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#YouthRising and insisting on a seat at the table

von Thomas Bet­ten (Stiftung für die Rechte zukün­ftiger Gen­er­a­tio­nen) und Patrick Kohl (Kli­madel­e­ga­tion e.V.)

It’s 6.30pm at the SB50 cli­mate con­fer­ence and the crowd is slow­ly get­ting thin­ner. But some are not yet ready to stop as it is “5 to 12” regard­ing our cli­mate. The event #YouthRis­ing is show­cas­ing some of the most active youth net­works par­tic­u­lar­ly from Ger­many but also from around the world. In a joint effort youth net­works cre­at­ed an incred­i­ble mass mobi­liza­tion over the last six months, sup­port­ed by the pow­er of social media in com­bi­na­tion with the struc­ture of clas­sic grass­roots move­ments. Only future can tell whether these efforts can lead to tan­gi­ble and effec­tive cli­mate action. There­fore it is impor­tant that more and more peo­ple are deter­mined to make sure of that. Led by mod­er­a­tor Jean-Paul Brice Affana, the pan­el with activists from Fri­days for Future, Mil­len­ni­als Ener­gy, Sail to the COP, the musi­cians Make­da and Emil­ia Zep­pelin and Clara, Co-Chair of Kli­madel­e­ga­tion e.V., tries to explain the phe­nom­e­non and dis­cuss­es ways to sus­tain it.

The youth movement is direct, determined and diverse

Social media played a sub­stan­tial role in move­ments like the Arab Spring, March for our Lives and the recent cli­mate protests. In Ger­many, Fri­days for Future (FfF) is stand­ing at the fore­front of the cur­rent mass mobi­liza­tion. Sarah Beranek from the local group in Bonn explains that the orga­ni­za­tion is extreme­ly flex­i­ble and inclu­sive via a mix of “week­ly meet­ings and instant mes­sen­ger groups” and thus has a big part in the movement´s suc­cess sto­ry. The move­ment is “invit­ing peo­ple to express their con­cerns” says Luisa Neubauer, a well known face of Fri­days for Future Ger­many. And there­fore, pro­vides a slight­ly roman­tic ver­sion of the movement’s mis­sion. Yet, patron­iza­tion (“Leave it to the pro­fes­sion­als”) and some head­wind are part of the game in Ger­many. When it gets per­son­al and “many peo­ple hate [you], because [you are] part of the move­ment” (Sarah) it becomes unacceptable.


How­ev­er, shift­ing the per­spec­tive away from Ger­many, many young peo­ple world­wide are fac­ing obsta­cles in express­ing their con­cerns with­out oppres­sion. We need to make sure that the protest can and will become a tru­ly inter­na­tion­al and inclu­sive one.  With her engage­ment in YOUNGO, the inter­na­tion­al con­stituen­cy of youth at the UN cli­mate con­fer­ences, Clara von Glasow is work­ing towards that goal. She agrees with Luisa that “we need to make sure that all voic­es are heard”. A big part of that jour­ney is youth empow­er­ment – at the cli­mate con­fer­ences but also beyond.


Personal choices matter but only collectively climate crisis can be avoided

Jeppe Bijk­er (Sail to the COP) will take a sail­ing boat to get to COP25 in Chile. By doing so he wants to make his voice on the future of clean trans­port heard. But more impor­tant than his pres­ence will be the jour­ney itself and the sig­nal that it sends; togeth­er with 25 oth­er activists and young cli­mate advo­cates, includ­ing Clara from Kli­madel­e­ga­tion e.V., he will use this trip for capac­i­ty build­ing, empow­er­ment and cre­at­ing out­reach. Thus, this project focus­es on min­i­miz­ing the eco­log­i­cal foot­print on a rather small scale.

But how to do it on a big­ger scale? That ques­tion was raised and dis­cussed by pan­elist Rou-Jing Wu and her orga­ni­za­tion Mil­len­ni­als Ener­gy. She point­ed out that mass events like the School­strikes for Cli­mate although call­ing for more sus­tain­abil­i­ty and cli­mate action can harm the envi­ron­ment due to trans­porta­tion and waste. There­fore, Mil­len­ni­als Ener­gy push­es for a green move­ment which is green in itself. On this side of the mis­sion for cli­mate action, influ­en­tial pub­lic fig­ures can play a sig­nif­i­cant role. Make­da states that “every artist should be aware of his or her out­reach and should use it for the greater good”. While all these mat­ters are sub­stan­tial, par­tic­u­lar­ly with the trans­port sec­tor account­ing for approx. 20% of our green­house gas emis­sions in 2018, the right per­son­al choic­es will not be enough for 1.5°C. A col­lec­tive action in pol­i­tics by deci­sion-mak­ers at all lev­els will be nec­es­sary in order to reach any of the tar­gets set in the Paris Agree­ment and seri­ous­ly respond to the warn­ings of the IPCC.


Youth are rising and insisting on a seat at the table

How­ev­er, get­ting a response can be quite frus­trat­ing as Luisa stat­ed. In Decem­ber 2018 she left COP24 in Katow­ice dis­il­lu­sioned by her per­son­al impres­sion that deci­sions were exclu­sive­ly made by “old white men drink­ing espres­so”. It was also in Poland, where the youth activist met Gre­ta Thun­berg, got inspired by her and then pushed the school strike move­ment for­ward in Germany.

We, Kli­madel­e­ga­tion e.V., have been observ­ing and shap­ing the UN cli­mate con­fer­ences and its nego­ti­a­tions for 10 years now and can relate with Luisa to a cer­tain extent. How­ev­er, we were also able to see some steps for­ward dur­ing that time. One exam­ple of a suc­cess sto­ry for youth was the inte­gra­tion of a report for­mu­lat­ed at an inter­na­tion­al youth forum in April 2018 in Bonn into the Rule­book of the Paris Agree­ment. Anoth­er exam­ple is the anchor­ing of “inter­gen­er­a­tional equi­ty” in the Paris Agree­ment. A great mile­stone in the Inter­na­tion­al Youth Cli­mate Move­ment and the reward of a long-suf­fer­ing and tir­ing marathon of lob­by­ing and con­sul­ta­tions with count­less state del­e­gates. Of course, often it seems that the oppor­tu­ni­ties of youth to influ­ence inter­na­tion­al and nation­al pol­i­cy are neg­li­gi­bly small. Nev­er­the­less, it is impor­tant to stress that pos­si­bil­i­ties do exist although a long breath is need­ed and more needs to be done.


Mass protests or institutional work? We need BOTH!

For the future we want, we must com­bine both sides, the mass protests and the work in insti­tu­tion­al bod­ies and polit­i­cal fora. The noise and enthu­si­asm need to break into the con­fer­ence rooms and the dili­gent work needs to con­tin­ue. By joint efforts we can make sure that claims like the one for youth rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the Ger­man “coal com­mis­sion” will no longer remain unheard in the future. Clara stress­es that “we have to demand that we have seats at the tables where deci­sions are made”. And Sarah is cer­tain that “the protest will not stop until our voic­es are heard”. We will only take a seat again if we are offered a seat in the right spot.

To achieve this “we need to go hand in hand with the peo­ple who are the excuse for the change not hap­pen­ing” (Luisa). The cli­mate move­ment needs to arrive at all lev­els and become inter­gen­er­a­tional as well as tru­ly inter­na­tion­al. This is cru­cial in order to over­come the hur­dles of the slow pol­i­cy process and the media’s pref­er­ence of focussing on sin­gle sto­ries. More­over, it needs to be ensured that every young per­son in the world, espe­cial­ly in the Glob­al South, is able to speak out freely and join the move­ment. Social media will con­tin­ue to play a major role in this sto­ry, as it just won’t go away any­more – just like the young voic­es: #youthris­ing.


Thomas is Ambas­sador of the Foun­da­tion for the Rights of Future Gen­er­a­tions (SRzG) and is inter­est­ed in eco­log­i­cal sus­tain­abil­i­ty, data-dri­ven tech­nol­o­gy and green infrastructure.

Patrick is mem­ber of the Kli­madel­e­ga­tion since 2017. He fol­lows the top­ics Adap­ta­tion, Loss & Dam­age and Renew­able Ener­gies at the UN Cli­mate Conferences. 

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