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.