Young people want more action on climate

‘We’re noticing that many young people want more action on climate. They don’t want endless talk about it, but real change,’ say UN youth representatives Aoife Fleming and Dennis Jansen. Aoife and Dennis are speaking on behalf of young Dutch people at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).  

Aoife en Dennis
©Jurriaan Brobbel
Dennis (left) and Aoife (center) at the Youth & Climate for Justice event at the Peace Palace

Climate change affects us all. An increase in extreme weather events and rising sea levels are threatening to undermine safety, the natural habitat and the living environment in the Netherlands. At global level, it’s also making poverty and living conditions worse. Countries are gathering at COP26 to make new agreements on their common worldwide approach to tackling climate change.

Aoife and Dennis will be making the voice of young Dutch people heard in the climate debate at the conference. Dennis explains that they’re organising various side events in Glasgow and will be given the opportunity to share their ideas with people they wouldn’t normally get the chance to meet so easily. ‘We’ll be trying to put the views of young Dutch people across to the various countries, diplomats and negotiators who will be at the summit,’ says Aoife.

Young people should have a say

‘When it comes down to it, young people and future generations will be hardest hit by climate change,’ says Aoife. Yet according to her, young people aren’t well represented in the forums where decisions are being made. ‘It’s important that their voice is heard. I think that they, too, are quite capable of looking for long-term solutions and that they understand very well what’s at stake.’

Aoife Fleming
Aoife Fleming

Dennis, too, thinks it’s important that young people can make a practical contribution to an issue as big as climate change. ‘When you’re young, your options tend to be limited. So for a lot of young people the question is: where should I start?’ Dennis is happy that he can contribute something to issues like sustainability and climate as a UN youth representative. ‘Decisions about the future are being made now. So it’s only logical that young people should have a say in how they’re shaped.’

Guest workshops at schools

‘A lot of young people are worried about climate change,’ Aoife says. ‘The current climate plans would result in a global temperature rise of 3 degrees. That’s much more than the 1.5-degree target that was agreed in Paris. A 3-degree rise would have a catastrophic impact on liveability on Earth, on people in vulnerable groups such as those who live on islands, and also on children born in the Netherlands.’

Dennis Jansen
©Kiana Beijleveld
Dennis Jansen

It’s clear to Dennis and Aoife that young people are most concerned by the lack of action. ‘They tell us in various ways that what they want to see is actual change. They want to see something happen,’ says Dennis. He and Aoife give guest workshops at schools, where they talk with young people and gather their opinions and ideas. The two also organise activities and events, and can be contacted via Instagram. ‘Of course, we can’t possibly talk at length with every young Dutch person, but we’re doing our best to find out what the main issues are for them,’ Dennis explains.

Not all young peole are easy to reach, he adds. ‘But we make sure that people feel that they can approach us, and that we’re open to everything they might want to say. It’s about having your say – there’s no right or wrong involved.’ The workshops are a good way to reach young people of different ages and from different backgrounds, explains Aoife. ‘In a classroom you get all sorts of people. You see young people who’d never normally come to climate conferences.’

World’s Youth for Climate Justice

‘A lot of young people tell us how unfair the climate crisis is. That its impact on other countries is much greater than on the Netherlands,’ Dennis says. So ‘climate justice’ is a major theme for Dennis and Aoife at this summit.

Dennis explains that they’re joining the efforts of the World’s Youth for Climate Justice campaign, with the aim of getting the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on climate change and human rights. ‘We’re trying to draw attention to the campaign, because we think it can really promote climate justice.’

Doing your bit

Aoife and Dennis agree that there are various ways in which you can do your bit to promote sustainable development. Everyone can make sustainable choices in daily life, like eating less meat, opting for greener forms of transport and taking shorter showers. Or you can go that extra mile, Aoife and Dennis suggest, by inspiring others and engaging with sustainable organisations.

Dennis thinks it’s important for people to consider the steps they’re able and willing to take. ‘Of course, the problem won’t be solved by everyone switching off their lights for an hour a day, but little things do help.’