New generations defend the planet

On the occasion of 5 June - World Environment Day

June 5, 2022

There is only one Earth! Under this slogan, 50 years ago, World Environment Day was celebrated in Stockholm. Today, half a century later, we are still discussing piled up and more serious problems – climate change, droughts, floods, the extinction of ecosystems – while activities aimed at solving them remain unevenly distributed within and between countries. One planet alone is not enough to support our way of life because ecosystems cannot meet the needs of the human species. The chances of global warming exceeding a 1.5°C increase in the next 20 years are high. Air pollution is responsible for about 7 million premature deaths every year. Nine out of ten people on the planet breathe polluted air. The health of Montenegro's population is also in danger due to air pollution. For example, the allowed yearly number of days with the excess of harmful substances in the air in Pljevlja and Bijelo Polje was exceeded already at the beginning of the year.

The good news is that nature has the capacity to regenerate. While some ecosystems have been irreversibly destroyed, there are others that we can restore and repair the damage we have done to them. Clearly, it is high time for a serious and determined approach. The combat against climate change and environmental protection begins at the individual level and with personal choices, but only collective civic action, including institutional actors, will bring much-needed change and recovery to the planet.

Montenegro has pledged to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels in the fight against climate change and strive to turn to clean energy, innovation, and green and gender-responsive economy. Young people have a key role to play in shaping a sustainable future. A UNDP survey indicates that young people in Montenegro are aware of climate change. They are worried. About 75% of young people aged 18-29 years believe that climate change is a massive problem at the global level, while more than half of them believe that it is a big problem in Montenegro as well.

They are ready for action and changing life habits. Half of the young people walk every day, try to reduce waste, rationally consume water and electricity, and buy environmentally friendly and recycled products whenever possible. Young people also say that they properly dispose of waste and participate in cleaning actions.

Nevertheless, the potential of young people in Montenegro is largely unutilized. Their experience so far in terms of participation in creating regulations and strategic documents has been predominantly negative. They are included only formally, and it happens only to those who are already recognized as more active community members or those with political connections. Youth activism is not promoted, and young people lack adequate support and mechanisms for active involvement in the community. Most young people have never attended any form of non-formal education because they do not believe that additional education can help them in employment or advancement. However, young women are significantly more involved in non-formal education.

It is obvious that young people want to give their contribution, but they often do not know how since they feel that their ideas are not taken into consideration seriously, even when they get the opportunity to communicate them. In other words, young people are not involved in creating policies that shape their present and future. However, they do see a sustainable future in Montenegro and want to be a part of it. Today, young people are the leading drivers of climate action in the world and in Montenegro, so climate policies must provide answers to questions that are most important for younger generations – opportunities for employment and progress based on merits instead of connections, living in a healthy environment without polluted air and water, plastic waste, and loss of biodiversity.

Therefore, in Montenegro, the active involvement of young people in decision-making related to climate policies and all other policies related to sustainable development regardless of the sector has yet to come to life. To involve young people in dialogue, it is necessary to regularly use modern digital communication channels that are close to them. In addition, young people will have the opportunity for open dialogue with decision makers on issues of importance for sustainable development within the National Council for Sustainable Development, through which they will be involved in all aspects of planning and shaping environmental policy. Existing youth centers represent a natural place of gathering whose potential is still underutilized.

All this will allow young people to deepen the necessary knowledge and gain experience and new skills. Dialogue on climate ambition and strong climate action needs to be addressed through what is important for young people to live independently: work and income generation. In that sense, it is necessary to expand the labor market in Montenegro to the types of employment that young people are increasingly looking for, which relate to renewable energy sources and green jobs that can protect the environment and make Montenegro a healthier place to live.

Young people want to be much more than a source of statistics. They must become an equal partner in decision-making on environmental issues because their choices will be key to meeting the set goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change. It is time for young people to become serious and active participants not only in the dialogue but also to have the opportunity to be an active part of the solution!