Between #FridaysForFuture and other distinct calls across the EU for climate action, the youth of the EU have demonstrated that they are willing to be agents of change. The youth climate movement in the EU is one of the reasons that the European Green Deal was made a priority in the EU’s 2019-2024 Political Guidelines and young individuals have demonstrated laudable ambition in attaining a better planet for all. As of February 2022, 96% of individuals between the ages of 15 and 25 in the EU believed that climate change is a serious problem and 64% had taken direct action to fight climate change in the preceding six months.
Within the EU, there are numerous organizations and movements that youth are involved in to help prevent climate change – one of which is the European Climate Pact. The European Climate Pact is comprised of 838 ambassadors who are passionate about climate action and are actively taking steps to ensure the creation of a more sustainable Europe. Within this group of ambassadors, there are youth from across the EU that focus on a range of issues. Some examples of these ambassadors include Léna Prouchet from France, who has focused on reducing food waste by collecting leftover food from markets and giving it to students at her university for free, and Julius Lajtha from Austria, who has focused on reducing pollution through organizing activities like river clean-ups and tree planting schemes.
Another prominent EU youth effort focused on climate change is Youth and Environment Europe (YEE). YEE is the largest independent European network of international youth organizations that unites 45 member organizations that come from 25 different countries. All activities and projects carried out by YEE are performed by individuals under 30, and the organization’s goal is to mitigate the climate and biodiversity crisis. It hopes to achieve this by raising awareness among youth, enhancing international cooperation and knowledge-sharing among its members and strengthening the participation of youth in environmental and climate decision-making processes. The organization’s board is made up of six individuals, who come from Azerbaijan, France, Armenia, Italy and Belgium. On YEE’s website, each of these individuals has a profile where they give more information about themselves and what specific issues they are passionate about. Amongst these six members some of the issues mentioned are the future of young people in the community, social justice, sustainability, environmental regulations and a just transition for workers.
Generation Climate Europe (GCE) is also a notable youth effort in that it is the largest coalition of youth-led networks of climate and environmental issues at the European level. It brings together 381 national organizations, one of which is YEE, and aims to create a platform where youth can advocate for a just and green transition in Europe. More specifically, the coalition envisions the creation of a system that respects human rights and the planet while simultaneously acknowledging that each of us has a common but differentiated responsibility in achieving a carbon-neutral world. The organization is run by a board of 10 representatives who are youth leaders from member organizations. GCE’s past projects include holding a Council Presidency Youth Dialogue, as well as holding various European Parliament Youth Dialogues where members of the European Parliament and representatives from GCE discussed issues like the EU Emissions Trading System and the EU’s Just Transition. The GCE also has a Generation Climate podcast where young climate activists are interviewed about climate activism and policy-making.
Within these larger organizations, there are also numerous smaller organizations that are focused on bringing students and youth together to advocate for climate action. Some examples of these organizations are International Young Naturefriends, whose mission is to inspire and connect Young Naturefriends in order to increase respect, solidarity, equality, sustainability and love for nature, and the European Students’ Union, whose goal is to create equal educational and social opportunities in an open and democratic Europe where students can shape a sustainable future.
While specific individuals and organizations in the EU are focused on different aspects of youth climate change efforts, such as waste reduction, creation of sustainable technologies and knowledge-sharing, there is a general convergence around the ideas that sustainability must be improved and that the transition to a greener world must be achieved while promoting social justice. These principles concur with the EU’s stated climate goals, yet youth activists demonstrate a greater urgency when advocating for climate action than many adults involved in the movement seem to. The youth have also been the leaders of many local movements that encourage a community to take action to fight climate change, while the EU’s policies place a greater emphasis on national-level change.
It is clear that the youth of the EU will be critical in fighting climate change in the future. However, there is a need for greater representation of youth in EU climate talks. While youth movements have been highly successful in garnering attention and making local-level changes, in order for these changes to be widespread they must be able to share their ideas with relevant policymakers and leaders. Future discussions with European Union leaders will be key in ensuring that the youth’s ambition and recognition of the pressing need to achieve change now are heeded. Thus, efforts like the European Parliament Youth Dialogue and the EU’s Youth and Sustainability Round Tables, where youth climate activists and representatives discuss EU climate and sustainability with high-level EU decision-makers, should be continued. Moreover, similar means for enhanced dialogue between youth and EU representatives, whether in-person or digitally, should be encouraged, and greater funding for youth civil society organizations should be granted. As European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen has stated, 2022 is the “European Year of Youth”.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard EU Country Manager Brittany Demogenes
Learn More Resources
“About Us.” ESU Online, 30 Nov. 2021, https://esu-online.org/about/.
Generation Climate Europe, 14 Feb. 2022, https://gceurope.org/.
“Generation Climate: Young People at the Forefront of Change.” European Climate Pact, 16 Feb. 2022, https://europa.eu/climate-pact/news/generation-climate-young-people-forefront-change-2022-02-16_en.
“Our Work and Mission – IYNF – International Young Naturefriends.” IYNF, 5 Mar. 2021, https://www.iynf.org/about/structure/.
Viitanen, Sara, and Melanie Bernhofer. “The Youth Climate Movement: Out of Sight, out of Mind?” Welcome to EPC – European Policy Centre, 7 May 2021, https://www.epc.eu/en/publications/The-youth-climate-movement-Out-of-sight-out-of-mind~3ec650.
“Youth and Environment Europe.” YEE, 28 Apr. 2022, https://yeenet.eu/.