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Role of youth in climate action advocacy

2021

More and more young people become active climate action advocates locally, nationally, and internationally. As COP26 recently happened in Glasgow, thousands of young people participated and advocated for urgent actions to prevent the climate crisis. Advocating for climate change prevention means to publicly support (advocate) the sustainable use of resources and for the actions to address climate change in local communities, on governmental levels such as policy writing. Today, 3 young people who are passionate about SDG13 (Climate Action) will introduce themselves, share the activities that they have participated in regarding climate action, tell what challenges they have encountered in advocating climate action, and mention their view on the role of youth in climate action advocacy. 

Firstly, meet 25-year-old Polina Gracheva from Saint-Petersburg, Russia. Currently, Polina is a 4th-year student at LCC International University, which is located in Klaipeda, Lithuania. She is majoring in English Language and Literature. Polina is interested in languages, cultures and art, translation, environmentalism, and traveling. 

When it comes to an activity connected to climate action, Polina is participating in the Millennium Fellowship leadership program this semester. During the program, fellows advance their leadership skills and work on projects connected to Sustainable Development Goals. “I’ve been working with my classmate on a project on SDG 13. We’re both a part of The Habits club, a student club that aims to raise awareness about climate change and leads various sub-projects to make the university’s campus more sustainable”, Polina said. For the project itself, Polina and her colleague made recycling possible on their campus by developing composting systems. They have also led multiple educational meetings and took United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s online course together with their club members. “I believe that education is the key tool in climate action advocacy as often, climate change skeptics or deniers simply misinterpret the changes in the nature and are not thoroughly educated about the whole system”, Polina noted. 

Regarding facing challenges, Polina says that in any project, there are better and worse days. There are successfully completed tasks and then those ones that failed. “One of the greatest challenges that I have faced is my lack of skills in the field of communication”, she stated. Polina believes that education is indeed the key, but in order to educate, the educator must have certain skills: how to work with people, how to get everyone’s attention to listen, and how to make sure that the educator is heard. “Our Millennium Fellowship project was successful in terms of prepared materials, activities, and events. But the problem that we faced was to attract people and let them know about our initiative”, Polina explained. In modern times, there is so much information available on the Internet like articles, blogs, bulletin boards, books, and so much more. “You need to know how to promote your project and make it stand out to be successful in your great plans”, she pointed out. 

“I have learned the most about climate change activism from my peers and people younger than me than from my teachers at school and middle-aged hosts on radio and podcasts”, said Polina. In her opinion, youth is full of potential because they know exactly what their peers care and worry about, which platforms to reach more like-minded people, that young people are full of energy to keep being stubborn and they will keep banging on the doors until they open them up. “Everyone needs to remember that one day, the now young people will be the ones who hold major positions in politics, education, and social spheres, so they need to be empowered now to achieve their goals in the future”, she concluded. 

Secondly, meet 25-year-old Artur Aheiev from the city of Horlivka in the Donetsk region, Ukraine who is an Internally Displaced Person. He is a Young European Ambassador at EU NEIGHBOURS east and a Program Project Manager at Civil Society Center “Drukarnia”. Previously, he has been a Youth Delegate from Ukraine to the United Nations.

 Artur has participated in many activities and has organized plenty of events that touched on climate action, sustainability. “Apart from the regular activities via posts on social media regarding the importance and necessity of climate action, which is no longer a long-run, but an emergency, I would like to mention several key projects I have been implementing under Drukarnia – Civil Society Centre in Sloviansk, where I am currently working”, he mentioned. The organization completed multiple projects that were focused on the local level with the involvement of national and international experts in the field. One of the fulfilled projects was the “Qualification seminar on environmental activism in Sloviansk”.

“The highly industrialized Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine have been at the brink of an ecological crisis for many years. This particular region was characterized by water scarcity, outdated industrial infrastructure, as well as industrial and radioactive pollution already in Soviet times. With the beginning of the conflict in 2014, however, these multidimensional environmental risks were catalyzed by the hostilities in the region. Shelling of the timeworn infrastructure multiplied the existing environmental risks and accelerated the economic decline of the region”, Artur explained.

This seminar concentrated on developing an understanding of the environmental issues that are common in the region, compared the industrial regions of different countries (Germany, Ukraine, and Moldova), developing technical environment monitoring skills, training on the usage of data from open sources, organizing environmental activists network for joint actions with political impact, using official data and actively gathered data to persuade the local, regional political stakeholders, and initiating an exchange between environmental activists from Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts with environmental experts coming from other oblasts in Ukraine combined with international networks from Moldova and Germany. The other project that Artur is currently working on with his colleagues is called “Sustainable development and improved environmental management in Ukraine, in light of the European Green Deal”.

“We focused on supporting energy-efficient water supply and waste management in Donetsk Region, which is a massive problem for the people from both lines of contact”, he continued. As this project is still in progress, the team has multiple goals that aim to achieve: to write an in-depth long-term strategy that would be available for local authorities and civil society to oversee and to implement a water supply system in the city; to increase the civic engagement of school children and students in protecting the environment of the city by launching functional waste management systems in their educational institutions; then school children and students will become the multipliers in their communities and raise environmental awareness in the outreach of the societies; to contribute to social community dialogues in post-conflict environments by collaborating with the diverse group for the environmental topics; to increase the participation of the society regarding the environment by implementing mini-projects.

Artur also participated in an advocating project called “Water Supply and Drainage Project Report”. The report focused on describing and highlighting the issues related to water supply in the city Sloviansk, to get more attention to the topic from prospective donors, organizations, newly elected deputies, and city residents; to point out the projects that were previously implemented to improve the water supply; to inform the residents about the state of water supply in the city; to bring more attention to the specific aspects that affect the formation of the problems. Another one of the recent projects that Artur participated in was “Stronger Eastern Partnership for a Stronger Neighborhood. Online Networking Forum on enhancing political and economic relations across the Eastern partnership region”.

“One of 4 aims was to further protect the environment and actively combat climate change. Under this forum we case studied existing eco-initiatives of EaP member states, emphasizing the importance of strengthening the network of environmental activists to make joint actions with political influence”, Artur implied. The speakers touched on the list of such topics as how to advocate climate action in the case of Moldova, monitoring development of mining facilities (Amulsar project), and how satellite services tools can be useful for ecological research, and multiple representatives that touched on the topic of climate action. Artur is a very active young person who contributes to many activities. “As for the personal activities in this field, I was given a UNICEF Delegate badge for COP26 in Glasgow, which took place in November”, he said. It was an interesting event for him to share ideas, connect with new people, and work on environmental projects with people from around the world. 

“Apart from your personal barriers of being afraid of a failure due to lack of expertise, experience in policymaking and other things that you think you think quite convincing in not jumping into this or other topics, there have always been people, unfortunately, that is a good scenario simply do not help, or even make everything to block the idea of a green economy”, Artur noted. He says that there could be many reasons why people would not support the environmental initiatives, however, there is one reason why they should do so: “Because it’s right and the future of our planet is at stake. In times of lack of political will, what you need is patience and civil society support, which doesn’t let the case fade away. Make things heard!”.

 “World needs innovation in the energy sector, as well as the world, needs fresh, bright, and ambitious solutions for the current crises. And who else but not youth possesses such ardor and determination”, Artur claimed. He also says that many politicians like to say that youth is the future of society, but Artur would like to point out that it is also the present. 

 

Thirdly, meet 22-year-old Anna Audare from Liepaja, Latvia. She is a 4th-year student majoring at LCC International just like Polina. Anna is majoring in Contemporary Communication. She is the president of the student-led eco-club “The Habits”. Anna also runs a blog and a YouTube channel that is dedicated to a healthy, minimalistic, zero-waste lifestyle. She likes teaching yoga and Zumba classes at her university and living a healthy, environmentally-friendly, vegan lifestyle. 

“As the student environmental club president, I organize a weekly meeting where the club members discussed different environmentally related topics such as zero waste, minimalistic lifestyle, the global impact of climate change, composting, water use, recycling, and so on. I enjoy discussing with my peers especially as they come from all around the world as we are an international university”, told Anna. Usually, the club members watch a video or Anna’s interactive presentation after which they have a discussion and share their thoughts. “I also invite professors to come to our meetings and discuss with us. In one of our recent meetings, we invited a professor who runs a community garden and composting site on my university campus. It was very great to hear about his experience in sustainability, gardening and learn how composting works”, she continued. All the meetings feature vegan snacks with tea that Anna cooks herself. “In addition to our club meetings, I organize a documentary movie night where we invite any LCC students to watch a movie on an environmental topic and then discuss it with us. As a club, we also host webinars online with inviting guest speakers as last semester we had a representative from One Tree Planted”, Anna noted. 

“Yes, climate change can be quite depressing and sometimes difficult topic to talk about. Whenever you hear about climate change it often has a very serious tone and is overwhelmingly dramatic. The situation is bad indeed but still, we can not only focus on the negatives as it can be very discouraging. It’s very crucial to see the hope and good thing that happen too”, she revealed. Anna tries to lead the club with hope and fun in order to attract more students to be involved in the topic of climate change cause and join the club. She tries to manage the balance of seriousness and fun for the meetings. “Sometimes we have fun events together as documentary night screenings, vegan cooking workshops, DIY workshops, going to some plant-based restaurants, coffee shops to try out some vegan meal, or visiting places like a botanical garden and seeing the beauty of nature. Also, by making videos together and social media posts, and hashtag challenges”, she explained.

To kickoff the next semester, Anna’s club a new climate change solution table game from Kickstarter, which is truly exciting as the club members will join in together and play it. “Also, as a student club, we understand that we cannot do worldwide, fast impact on climate change but we focus on raising awareness in our local community – campus. It can be overwhelming to see how huge the scale of climate change is and how many areas are involved. There are just too many things to do. It’s sometimes hard to understand where to start”, Anna stated. That is why as a club, they realized that it starts with a person and their community. They emphasize their local university community: “It’s not easy to get a lot of members for the club but we do the best we can by discussing, creating events, initiatives, writing to staff and faculty. We set up recycling bins in dorms, asked to order more books on climate change and sustainability for our university library. We do clean-up events. We create videos and interactive events to educate and raise awareness in students about climate action”. 

Anna believes that the role of youth in climate action advocacy is impactful: “Young people are not scared to raise their voices, protest and demand climate justice for all. It clearly shows in Fridays for future protest actions in which I have participated twice myself. Young people are creative and know how to use the right media to get the world’s attention to climate change. We, young people, are the future and we are the ones in which hands are the wellbeing of our planet, our only home”. Both Anna and Polina take up the Millennium Fellowship working on the same project. For Anna, the fellowship is a great example of the power of young people who are actively engaged in the community to create change and impact. “If we look at my university, I can see how young people have made an impact. We now have recycling bins on every floor in dorms. We have more books on climate action. We have more choices of plant-based food in the cafeteria. We have a social media platform and student club meetings were to discuss, inspire and create change. We have started the conversation with staff and faculty. There is more to come”, Anna concluded. 

The role of youth in climate action advocacy is important and impactful. Hearing the stories of three young people coming from different countries, backgrounds, communities that are focused on creating change and are active climate action advocates on local, national, and international levels are inspiring. That is why it is so crucial to support them in their journeys as they face challenges and try to deal with them. Most importantly, they all agree that youth that advocate for climate action has a lot to offer and it is only a beginning.

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