As devastating floods have submerged swathes of eastern Australia this week and just days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released one of its most damning assessments of global inaction on climate change, a new report has highlighted that it is young people from some of the most vulnerable places in the world who are at the forefront of climate action.
This is despite their lack of responsibility for the climate crisis – and their lack of representation in formal political processes.
Released today by charity for girls’ equality Plan International, Rising Tides: Mapping Youth Movements for Climate Resilience in Ethiopia, Fiji, Indonesia, Laos, Mozambique, Myanmar, Solomon Islands, Uganda and Zimbabwe brings together important findings from young researchers and youth groups from nine countries bearing the brunt of the climate crisis.
From Fiji to Zimbabwe, youth-led and youth-supported groups are boldly advocating for renewable energy, reforestation, ecosystem protection, better waste management, resilient infrastructure and social systems that are more responsive to the needs of everyone.
Youth groups are also highlighting the intersections of climate resilience with inclusive education, gender equality, safe housing, sanitation, the right to water, and essential services for all.
Whether it be local agroforestry activities organised by the Solomon Islands’ NYC (National Youth Congress), or advocacy initiatives by Ethiopian youth-led groups to lobby for equity and climate justice at the international level, youth groups are working across multiple scales and intersections.
Another example can be found in Australia, where Plan International youth activist Imogen Senior has founded an organisation aiming to combat young people’s climate anxiety and channel it into hope and action. Launched this month, Anxiety to Action facilitates workshops, bringing young people together with experts in grief, policy, and campaigning.
“We are asking, what happens when we truly trust in young people – believe in them, validate their fears, anxiety and anger around the climate crisis… and by focusing on these emotions we can personalise the effects and policy of climate change, allowing us to move beyond awareness to a space of expertise from lived experience and hope in a better world,” she said.
The research also demonstrates the innovation harnessed by young climate activists – during the COVID-19 pandemic, youth groups found new and creative outlets to maintain their work: In Indonesia, testimonies from diverse youth groups focusing on climate change signalled that the pandemic brought many different groups together in online events and forums, and many developed closer relationships as a result.
Yet there is a sharp contrast. While young people are leading the way from below, government policies scarcely recognise their contribution, power, or vulnerability. In civil society landscapes, youth groups are often seen as a ‘target group’ or a ‘source of consultation’ rather than an equal partner, making formal collaboration difficult.
In a separate Plan International survey of more than 1,800 adolescents and youth from 37 countries, an overwhelming majority (84%) of survey participants say their government’s efforts to include them in policies to tackle the climate emergency is insufficient, while only 6% think they are about right.
Importantly, the youth-led report underscores that the climate crisis isn’t just about the climate: It’s about a broader vision of healing relationships with nature, relationships with our identities and bodies, and unjust relationships in society.
“The work being done by youth to fight the climate crisis is absolutely impressive, they’re not waiting for funding, they are using whatever they have to disseminate climate information to their peers and communities they operate in and with such determination and efforts we will reduce climate vulnerabilities,” said one of the report’s authors, Patience Sibanda, from Zimbabwe.
Between May and June of 2021, the 12 young researchers reviewed national climate policies to identify youth-led or youth-oriented organisations, groups, and movements for climate change adaptation, as well as to understand how children, adolescents and youth are portrayed in policies and actions.
Just some of the report findings include:
Importantly, the young people not only identified which organisations, groups and movements are led by or involve children, adolescents and youth in climate change adaptation policy and action, but also how Plan International’s programs can link to and benefit from working with inspiring youth movements.
The findings aim to empower NGOs, donors, decision-makers and governments to better recognise the agency and capacity of young people – particularly girls and young women – in their work, with six recommendations on how to do this:
“The unravelling climate emergency is the most pressing injustice of our time as it exacerbates existing inequalities in society. Girls and young women are disproportionately affected,” said Susanne Legena, Plan International Australia CEO.
“This new research into climate resilience and youth movements around the globe shows that for young people, the climate crisis is not just about the climate. It encompasses a broader vision of healing our relationship with nature and tackling unjust societal structures.
“The only way to achieve sustainable climate resilience is through youth leadership and fully engaging girls and young women in all of their diversities in climate action,” she said.