From COP to local communities – helping the next generation drive climate solutions
Author: Graham Duxbury, chief executive of Groundwork UK
Watching delegates fly in and out of COP 28 in Dubai over the last two weeks it’s been easy to get downhearted by how distant and difficult the discussions about tackling dangerous climate change are. In the meantime, the power of nature to enhance or disrupt our lives has never been more evident. Extreme weather battering our shores and causing real hardship in communities is making us finally understand what an unstable climate means. At the same time, more and more of us are realising how being better connected with nature does wonders for our health and wellbeing. As is so often the case, we don’t truly appreciate something until it’s gone.
When we consider the impact of all of this on the lives of young people there are some self-evident truths. By dint of them being around longer, young people have more to lose from a changing climate but conversely more to gain from a shift to a green economy and more sustainable lifestyles. There are also some ‘here and now’ climate impacts that are particularly dangerous for young people. Children are more vulnerable to air pollution, to extreme heat and to the consequences of living in cold, damp homes. Young people – especially young girls – are also much less likely to spend time in green spaces. For young people growing up in disadvantaged areas or circumstances these environmental harms are even more acute.
The Everyone’s Environment programme, led by New Philanthropy Capital, is bringing this evidence together and using it to inform conversations with national and local policymakers to ensure climate change is seen as a core part of our collective mission to keep young people safe and help them thrive in future.
As part of the programme, we have been asking young people what they think the most pressing environmental issues are and what they want from the organisations and institutions there to support them – from youth charities to local councils. Number one was transport – without more public transport or sustainable travel options, young people simply can’t get around, especially in rural areas, and reliance on cars adds short term to pollution and long-term to carbon emissions. Number two was green skills. It’s clear from the feedback that young people don’t feel they’re learning enough about sustainable career options at school, and that entry-level pathways into the low carbon economy are invisible or inaccessible. Yet, at the same time, key industry sectors – from forestry to retrofit – are reporting a lack of skills and a rapidly ageing workforce. Something doesn’t connect.
New to Nature is one initiative aimed at bridging this gap – providing waged year-long placements for environmental organisations targeting young people with disabilities or from disadvantaged or minority ethnic backgrounds. Its aim is to both grow the capacity of the sector and increase its diversity, demonstrating that there are a wide variety of job roles on offer and that not all ‘green jobs’ require expertise in climate science or a predilection for standing knee-deep in rivers checking sewage levels. We need more such initiatives, and not just focused on nature but also embracing other industries vital to the net zero shift, from agriculture to energy efficiency to waste and recycling.
The final lesson we drew from listening to young people was that, because climate change and biodiversity loss were going to impact their futures more than anyone else’s, they wanted to have a voice in what was being done about it. This is not just morally right (from an inter-generational equity perspective) but also vital if we’re going to give young people increasingly prone to eco-anxiety or ‘eco-anger’ a positive and practical outlet for their energy.
Most councils and large institutions have declared a climate emergency, but few have a concrete action plan in place to respond to this emergency. Fewer still are involving young people in steering this action plan. What this growing body of research shows is that the climate and nature crises present real threats to the health, welfare and development of young people, especially as they’re compounded by a cost of living crisis. Young people want to be architects of the solution and helping them develop the knowledge, skills and career opportunities they’re looking for will also demonstrate that tackling climate change is a job for local communities as well as delegates in distant Dubai.
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