Guest Blog: Why every year must be the Year of Young People

  • 31 Dec 2018
  • General News, Act for Our Future, Blog

By Rebecka Bergh, volunteer with Young Friends of the Earth Scotland, a member organisation of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland.

2018 is coming to an end, and so is the Year of Young People (YOYP). But I have great news, it turns out that 2019 will also be the year of young people! And 2020! And every single year until we have a world that lives within the means of this one planet that we have to care for. Even then, we should keep involving young people in decision-making that concerns their future.

The YOYP set out to give young people (8 to 26) a stronger voice on issues which affect their lives, to showcase their ideas and talents, and ultimately, to challenge the status quo and create a more positive perception of them in society. While it’s been a great initiative that has inspired and empowered a lot of young people, it has also made it painfully clear how seldom young people’s concerns are heard in political decision-making, especially around climate change and other environmental issues.

One could consider it remarkable that the year of young people came in 2018, after decades of ‘sustainable development’ agendas worldwide, and with the concept being used in Scottish policies for almost 20 years. ‘Sustainable development’, famously defined as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’, according to the Brundtland Commission in 1987.

Yet there’s been very little inclusion of the generations that have been born since then in decision-making about the future.  It is becoming clear that the targets and policies that have been set to mitigate climate change and environmental destruction for the benefits of these very generations are failing.  Coinciding with the recent IPCC report showing that we have fewer than 12 years to prevent the most catastrophic climate change, the YOYP has been beneficial in shifting the focus of discussion from the anonymous ‘future generations’ to our already existing younger generations.

Because 2018 also highlighted something else – while most environmental strategies over the last decades have failed miserably, it is clear that educating younger generations about the man-made threats to the environment has been successful. The younger generations are very aware of the environmental issues that are worsening with climate change, as exemplified through the recent student protests in Sweden and Australia, and the environmental youth engagement as a part of YOYP in Scotland. They know that emissions aren’t confined to nation boundaries and that climate change will disproportionately affect those who contribute to it the least.

However, educating young people about the imminent threats from climate change to our collective future comes with a responsibility to then take action against it. For governments to raise awareness of the environmental crisis among young people but then refuse to put in place the policies and targets to address it is nothing but immoral.

Next year will be the real test of the commitment from the government, organisations and businesses to young people. In Scotland the Climate Change Bill needs to be improved to deliver the urgent actions needed, oil and gas extraction rapidly needs to decline and we need a transformation of the current economic system to tackle climate change and the social injustices that reinforce it. The Scottish Government will also need to show that they care about young people all over the world, by ensuring that we live within the means of one planet instead of three, as intergenerational justice and climate justice go hand in hand.

So, we look forward to 2019. The second Year of Young People, where the legacy of the first  is honoured and enhanced. Where Scotland shows that if you genuinely believe in the importance of involving young people in decision-making and in creating a sustainable future for younger and coming generations, you listen to them. You encourage their initiatives,trust them to be involved in budget-making, employ them. You invite them not only to YOYP events, but into workplaces, to the board rooms, and to the parliament. You not only let them be represented, but you let them have power. You ensure they inherit something sustainable, rather than an environmental catastrophe.

I’m excited for 2019, the second Year of Young People of many to come.