Putting young people at the core of climate policy

YouthLink Scotland’s Policy and Research Manager, Kevin Kane looks at the symbiotic relationship between climate change action, youth voice and the need for policy change.

"Come gather round people wherever you roam,

And admit that waters around you have grown,

And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone,

If your time to you is worth saving,

Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone,

For the times they are a changing."

I don’t think that Bob Dylan back in 1964 could have imagined his lyrics would have such a particular poignancy for the very future of our planet, and the action or inaction that will seal the fate of future generations.

The Youth Strike4Climate movement demonstrated that young people are passionate and serious about the environment and that their voices are powerful and should be part of any engagement process. It was encouraging to see the Scottish Government commit to giving young people a strong voice through the development of “a new approach to ensuring a genuine role in the policy process for young people” as part of their Climate Action Engagement Plan. However, to make this happen, it is crucial that there is direct and concerted engagement with Scotland’s 80,000 youth workers and the 350,000 young people they work alongside.

A rights-based approach

Any action on climate change must take into consideration the current challenges for young people, the disruption to their education and the increase in demand for mental health and wellbeing services. This is why we must see action on the climate crisis through the prism of young people’s rights at its core, where a right to a healthy environment is a mainstay of policy and political thinking. This should be a pre-condition to the realisation of other fundamental rights, such as a right to food, housing and shelter, education and an adequate standard of living. These are all areas where youth work practitioners already make such a positive impact on the lives of young people.

Participation of children and young people is one of the General Principles of the UNCRC. Article 12 is clear that every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously.

Participation in policy making should therefore be seen as an overarching principle to build a meaningful, effective and ongoing dialogue between young people, youth work staff and volunteers. For children and young people, knowing that they have the right to be heard in decisions which affect them boosts their sense of security and also their self-confidence.

We have a unique opportunity to involve young people and unite the youth work and environmental sectors, listening to them, and involving them in the key policy and political changes required to support meaningful policy action on climate change.

Collective response

As society slowly emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, it is fundamentally important we all now work together to limit the impact of climate change. It is young people who, along with future generations, will have to live with the worst consequences of climate change. Therefore, the youth work sector must be central to, and actively engaged in any public engagement and social/policy action. We know the climate is a priority area of action for young people and they are eager to engage in action to address the climate emergency.

For this to be a truly national endeavour, we must work collaboratively and consistently, local and national governments must take cognisance of the significant infrastructure provided by the youth work sector as part of any action planning over the coming years.

The link between skills, employability and climate action

The response to the environmental challenges of the Climate Emergency and the transition to a Net Zero economy, means that new skills will be required in addition to the creation of new jobs. There is an integral relationship between youth work and employability through the role youth work plays in supporting young people in schools, community and post-school contexts. This relationship should be developed further as we continue to adjust to the consequences of lockdowns and its impact on the labour market, which is being acutely felt by young people in Scotland in relation to their future employment prospects. In doing so we can harness the potential of the sector as the gateway to a green revolution.

Investing in youth work

Recent surveys have highlighted a lack of investment in youth work services, which is cause for serious concern. The youth work sector is well positioned to work with young people and their communities in areas relevant to climate change policy. This can only continue to be the case if youth work is valued and properly resourced. The value of youth work lies in the difference it makes directly to the lives of the young people who engage with services, however it extends further to the many benefits it provides to wider society in working towards a green and blue renewal, where the wellbeing of people and planet are prioritised as one.

Youth work and the policy landscape

Youth work in Scotland is deeply embedded within the national policy landscape. The sector makes a significant contribution on equality and inclusion and improving outcomes for children and young people and ensures their rights are respected and enhanced. We know from our Universal Youth Work Research that youth work contributes to young people’s lives through providing opportunities to lead and help others as well support to become more active citizens, broadening their horizons and realising their potential. All of this is crucial in order for young people to take action on climate change. We need to see greater recognition of the benefits of youth work as a form of informal education. Youth work opportunities should therefore be available to all young people, in order to support the positive environmental changes required to build lasting change.

The future

The pandemic should be the catalyst for a true re-imagining of a society, one that can help more people see the need to provide food, water, a sustainable environment and a healthy planet for the future. To do so, we must put young people at the heart of climate action strategies and harness the connectedness of youth work and environmental sectors as we a chart a path to net zero gas emissions by 2045.

E kkane@youthlinkscotland.org

T @YouthLinkScot

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