Young people play a key role in addressing global climate change and sustainability

Climate change efforts can connect with other youth led programs around the world.

On June 13, 2013, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, called on youth around the world to take action to address the effects of global climate change.   Ki-moon recognized the immense challenge presented by global climate change stressing the important role he believes youth should play in implementing “ambitious answers” to this challenge.   He plans to convene a meeting of world leaders at the United Nations in 2014, “to mobilize the necessary political will, and capitalize on actions on the ground and strengthen the climate resilience.”  In order to succeed, Ki-moon has outlined how youth can take action to strengthen resilience to climate change. He said, “First, I want you to remind your political leaders of their promise and their political and moral responsibility to you and to your future generations.  Second, I want you to support action that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and strengthens resilience to climate shocks.  Use your power as voters and consumers.  Challenge your Senators and Congressmen and Governors and Mayors and Presidents and Prime Ministers that this is our world; this is our planet earth, to preserve this only planet earth, environmentally sustainable and hospitable.”

International, youth-led efforts to address the causes and effects of climate change are widespread and well documented.  Youth in action on climate change: inspirations for around the world, a report released by the United Nations Joint Framework Initiative on Children, Youth and Climate in May, 2013, highlights some of the youth focused efforts that are taking place in countries all around the globe.  According to the report, “The world is experiencing a rising youth population.  This new generation has an increasingly strong social and environmental awareness, the energy and knowledge to lead our societies towards a low carbon and climate resilient future.  Young people are actively engaged at local, national and global levels in raising awareness, running educational programmes, conserving our nature, promoting renewable energy, adopting environmentally friendly practices and implementing adaption and mitigation projects.”   The publication highlights projects focused on reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, projects focused on helping people adapt to changes and prepare to respond to disasters, projects that provide education and training for youth leaders, projects that increase awareness of climate change related topics, and projects that engage youth as participants in decision-making and policy-making related to climate change.

Examples of projects and programs highlighted in the publication include a bamboo bicycle project in Ghana which promotes economic development, reduced energy use and sustainable transportation alternative projects to help strengthen schools against cyclones in Madagascar and typhoons in the Philippines. These educational programs bring youth together from different countries to help them learn about local environmental issues through participation in a “youth-led virtual classroom,” a challenge badge program which educates youth on food security issues related to climate change, energy conservation programs in China and programs that engage youth in policy-making such as the Greenbits Initiative.  These programs and projects exemplify the wide variety of ways that youth are currently engaging in efforts to address climate change around the world.  In many of the programs highlighted in the publication, youth and adults work together in partnerships to create change in communities, nations and organizations.

Youth in the U.S. are also engaged as leaders in climate change action, education and policy-making. In their iMatter Campaign, Kids vs. Global Warming has an initiative that “focused on raising youth voices to protect the planet for sake of their future.”  Through their campaign, Kids vs. Global Warming has organized marches, educational events and has filed a lawsuit against the federal government in order to seek protection for the atmosphere. According to the organization’s website, their work “includes youth leadership training and empowerment to address the climate crisis at all levels – through grassroots actions, judicial action and legislative action.”

Another example of a youth led climate change program in the U.S. is SustainUS, an nonprofit organization founded in 2001 with the mission to empower young people (ages 13-26) to advance sustainable development. SustainUS provides training to young people to prepare them to participate as members of youth delegations at United Nations conferences on climate change and sustainability.

The 4-H Youth Development program of Michigan State University Extension offers youth a variety of research-based educational programs and learning opportunities that can assist youth in developing the character and competencies needed to engage in leadership roles in their community, country and the world.

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