We Need the Voices of Youth in Climate Change Governance

About four years ago a group of law students at the University of the South Pacific in Vanuatu, got together to look at how to take on the world, for the cause of climate justice.

December 12, 2023
youth delegates at COP27

Young climate leaders at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) and the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5)

The session called a “talanoa” – a Pacific term to discuss ideas and issues – was called to see how they could get an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that would allow them to advance their cause. They wanted the court to answer a key question: Can countries be sued under international law for failing to combat climate change?

They managed to get the Government of Vanuatu to support their case. At the end of March, Vanuatu took its case to the UN General Assembly which, without opposition, voted to approve a measure that calls on the ICJ to establish the obligations countries have to address the climate crisis, and the consequences if they don’t. The vote was hailed as a major victory for a tiny nation of about 325,000 people, and a huge win for youth fighting for climate action.

But while another battle has been won, the war for climate change persists, as youth press to gain ground on a vital frontier, a seat at the governing table to push for climate action.

The youth push for equal consideration and inclusion in climate action has had spotted success. Among the significant milestones: the presentation of the Global Youth Statement by youth representatives from COY17, the first Children and Youth Pavilion at COP27, the appointment of a Youth Envoy for COP, and the recognition of the importance of children and youth through the increased number of mentions in the Sharm-el-Sheikh implementation plan.

Yet their voices are sorely lacking in negotiations and decision-making to ensure that policy decisions consider their right to a peaceful and sustainable future.

The Road to Stockholm+50 consultations held in the Asia-Pacific region revealed that youth are left out of decision-making processes, are disheartened over closed spaces and stereotypes, and are often denied positions and resources to engage in meaningful ways.

What underlines the importance of their voices is that they often have a greater understanding of new technologies and social trends, making them well-equipped to contribute to climate action efforts.

Youth-led climate movements have mobilized millions of people around the world and brought attention to the urgency of the climate crisis. By amplifying their voices, young people can increase public support for climate action and galvanize policymakers to take bold action.

Their voices represent a diverse range of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Engaging with them ensures that climate action policies are inclusive and reflect the needs of marginalized communities.

Supported by UNDP’s Climate Promise – a commitment to help countries raise targets to cut down on carbon emissions – the Youth Empowerment in Climate Action Platform (YECAP), a multi-stakeholder UNDP platform is uniting young people from different networks and organizations, to ensure an inclusive approach to a climate-resilient future.

YECAP is empowering young people to participate in climate governance while continuing to work with governments to ensure meaningful youth engagement. Without those voices that clamor for change, their very future is at stake as the climate crisis will impact future generations the most.

Involving young people in climate change governance (CCG) is critical to ensure that policies are effective, equitable, and sustainable, as we have witnessed in the case of Vanuatu. Despite the challenges, there are promising signs that youth engagement in climate governance is growing.

In Bhutan, the Ten-Drel platform leverages digital technology to encourage citizen engagement, placing the voices of citizens, including youth, at the center of public decision-making. This involves, crowdsourcing ideas from young people as well as, supporting youth to be proactively involved in their country’s parliamentary agenda.

A sustained commitment to an interactive and inclusive parliament has led the Kingdom of Tonga to launch the fifth iteration of its Tonga Youth Parliament, along with a women’s parliament. The Youth Parliament is critical in making young people more knowledgeable about parliamentary processes and functions as well as raising their interest in shaping politics in areas like climate change.

A Governor’s Youth Council was established in Samoa to engage young people in government affairs and provide them with a forum to address their concerns.

Young environmental activists are moving beyond personal and collective climate action towards influencing the climate agenda at sub-national, national, and international levels. More and more they are being heard in policy consultations where a stronger partnership is being developed between youth and government counterparts.

But a lot more needs to be done. As Prajesh Khanal, a YECAP Fellow and Youth Delegate put it during the LDC5 Conference: “We want you to trust us, let us sit at the same table, and discuss our future. It’s not just the future of youth, it’s the future of us all.”