The Role of Youth in Solving the Climate Emergency: A Reflection on the UN Youth Climate Summit

UNA-USA member Ella Harvey reflects on her experiencing cover the 2019 UN Youth Climate Summit as part of the UNA-USA Blogger Fellowship.

The discussion on Energy Transitions started with a quote by American-Canadian writer William Gibson: “The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Taken in the context of climate change, this quote refers to the inaccessibility of fossil fuel alternatives. Many of the solutions needed in order to move away from fossil fuel reliance already exist – they just aren’t affordable.

This quote made me think about the role of youth in solving the climate emergency. The youth of today are the future. However, our  existence depends upon the decisions that industry and government will make in the next decade. Youth are largely   unable to participate in these decision-making processes, limiting our ability to address the climate emergency in a meaningful way.

Since we are the future, it is essential that we have avenues for engagement. The UN Youth Climate Summit highlighted some of the ways that youth can be and have been motivating change.

  1. Leadership. Over the last year the world has watched the inimitable Greta Thunberg resolutely undertake her “Skolstrejk för Klimatet” (School Strike for Climate”) in front of Swedish Parliament.  Youth are no longer expected to sit idly by as adults make the decisions. Instead, they have an increasingly active role in local and sub-national advocacy. Their opinions and actions are becoming more legitimate in the eyes of society. This valorization of the youth voice is incredibly empowering, and I believe that  it will have an increasingly important role in advocacy.
  2. Innovation. I believe that youth are some of the best inventors in the world because theyoften think outside the box in a way that many adults cannot. This notion was reinforced during the Energy Transition discussion, as many speakers put out an open call for youth to  create  solutions for the large, systemic challenges faced by society . We are running out of time to find and act on climate solutions. We need every brain – especially young, creative brains – to take
  3. Workforce. In this increasingly data-driven world, we need “tech-literate” workers like never before. Today’s youth have grown up in a tech-dependent society and are able to understand, use, and reimagine tech, especially how it relates to them. Energy and policy transitions will be reliant on technology and data, and the youthare needed to contribute to a tech-literate workforce.

Many people of all ages can be discouraged from taking positive action, either because it requires effort or they are cynical about the future of civilization. However, I believe that today’s youth have a unique role in not only motivating change, but also organizing and enacting it. Providing youth with forums for high-level discussion of the climate emergency, like the Youth Climate Summit, is one important step in empowering youth to use their energy and skills to create positive change. Let’s work on building more opportunities for direct engagement and action.