Youth are already leading on nature and climate. This is made clear by the explosive Fridays for Future and School Strike for Climate movements. Young people are also heavily involved in nature and climate action on-the-ground in their communities, something we at Youth4Nature plan to make clear through our Storytelling Campaign. However, this comes with sacrifices: despite being the generation that will face the greatest impacts of Climate and Ecological Breakdown, youth have significantly less resources and support than older generations to meaningfully contribute to the decisions about solutions.
It tends to come down to two things: funding and access. Insufficient financial resources are be a significant barrier for youth nature and climate leaders to meaningfully engage in nature and climate work (we at Youth4Nature feel this daily - we are largely volunteer run). There is also a scarcity of opportunities for youth to get face-to-face time with political leaders, share our stories and perspectives, and meaningfully contribute to the decisions that will shape our future.
The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres seems to recognize this substantial intergenerational injustice. He was recently quoted at the UN-backed World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth, and Youth Forum advocating for greater youth engagement in climate action. It’s “not enough to listen to young people and provide a seat at the table,” Mr. Guterres said. “we need to take a seat at your table”.
So here is our question: who is supporting our table? And where will the outcomes of that sit-down lead? Mr. Guterres is right to state the necessity of listening to young people. It is older generations that have created this problem, that have built it up and ignored it, and who continue to stall on the transformational and systemic change now required to avoid catastrophe. We as youth deserve the space to co-design a path towards recovery. But that space needs to take into account the resources necessary for youth to meaningfully contribute. This includes funding, for our ideas, our efforts, our work, and our time. And this includes access to the fora where decisions are being made.
It seems like Mr. Guterres understands the need for supporting resources. “We need to create an enabling environment for young people,” he stated, “… as citizens with equal rights, equal voices and equal influence …” However with the Climate Action Summit fast approaching, and with the decision to host a separate Youth Summit that occurs before the actual event and away from the decision making table, we cannot help but feel that his words are falling on deaf ears.
While it is encouraging to hear our needs for support being echoed by a few leaders, it is not enough. Only when youth support and engagement goes beyond tokenistic displays and superficial inclusion will we being to address the intergenerational injustice intwined in Climate and Ecological Breakdown: it has to be substantial and tangible.