What do young people think about climate change?

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Youth and Future Generations Day at COP21
Youth and Future Generations Day at COP21. Photo: Connect4Climate

On December 3, 2015, hundreds of young people gathered at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) to join leaders and share their voices on climate change. The day was marked as the ‘Young and Future Generations Day,’ a chance for young people to have a seat at the table and share how they would define our future. Young people today are growing up with effects of climate challenge and this immediate threat makes them more leaders of today rather than tomorrow.

In early November, World Bank Group’s global partnership program Connect4Climate and a network of partners launched the #Youth4Climate social media campaign to give young people around the world a collective voice to call for climate action and engage in open discussion throughout the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) climate talks in Paris.

Now, at COP21, young people are showing leaders and administrators that it is imperative to preserve a world they and their children can live in, and to remind them again and again that they are likely the last generation that will be able to do something about it.    

Youth Day featured a flagship Intergenerational Enquiry to determine precisely this. Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of UNFCC opened the event emphasizing on the importance of COP21, and its role in history, “this is the COP of your generation, of my generation, for all of us.”

The UN Special Envoy for Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, emphasized the role of young people to stress the urgency for climate action, “we cannot afford to fail this generation and future generations…nobody has the right to gamble with your future.”

Youth and Future Generations Day at COP21.
Youth and Future Generations Day at COP21. Photo: Connect4Climate

Youth Day also featured the preview of a massive undertaking by the young Canadian filmmaker Slater Jewell –Kemker. She has documented the youth climate movement from the age of fifteen for the past eight years and is in Paris to add the final chapter to this story under the auspices of Film4Climate, a hub of Connect4Climate’s regular activities.

“The evidence has grown and grown, but we knew from the start that action had to be taken immediately. No-one has listened to us in the past, but maybe they will now. Problem is – now there’s little time left, so we must be taken seriously,” Slater points out.  Her perspective is reflected deeply in the commitment to action that permeates from the film and will be the focus for the debate on what young people think and what they can do post-Paris.

A screening of Slater’s film was held in the German Pavilion, where Laura Tuck, Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank Group introduced the event, “we need youth to be inconvenient, to push the world on climate action.” 

This was followed by a debate on the role the creative industries can take to communicate climate change and climate action more substantively. Debaters included Slater, human rights defendant Bianca Jagger, the distinguished filmmaker Fernando Meirelles, and activist Kumi Naidoo.

“We must listen to the powerful, eloquent voices of young people, not just today, but everyday… It is they who have most at stake,” implored Ms. Jagger.

 World Bank
Debate on the role the creative industries can take to communicate climate change and climate action. Photo: Connect4Climate

Kumi Naidoo gave a passionate take on the climate negotiations and encouraged more ambitious action. He drew comparisons with the fight against apartheid in South Africa and the battle over climate change. Fernando Meirelles emphasized the role of film to speak beyond the “converted,” to reach audience that would not necessarily embrace climate action.

The weekend before COP21, young film makers from all over the world participated enthusiastically in the Film a Day4Climate Action Challenge. An initiative of Connect4Climate that encouraged producers to film a short 3-4 minute impression of one of the many marches that took place in almost 2000 locations on the afternoon of November 29, 2015, or a significant climate solution they had experienced that day.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
A selection of these films will be shown as part of Education Day, December 4, to emphasize once again the global solidarity of young people to find solutions and to find them quickly either by directly affecting real policy change from their governments or by creating the means to change lifestyles and behavior in a truly committed and inspirational way.

“Our actions today will become the consequences we’ll deal with tomorrow,” emphasizes Javiera Espinoza in one of the film submissions from Chile. 

This is the thinking and the reality of young people today, which they are sharing with the thousands of delegates attending the Paris Climate COP.

“WE MUST, CAN, WILL TAKE ACTION NOW” is the message written on Connect4Climate T-shirts worn by youth delegates all around the conference.


Max Thabiso Edkins

Communications Specialist, Connect4Climate

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