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OPINION: The seed of change: is youth a driver for long-term change?

Also posted in Spanish

Mathieu Lacoste, CDKN Latin America, looks at the potential of young people to build the resilience of their communities to climate shocks, and how they should be factored into policies of the future.

When it comes to analysing the drivers of change and progress, little thought is given to young people. Experts are eager to speak about the importance of leadership, engagement, transactional costs, trade-offs in climate compatible development, but usually underestimate young people as actors for change, particularly with regards to gender.

Practically, in the current political system, youths under voting age are not able to make decisions for themselves or for their elders; it is up to adults to set the priorities for the following generations, deciding on what will be done and on the way to do it. There are many policies concerning young people (for example, in culture and education), but they are rarely consulted about how they envision their own future, and their potential to pave the way for sustainable development. They are the future leaders that will act at a community-level through to a state-level, becoming the professionals that will lead initiatives, the economy and the politics of their countries in the coming years.

To achieve climate compatible development and a more sustainable future, it is essential to consider youths in strategic planning, especially in vulnerable and poor communities. In Colombia, young people have played an important part in two processes currently being led by CDKN. In the municipality of Manatí, in the Atlantic department of the Caribbean coast of Colombia, CDKN financed a research project to understand how climate vulnerable communities displaced by climate change are building their resilience, and are able to overcome the traumas and challenges they have faced. In 2010-2011, extreme weather in Colombia affected nearly 3.5 million people, many of who were forced to migrate, or were housed in temporary shelters. They are still awaiting a definitive solution today. The succession of events and current circumstances have harmed the subsistence economy, as well as the traditional social fabric of many vulnerable communities.

Understanding the role that youngsters can play to build more resilient communities and overcome the challenges faced by their communities is key. The awareness shown by young people about climate change is evident in this documentary, directed by the Universidad del Norte Video Team. They play a significant role in maintaining stability among their community, cheering people up to keep them motivated. Alongside their mothers, they participated actively in the activities and workshops organised by the Universidad del Norte and CDKN to analyse and build major resilience within the Manati’s communities. In other words, young people are a “raison d´être” to keep their whole community moving forward. Empowering them, through a project such as the CDKN-led research project in Manati, shows that they can actually be actors in building more resilient communities, associate their experience with a broader reflection, and participate into the psychosocial recovery process.

A second example can be seen in Cartagena de Indias, also on the Caribbean coast. The actors involved in the building of Plan 4C decided to give more prominence to youth, not from a participatory standpoint to define their own measures, but by pinpointing broad actions through flexible frameworks, to empower youths as future leaders of climate compatible development in the city. The actions were framed by an educational strategy, which seeks to build the ability of young people through education and creativeness. To maintain momentum following the launch of Plan 4C last July, Cartagena’s Secretary of Planning, together with the Secretary of Education and different high schools around the city, organised an event to start discuss climate change with young leaders. The event offered them the opportunity to reflect on climate change, its implications for the future and potential solutions. A film of the event can be viewed here. The local authorities also organised a painting competition across the city in order to capture the messages of youngsters about climate change. Following this progress, the high school staff then committed to take the lead with the children to study climate change in more depth.

These two examples show that young people are a actual social force with knowledge of different climate-related issues, and have the capacity to bring added-value to climate change policies. They are also the future leaders who will soon be leading important processes for climate resilience in their communities. Therefore, there is a strategic lesson to take away from these two projects: involving youth in climate compatible development planning processes will immediately benefit them and their communities. It will also plant a seed that will ensure long-term impacts and contribute to a critical mass of people able to drive progress in climate compatible development.

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