Science today proves that children bear the greatest burden of climate change. Frustration, anger, and hopelessness were mainly characterizing the world’s young nation until the day in 2018 when one young Swedish girl decided to sit down in front of her parliament, demanding a change and the politicians’ attention to the voice of youth. In response, a global movement of school students started; students all around the world decided to skip Friday classes to participate in big demonstrations to demand action from political leaders to prevent climate change and act on behalf of them to protect their future. Until today, countrywide protests, community engagement and social media activities are characterizing the young people’s climate change protests worldwide. Their voices are loud and clear in demanding change to the status quo.
Recent climate crisis youth survey reports show that around 72% of Germany’s youth aged 15-to 26 (equal ratio between genders) rate environmental destruction and pollution as their top fear. 80% of 14-22-year-olds know about the Fridays for Future movement, and a quarter of those surveyed have already gone on strike for the climate on a Friday. The three most important actors for environmental and climate protection, in the opinion of the young respondents, is every individual, the industry, and the federal government. Only a minority of the respondents think that these actors, especially the government, do enough for environmental and climate protection. Overall, most of the survey’s respondents are worried that their voices are meaningless to the government’s ultimate decision-making.
Furthermore, in the view of most respondents, there is a potential for conflict between ecological and social concerns when poorer people cannot afford environmentally friendly products. Thus, they are convinced that strong environmental and climate efforts will have a positive impact on the overall social goals in their country.
Looking at the individual profiles of youth climate groups we can distinguish between “idealists”, “pragmatics” and “distanced”.
The idealists can be defined as young people who are trying to live as sustainably and be impactful as possible. This group includes significantly more girls and young women. 64% go to a grammar school, and have a high school diploma or a university degree. Students are overrepresented at 21%. They put the protection of the environment and nature first and strive for sustainable behavior in their everyday lives, by buying organic products, avoiding plastic, or eating a vegetarian or vegan diet. Also, they try to influence their surroundings positively by changing their consumption and waste behaviors. An above-average number are interested in politics and support democratic values. They criticize the primacy of economic growth and the harmful effects of a consumption-oriented lifestyle. More often than others, they take part in demonstrations and support campaigns.
The pragmatics can be defined as young people who primarily strive to shape their own lives and orient themselves in a pragmatic way to the classic standards of success and prosperity. They show an average interest in politics and social issues. This group is mainly focusing on personal wealth and trends and considers consumer goods such as smartphones, travel, and fashionable clothing as highly important. Also, they consider economic growth necessary, even if it burdens the environment. Thus, their willingness to engage in sustainable behavior is the lowest in a group comparison. This group includes more male than female respondents.
The distanced describes the group of young people who are less interested in political actions compared to the other groups. They are in favor of democracy and the European Union and pay attention to climate change and environmental problems, but do not believe that they can change much. Their consumption behavior is primarily price-oriented, which is less due to their ecological attitudes than to their limited financial resources. Their willingness to adopt sustainable behavior often lies between the “idealists” and the “pragmatists. The gender ratio in this group is balanced.
Reports show that some of the most important climate issues that the youth want to have addressed are the following:
- Overarching climate targets: “Green zero” is more important than “black zero”. The youth urge consistent compliance with the target set in the Paris climate agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Germany needs to achieve climate neutrality by 2035 at the latest – the goal of a “green zero”
- Mobility turnaround: From car country to green transport choices. An expansion of public transport and cycle paths to enable environmentally-friendly mobility in cities is needed. This also includes a transport policy that ensures that driving a car in cities becomes unattractive. In addition, a clear long-term concept for rail transport is needed so that people and goods can reach their destinations efficiently and, in a climate-friendly way.
- Agriculture: Subsidize only organic food production. To achieve the climate targets, factory farming must be abolished and a high legal standard for species-appropriate and organic rearing must be established. Only organic farming shall be subsidized and farms that switch to organic need to be supported. The use of pesticides and the overfertilization and overexploitation of soils must be regulated and stopped in the long term.
- Education: Firmly anchoring sustainability in the curriculum. The youth demand a call for a broad communication of factual knowledge about the actual effects of human activities on climate and environment and of knowledge and skills for dealing with them. Sustainability should be systematically considered in educational programs for children and young people and for adults and should play a greater role overall. Formats, such as project days and weeks on the subject of sustainability, are to become an integral part of the curriculum.
- Political participation: Representative youth delegation at the federal level. Legal opportunities for participation, such as a representative youth delegation at the federal level, whose demands are continuously integrated into environmental policy decision-making processes shall be integrated. To support voluntary commitment, volunteering should be a reason for exemption from school and work to a certain extent in terms of time.
- Consistently implement the energy turnaround. The rapid expansion of solar and wind energy and research into the potential of other renewable energy sources shall be a primary focus. The state should oblige all energy suppliers to offer green electricity or biogas contracts to private households as well as public and commercial customers as a matter of principle. The energy turnaround must be accompanied by a consistent reduction in absolute energy consumption.
- Focus on social justice in environmental and climate protection. Environmental and climate protection must not place a heavier burden on socially disadvantaged households. A basic social security system is indispensable that enables all people to meet ecological standards on an equal footing, irrespective of age, gender, national or social origin and other status indicators. Sustainable and affordable housing shall be subsidized by the state. Jobs in structurally weak regions need to be created and fairly produced food should be affordable. Training and retraining of employees in the fossil-nuclear energy industry as well as support programs for structurally weak regions where coal was mined is supported.
- Promoting sustainable living in urban and rural areas. Environmentally friendly mobility services and network infrastructures in rural local shopping facilities, medical care and publicly accessible meeting place engagement and accessible meeting places for engagement and networking should be promoted to create the structural conditions for environmentally friendly lifestyles in rural areas. Especially in socially deprived urban districts, more green spaces and improved air quality shall be enabled. In general, parking spaces should be made more expensive and reduced in the long term.
- Sustainable digitization. The state should introduce laws that oblige resource-conserving and socially responsible production and use of hardware and software. This includes a cap on returns from online shipping service providers. To promote the circular economy, manufacturers must be obligated to provide an inexpensive repair of individual parts via the Consumer Protection Act. In the long term, the technology industry should be transformed and established as a stable circular economy.
- Intense reduction of Plastic consumption, accelerate garbage separation and recycling. A circular economy shall be tested and subsequently expanded, abandon the export of waste so that transport routes can be saved, and solutions found locally. In the area of waste separation, educational work must be carried out and a uniform nationwide recycling system created.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Germany Country Manager Cimberley Gross
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