More than ever, young Canadians (1 in 5 within Canada’s population) are bringing awareness to the climate crisis moving the discussion to a more diverse and intersectional approach with more sophisticated interventions to gain results.
A recent Cascade Institute survey report (Jan 2022), associated with Royal Rhodes University (BC), gathered data from young Canadians involved in climate action and affiliated with various youth-led and youth-focused organizations. It found for youth between 14 and 30, the stakes of the climate crisis are personal and existential, and that governments, high-emitting industries, and the fossil fuel sector are the most important climate actors. The report concluded youth have unrivaled moral authority to change the minds and hearts of key climate actors strategically by drawing attention to government inaction and exerting pressure on climate laggards.
Key climate actions youth see needing attention included:
- Preventing construction of new pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure;
- Decreasing or eliminating investment in the fossil fuel sector; and
- Increasing investment in renewable energy and creating green jobs.
The extent of similarities and differences between the responses of youth and adults in the survey appeared to focus around youth wanting more immediate action and adults more likely to compromise to gain results. Many youth and adult groups saw the above climate actions as key issues but may have approached them differently. As the IISD puts it Youth Climate Activism is about running a marathon, not a sprint. They say, “Youth activists are crucial for galvanizing public momentum in support of more ambitious climate action and will have to live with the consequences of today’s decisions. Many of them will also be tomorrow’s policy-makers.” Whether through education, technology, science or law, young people are tapping into skills though to influence climate action as many still have hope they can shape their future.
The survey showed many youths engaged in climate action believe it is unlikely Canada will meet its 2030 or 2050 climate targets (81% and 77%, respectively) or that the world will limit global warming to 1.5 degrees or even 2 degrees (80% and 63%, respectively). 40% of respondents thought the world is best understood through reason, while 40% thought it is through feeling (the remaining 20% were ambivalent).
Some variances of opinion from the survey within the youth community itself included:
- Acknowledging the key role financial actors play in financing fossil fuels – only some linked banks to investments in renewable energy and other climate solutions
- Many youths have complicated beliefs on capitalism and private companies in the just transition. Youth widely support increasing investment in renewable energy—but have mixed feelings about negative-emissions technologies like carbon capture and storage
- Respondents that strongly believed in only pursuing climate actions that also addressed various forms of systemic inequality were likely to see ‘quick fix’ climate actions easiest to implement as a trade-off.
The UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, states every person under the age of 18 has the right to participate in the decision-making processes that impact them. Many Canadian youth organizations are members of networks to strengthen their impact, for instance, Climate Action Network Canada’s mandate promotes the climate movement as a whole.
In 2016, a federal Youth Secretariat was created as a resource hub to facilitate engagement, help amplify youth voices to affect positive change, ensure youth perspectives were considered in government policy, and help inform how best to deliver youth-related priorities in Canada and globally. In mid-July 2021, the federal government also created a Prime Minister’s Youth Council to allow for policy dialogue on climate change, biodiversity loss, and better protection of the natural environment.
My conversation recently with Aliénor Rougeot, an Environmental Defence program manager provided excellent insight to what is important to youth. She also has a strong background as a community activist including leadership on the 2019 Fridays for Future school strike for climate that drew 50,000 young people and their supporters to the streets. Critical from Aliénor’s observation is the importance of governments shifting investments away from fossil fuels and resolving any environmental damage impacting marginalized communities as a result. She states we as global citizens must foster an environment rooted in sustainable action and equity and organize for just transition. She recognizes opinions may vary as some youths are not certain of the degree of justice and demand needed in some messages. Gaining skills and networks as a foundation from supportive adults allows for stronger youth contributions and new solutions.
She thinks that adults may have started more so with nature and biodiversity issues in tackling climate change whereas youth are more people oriented. She is appreciative that adults have more patience and experience as youth deal with what she calls a ‘fire alarm’ approach. Youth don’t have all the tools to put out the alarm but will put energy into finding those that do have resources they can share. She hopes for change that limits the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. She sees youth using simplicity in their messages. As illustrated by Greta Thunberg, youth have a very legitimate role in creating climate stability for their future.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Canada Country Manager Diane Szoller