International Youth Day: engaging youth for climate action

  • 2020•08•12     Bonn, Germany

    © UNU-EHS / Irfan Ullah

    The threat of climate change and the effects of COVID-19 have exacerbated the challenges youth are facing today, making this year’s International Youth Day all the more important. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently warned of a “generational catastrophe” in education due to widespread school closures, which have affected 85% of the world’s students and kept 1.5 billion of them out of the classroom. Additionally, young people are disproportionately affected by the rising unemployment rates as they are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults.

    For Joshua Amponsem, student of the Master of Geography of Environmental Risks and Human Security Programme at UNU-EHS, the theme of the day, Youth Engagement for Global Action, strongly resonates.

    “If you really put young people in a decision-making position, they will find a way to make transformation happen. There will always be a great ambition from young people and this is where youth engagement for climate action really has an advantage,” says Amponsem, who, in addition to studying at UNU-EHS, runs, an environmental NGO in his native country of Ghana, called Green Africa Youth Organization.

    “Globally, youth have proven to show up far and wide for climate action, yet their interaction with policymakers at all levels of governance has largely been symbolic, with little to show in terms of implementation. The whole point of youth consultation, engagement, and participation is that, in the end, something they proposed and recommended is actually implemented. This is also how institutions can build trust,” he says.

    Amponsem stresses the importance of engaging youth in the development of climate adaptation policies. “Adaptation is anticipation. You anticipate the future, you take action now and you build your resilience. For example, if you build a resilient city now, but without the input of young people, you are doing it wrong,” he says.

    Amponsem contends that the focus should be on result-oriented engagement, rather than just on engagement. This makes youth a formal part of the policymaking process and ensures their input is implemented into actual policy. The outcome of that will be sustainable policies, reduced democratic deficits, and more fair and transparent political processes.

    In the future, Amponsen would like to see an organization at the international level dedicated to youth, complete with country offices to take on the specific needs of youth around the world. Similarly, he would like to see national governments set up ministries for youth, with departments dedicated to thematic areas like environment, youth unemployment, and vocational training. According to Ampsonsen, at both levels, there are relatively few organizations or ministries wholly dedicated to the diverse needs of young people. Of those that do exist, they do not tend to cover all urgent issues on the agenda of young people and their future.

    At the local level, Amponsem specifically encourages the creation of mechanisms like discussion groups, where young stakeholders can formally share their inputs in person. “In some countries, youth might have solutions, but they have nowhere to take them to,” he adds.

    It is not just a lack of platforms, but also a lack of financing for participation in general. Amponsem suggests that increased financial support for youth-led initiatives, capacity building programmes and logistical costs to meetings could be a good first step.

    In building back better from the COVID-19 pandemic, he sees an opportunity especially as it relates to green recovery and the ability of young people to leverage change and to spur innovation.

    “Young people have higher technology adoption rates and this changes the game in many ways. They make things faster and they increase efficiency. Their ability to innovate helps to develop solutions at much quicker rates,” argues Amponsem.

    He is highly encouraged by young people’s entrepreneurial ambition and their desire to be drivers of change. He does stress, however, that education continue to be made more accessible so that they are equipped with the tools necessary for the challenges ahead.

    “We really have an uncertain, yet exciting future ahead of us, and we need to prepare very well by giving young people the knowledge and skills they need for such a future.”

    In closing, he again urged for greater inclusion for youth in policymaking. As a student who chose the master’s programme to be near the UN processes in Bonn, he understands the major benefits of being closer to it all.

    “The programme takes you through the evolution of the thinking around climate change and the process of the institutions, which allows you to see where the opportunities and the challenges are. You can see where your contribution can fit in.”

    Joshua Amponsem is student of the International Joint Master’s Programme in “Geography of Environmental Risks and Human Security. In addition to his studies, he runs Green Africa Youth Organization an environmental NGO based in Ghana. In 2019, he co-wrote the first background paper on youth and climate adaptation alongside fellow students Arturo Salazar and Lorina Schudel, as well as alumni Deepal Doshi and Sandra Delali Kemeh.