The power of young people in climate change action

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A large number of young people walking along a street, participating in a climate strike, holding placards, e.g. 'climate action now', 'see how the world could be in spite of the way it is'/ © Photo by N. Jilderda from Pexels

Young people are becoming increasingly aware of the climate change crisis which has led to the creation of several youth movements around the world that aim to pressure governments into climate action. This unprecedented mobilization is a big step towards sustainability and shows how much power young people can have. But how did it all begin?

In August 2018 Greta Thunberg began a school strike for climate outside Swedish parliament. She was striking for climate action and was soon joined by other pupils. Through the hashtag #FridaysForFuture that went viral on social media platforms such as Instagram the group reached more young people around the world and by December 2018 over 20,000 students had joined.

From a small school strike to global strikes, Greta Thunberg showed young people that they are able to have an impact on the world and can create a change in the system. This inspired several new youth-led organisations and campaigns which I am going to explore in this blog.

National/International youth campaigns and organisations

Fridays For Future (FFF)

Inspired by Greta’s hashtag #FridaysForFuture, this is one of the first youth-led and youth-organised movements. Their mission is to pressure policymakers into listening to scientists and taking action on climate change. The movement spread to 7,500 cities and more than 14 million people were involved across all continents. Although school strikes are not as popular as they were before, the movement successfully put a message through: that young people are demanding action on climate change. Now, new organisations have been formed by young people that have more specific aims and targets which I will cover next.

Teach the Future

Teach the Future is a campaign organised by secondary and tertiary students calling for climate change education. At the moment, education curriculums do not cover climate change sufficiently, making students unprepared for its impacts. Teach the Future believes that all students should be equipped with climate change knowledge in order to build a fully informed and resilient population. Recently, in February 2022, as a result of the campaign the English Climate Emergency Education bill, co-written by Scarlett Westbrook and Nadia Whittome MP, was submitted to Parliament. It was the first ever bill in the UK written by students and calls for climate emergency education. The campaign not only reached Parliament but also Emma Watson, a famous actor, who shared it on her Instagram.

Mock COP

In 2020, when COP26 was postponed, the online Mock COP26 was organised by young people to simulate the COP26 event. Around 330 youth delegates attended the meeting representing over 140 countries. At the conference, they put out 18 ambitious but realistic policies to the world leaders which was an important statement showing young people’s expectations. In 2021, the members of Mock COP26 attended the COP26 event, and delivered the Teach the Teacher event to the UK Permanent Secretary of the Department for Education Susan Acland-Hood, as well as other key educationalists. The meeting was live-streamed with an audience of around 10,000. Furthermore, Mock COP26 brought Ministers of Education and Environment from different countries together in partnership with the UK Presidency, Government of Italy, UNESCO, and Youth4Climate, which resulted in over 23 countries making pledges to advance climate change in education.

Lancaster University student, and one of the Mock COP representatives, Phoebe L. Hanson at COP26. Photo by Phoebe L. Hanson.

How do Lancaster University students contribute?

After exploring a few big youth organisations and campaigns, I am now going to focus on Lancaster University and how its students contribute to sustainability.

Don’t Ditch it by Green Lancaster

Green Lancaster is a partnership between Lancaster University and Lancaster University Students’ Union to promote sustainability. One of their initiatives is ‘Don’t Ditch It’ which aims to reduce waste, promote a circular economy, and support charities and people in need. It began in 2010 with students noticing overflowing bins which contained items in perfect condition. This was especially an issue during busy periods when people would move in or out of campus. Since then, every year Don’t Ditch It organises donation points around Lancaster University campus where students can drop off any unwanted items. At the start, they partnered with only few local businesses and as they expanded, they now distribute donations to over 50 local, regional and national charities preventing a waste of 40 tonnes of household goods per year. In 2011, Don’t Ditch It was awarded a Green Gown Award in the Student Projects and Initiatives category for its sustainability contributions.

Edible Campus

This is a society at Lancaster University which focuses on community farming. The aim of the group is to teach and share ideas about small-scale farming and sustainable practices. Students from the society maintain EcoHub garden throughout the year and activities range from raising beds, polytunnels and wildlife ponds. All produce is sold at Central, a convenience store on Lancaster University campus led by Students’ Union, and at the Farmer’s Market that runs every Thursday on Lancaster University campus which promotes shopping locally. Edible Campus also built the Zero Waste section in Central where students can come with their own containers to buy dry food products such as pasta.

Support the Goals

This is an interesting example as it is an outside organisation. Support the Goals is an initiative to recognise businesses that support the UN Sustainable Development Goals through rating their business activities. The key aims include raising awareness of the Goals as well as giving young people work experience in corporate sustainability. Support the Goals and Lancaster University have a very close partnership as the initiative was established by the work of ex-Lancaster students. Most of the research volunteers are young people who are keen about sustainability and around 37% of them are Lancaster University students. So far Support the Goals has managed to rate 2700 companies, out of the 1,000,000 target, and have 188 business members who are willing to transform their business to more sustainable.

Final words

The youth-led campaigns and organisations I have covered show how much power young people hold and these are only few examples out of hundreds. This global youth movement proves that young people are willing to hold policymakers accountable and they are ready to take action when their demands are not met. The movement also brings a clear message; climate change will have a significant impact on young people’s future and the older generation has failed to protect them. Therefore, it is time for the youth to act and make a real change in the world.

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