Partnering with 18-30-year-olds for climate change: Here’s how it can happen

Student Energy launches a report that shows what young people want for the environment

During this week’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), held in Glasgow and streamed online, Student Energy launched their outlook report. The report brought attention to a global commonality of how most governments lack engagement with their young people in battling climate change.

The Global Youth Energy Outlook report is a global initiative created by Student Energy, a Canadian-based youth-led organization that empowers young people to have a voice and get involved in research and conferences about sustainable energy and climate. They wanted to fill in the data gap that exists about what changes 18-30 year-olds wanted to see in the future to protect their environment, climate, and energy systems.

“Young people have identified government willpower as being both the biggest barrier and the biggest opportunity to change and transform our energy system,” said Helen Watts, Student Energy’s Toronto-based senior director of global partnerships, while introducing the report at the conference.

According to Watts, the data represents “the way to bridge the communications gap that exists right now between young people calling for more, and leaders who don’t seem to really be hearing what they are asking for.”

In the report, almost 70 per cent of young North Americans are incredibly concerned about the current type of energy systems in place, and the pollution they are causing. However, they are not given the space to engage in the dialogue around climate change.

“The majority of the global population are young people, yet there is a minority of young people feeling like their voices are being heard,” said Linette Knudsen, Student Energy’s regional coordinator for Europe. “Create representation,” she added while discussing the importance of creating councils for young people to feel heard in policy spaces.

In Montreal, young adults take on many initiatives to voice their opinions on climate change. For example, the Coalition étudiante pour un virage environnemental et social (CEVES), who helped organize the climate marches in 2019, have created a space for young voices to be heard, and put pressure on the government to listen to them. Blane Harvey, an associate member of the McGill School of Environment, thinks that young people should have practical, authentic experiences that give them a voice starting in school.

“We know that young people are going to bear some of the biggest brunt of the impact of climate change,” said Harvey. “We talk about future victims of climate change, but what about them as agents for designing what the future, under changing climate, will look like?”

Student Energy discussed how disconnected from decision-making young people are. Harvey explained that there are perceptions about young people being dismissive of politics and policy, but in his experience, that has not been the case. “There are some really good examples of youth being really powerful agents of change.” For instance, Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist, challenges world leaders to take the appropriate action to better our environment and has become known worldwide for her advocacy.

Canada’s minister of natural resources, Jonathan Wilkinson, addressed young people at the launch about the overall lack of engagement when battling environmental issues. “There’s two sides to that, one that’s on us as elective leaders, and one that’s on you,” he said.

Wilkinson explained that elected leaders need to create forums for younger people to be part of the conversation and that they want to hear about different changes, perspectives and views on these critical issues. However, he said that young people need to reach out.

Wilkinson was appointed as minister of natural resources in October after a few years of being the environmental minister. During the intergenerational dialogue, he explained that the conference has provided insight for him as he starts this new position and how he can include the voices of young people to better the fight against climate change. Wilkinson explained that he wants to keep the conversation going, to engage both the government and young people.

According to Watts, we can see a change in the engagement of youth in the conversation around climate change and over the last two years “millions of young people around the world [are] really advocating for more concrete actions from decision makers and people in power.”


Graphic by Wednesday LaPlante

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