Youth In Action

Youth in Action: tackling the climate crisis

Young people are increasingly aware of the threat of climate change and the challenges they face as a generation to mitigate its effects. 

All around the world youth are engaging with the climate crisis. Whether it be attending one of the many strikes through the Fridays For Future/ School Strike 4 Climate movement founded by Greta Thunberg, spreading awareness through education and resources, or campaigning on a local, national or international level, young people are mobilising. 

A recent global study found that approximately 6 in 10 young people suffer from climate anxiety and are either ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ worried about climate change. 

The world is currently home to the largest generation of youth in history; with millions of young people engaging in the climate crisis it is impossible to list all the forms of action and ways that they are helping to find solutions to climate change. However, participating in COPs is just one of numerous ways that they can get involved.

What impact have youth had on COPs in the past?

Young people have been engaging with the work of the UNFCCC since its inception. However, initially youth were not recognised as one of the main non-state actor constituencies, and young people did not receive provisional status until 2009, and official status in 2011. 

Prior to this, many young people took part in separate conferences, like ‘Conference of Youth’ which began in 2005. 

Youth can impact COPs in a variety of different ways, in the past this has included: 

  • Attending specific youth conferences (like the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network & the Mock COP) that help young people network, share ideas and build capacity.
  • Presenting manifestos and documents to the COP in the hope to influence decision making.
  • Creating momentum and putting pressure on world leaders in the run up to COPs and the intersessionals. This can be in the form of marches or strikes and other campaigns, signing petitions, writing to MPs and attending events. 
  • Forming working groups on a range of different policies, such as ocean conservation or climate finance. 
  • Attending events organised by activists and civil societies in the ‘green zone’ at COPs themselves. 
  • Gaining “observer status” (passes to the ‘blue zone’ in COP) so they can attend negotiations, through organisations like universities and civil society groups who are granted a certain number of passes by the UNFCCC. 

COP21 which took place in 2015 in Paris, and resulted in the renowned ‘Paris Agreement’ or Paris Climate Accord, is perhaps the most obvious example of the impact that young people had on a COP. In Paris, young people made their voices heard through demonstrations, events and the commitments from non-state actors like the youth constituency, led to be dubbed a “groundswell” of activity, which created the right conditions for the signing of the Paris Agreement. 

For more information on how young people can have an impact at COP, listen to Dr Harriet Thew. 

What role can youth have at COP26?

Many are naming COP26 the most important conference of parties to take place, as without ambitious targets and pledges being agreed in 2021 by world leaders to mitigate climate change, the world faces severe and detrimental consequences. 

But, while as young people it is understandable to feel anxious about the potential outcomes of COP26 and the responsibility that will be placed on the current generation of youth, there is also scope to be excited about the impact that young people can have at COP26. 

Dr Harriet Thew identifies that in the lead up, and during, COP26, young people have a vital role to play in once more building momentum and putting pressure on policymakers in the negotiations. 

Effective campaigning

Building momentum can come from all types of action. For a comprehensive list of ideas of how YOU can get involved, check out the fantastic Community and Activism Toolkit that the Glasgow University Environmental Sustainability Team have put together in our resources folder.

To learn more on the key things to know about environmental governance and campaigning listen to Dr Harriet Thew & Chiara Arena.


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