want climate action to become a bigger part of school life, 88% want to get involved with climate action, and 74% are interested in green jobs. Not surprisingly, 60% feel anxious about climate change with fear and anxiety shortly falling behind.
This process of education and creative thinking is fundamental in powering the innovation we need, to transform our global world into a total green economy.
Innovation should also integrate what has been learned through centuries of 'lived experience'. In essence, the creative minds of the new generation should meet the wise minds of the elderlies and tribal people, who still hold the knowledge of a time when humans lived in respect of nature.
As Mary Robinson points out, climate justice requires effective action on a global scale requiring resources and shared skills from all sectors in society. Today's youths are an important voice to be considered in shaping up the policies for the future.