The role of the youth in the climate crisis
Be it the wider spread of climate change litigation initiated by youths around the world, the development of Fridays for Future globally, the spotlight of youth participants in international conferences, or merely that there is more information out there leading to greater action, we are here for it.
I have previously talked about the rights of children in relation to the climate change discourse. As part of the youth series, I want to spotlight the role of the youth in climate activism. According to the UN, there are 3.5 billion people under 30 on this planet, making for about half of the population; 1.8 billion of which are aged between 15 and 24, and half of whom reside in developing countries. Today’s young adults are also the most educated group in history. However, the global youth is and will be directly affected disproportionately more by the consequences of climate change. This places us as a group in the epicentre of the climate change discourse, as perhaps the single most important stakeholder in climate change policy-making.
“Young people are uniquely positioned to fight against the climate crisis because we’ll be the ones facing the brunt of its consequences … we have a sense of urgency as the last generation that can slow the effects of global warming before it’s too late.”
According to the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC), climate change is among the major problems forming the 9 Planetary Boundaries - a group of boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come. In addition to the consequences of climate change on youths’ physical health, eco-anxiety is becoming a mounting problem for younger generations.
The youth, as anyone (probably) reading this article knows, is the most globally connected generation. While social media activism sometimes is labelled as being performative and oftentimes perceived as unlikely to make a difference, there have been several instances where online campaigns initiated by younger people have been successful in mobilising the masses and making a difference in the world. This can be illustrated from slow-fashion campaigns such as PayUp to historical movements such as the Arab Spring.
As previously mentioned, in 2019, 16 climate activists submitted a communication to the committee against Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey, arguing that these countries are violating the standards set in the Convention of the Rights of the Child. This led to the UN Committee finding that states can be responsible for the impact of their carbon emissions on children’s rights within and beyond their territory.
More recently five claimants aged 17 to 31 launched legal action at the ECHR claiming that their governments’ membership at the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) is a dangerous obstacle to action on the climate crisis. They argue that the membership violates the right to life and right to respect for private and family life of the European Convention on Human Rights.
According to the UN, young people are not only victims of climate change, but also valuable contributors to climate action. They are agents of change, entrepreneurs and innovators. This was echoed several years earlier, in 2008 by Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the UN at the time who said that young people are adept at spreading new habits and technologies and are therefore well placed to contribute to the fight against climate change.
As the next generation to inherit the responsibility to protect the planet, as well as the generations most likely to disproportionately feel the impacts of climate change, it not only becomes our own duty to get involved in the movement, but the duty of decision-makers to create the space for us to effectively participate in decision-making.