Climate change policy-makers need to hear from young people

The crucial role of citizen science and the urgent need to bring young people to the climate negotiation table were underscored during a COP27 side event attended by young engineers, scientists and policy-makers on 9 November.

The intergenerational dialogue, convened under the theme “Utilising expertise of the youth to bridge the science-policy divide and improve access to finance”, provided case studies and perspectives from developed and developing countries on the benefits of youth inclusion in decision-making.

The panellists agreed that the science-policy divide can only be breached by creating enabling environments in which young people could gain the knowledge and expertise needed to engage lawmakers and effect the structural changes needed to tackle emerging climate issues.

The event was supported by the Association of Commonwealth Universities, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Commonwealth Youth Programme, the International Water Association, Moravian University in the United States and the Fédération Internationale des Ingénieurs-Conseils (International Federation of Consulting Engineers).

Youth engagement surveys

In the lead-up to the event this year, three global surveys targeting youth organisations and policy-makers were conducted with the aim of identifying barriers and opportunities for youth engagement in policy-making.

Kirils Holstovs, World Federation of Engineering Organizations delegate and mastermind behind the hybrid event, said the common goal of the surveys was to identify ways to improve the engagement of young engineers, scientists and youth with lawmakers in order to address policy gaps and improve access to climate finance for youths.

One survey result showed a wide range of barriers to effective youth engagement, for example, a lack of established mechanisms facilitating their interaction with policy-makers at local, national and international levels.

In the Global South, one survey found that socio-economic conditions such as a lack of education on climate, social and political issues limited the involvement of young people. In addition, there was a lack of transparency and follow-up with regard to youth proposals, a fragmented NGO space and insufficient youth-oriented government communication.

A survey also indicated that while there is a strong desire for youth participation in government processes, youths were perceived by policy-makers as inexperienced and youth affairs were considered a lower priority by some. There was also a locked-in perception about climate change and engineering solutions, including out-of-date data about available solutions.

Researchers urged to reach out to policy-makers

Amira Saber, Egyptian member of parliament and secretary-general of the foreign relations committee, urged universities and research centres to continuously engage and involve policy-makers in their projects, particularly those that are climate-centred, as this would not only bring visibility to research but also ensure better funding opportunities.

Highlighting the complex procedures involved in the creation of new bills and laws, particularly in support of climate action, she said there was a need to involve all stakeholders, especially youth and women, to ensure that the law serves the needs of all citizens.

Young policy researcher and founder of the Earth Ambassadeurs organisation, Andrea Clayton, who is also a principal lecturer at the Caribbean Maritime University in Jamaica, highlighted the importance of placing citizens at the centre of climate action and training youth at grassroots levels to prepare them for global conferences such as COP27.

“In Jamaica, we have been using the bottom-up approach where we move into communities and make use of the traditional knowledge that has helped the locals to build climate resilience. At Earth Ambassadeurs organisation we also train children to be environmental stewards. We must not underestimate the value of citizen science in achieving the objectives of policy,” she said.

Universities and green skills

Cedric Frolick, a member of the South African National Assembly of parliament, said his country was committed to equipping youths with green skills as part of the US$8.5 billion transition investment plan to accelerate the country’s transition from coal to cleaner, sustainable sources of energy.

“In all our policy frameworks it is imperative for government to include the different sectors of society and, in this instance, youth. Set targets have been put in place for all publicly funded universities and science councils to involve and train young people to acquire green skills. More than 30% of our population in South Africa are young people so it is important that we gear our policies towards that.”

He said that a majority of submissions to support South Africa’s first climate bill came from young people in universities, science centres and youth programmes.

Science at the forefront

Canada’s Assistant Deputy Minister of Environment and Climate Change Stephen de Boer said that with Canada preparing to host the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in December, it was crucial to put science at the forefront of all processes. In addition, it was equally important to build on the expertise of youth and to ensure their presence at the negotiation table at all climate conferences.

He described his department, which is responsible for domestic climate change policy and international climate change negotiations, as a science-based organisation.

“It is impossible to imagine having a conversation about how to address climate change without a science basis. Policy responses and measuring how we are doing is all science,” he said.

“Climate change processes are highly complex. The best way for youth to learn is to watch the processes. There is an absolute advantage in having more youth participation as we can be assured that we are training a cadre of future negotiators who will remain engaged in these processes.

“There is a basic inequality in the negotiation process itself. A country like Canada can have 30 youth delegates but not every country has the capacity or ability to do that … we see that playing out across the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations,” he said.

“These structures and systems need to change if we are going to do a better job of bridging the science-policy divide.”