Youth are a key stakeholder group when it comes to sustainable development, climate action or biodiversity conservation
12 August has been designated as International Youth Day by the United Nations. Every year, this date presents an opportunity to raise awareness on the role of youth as well as the challenges encountered by young people around the world, particularly in the face of climate change and other global crises.
There are various definitions for the age range that constitutes youth, with 15-24 years being used by the United Nations for most statistical purposes.
According to the latest World Youth Report, a flagship publication by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), there are currently 1.21 billion youth on Earth, many of which are located in developing or least developed countries. The 2020 Report also focused on the role of youth for entrepreneurship in the context of climate change, with the subtitle of “social entrepreneurship and the 2030 Agenda.”
In Sri Lanka, the Department of Census and Statistics estimates a youth population of almost 3.5 million people between the age of 15-24, 15.6% of the country’s population. If a wider youth definition of 15-34 years is used, the percentage rises to approximately a third (31.3%) of the overall population. This highlights the importance of young people as a key stakeholder group when it comes to sustainable development, climate action, or biodiversity conservation, as they will be severely affected and have to live with the consequences of today’s decisions. Particularly given the current economic situation, youth can contribute to recovery, growth, and transformational change towards climate-friendly, sustainable, ethical, and resilient livelihoods.
Climate change is a far-reaching global challenge with increasingly intense and frequent impacts on different sectors and communities. In Sri Lanka, erratic weather patterns, extreme weather events, such as flash floods, storms, or prolonged droughts, and long-term processes, such as sea level rise or ecosystem degradation, are among the key impacts. Youth are vulnerable to both sudden- and slow-onset climate change processes, as they usually have limited resources, are still building capacities and skills, are dependent on their families, and do not have full access to decision-making, planning, or policy processes.
However, youth can also be catalysts to enhance climate action on all levels, from the grassroots to international negotiations. Their potential contribution to climate action is significant and can make a huge difference, especially considering that the youth of today will be the decision-makers of tomorrow. Accordingly, it is important to allow youth to engage in meaningful ways and provide them with the tools and environment to engage in climate entrepreneurship and other avenues of multi-benefit climate action.
Enabling environment and ecosystems
Youth who are willing to engage in climate action or entrepreneurship often find themselves faced with obstacles they need to overcome. This includes the need for awareness and understanding of relevant processes, the need to build capacities and relevant skills, such as organising, networking, fundraising, proposal-writing, or technical knowledge, and access to forums, decision-making spaces, tools, resources, or mentors. Youth engagement is also governed and facilitated by their environment in terms of policy frameworks, community structures, mobility, access to information, and availability of time.
Sustainable livelihood development and entrepreneurship, for example in the form of innovative start-ups, presents a way for youth to engage in concrete action that can benefit themselves, their community, and the economy.
However, to engage in climate-friendly and sustainable entrepreneurship, young people not only need initiative, ideas, and a willingness to take risks: they also require support systems and the opportunity to become part of an entrepreneurial ecosystem, especially in rural areas.
In a definition shared by the UN’s World Youth Report, entrepreneurship ecosystems are “sets of actors, institutions, social networks, and cultural values that produce and sustain entrepreneurial activity.”
This can include education and training opportunities, guidance, specific capacity-building, on legal and business aspects, management, marketing, outreach etc., seed funding, innovation spaces and “sandboxes,” enhanced access to data and information, and business infrastructure or services.
If this ecosystem can be grown further and is able to reach youth in urban, peri-urban, and rural areas, there is great potential for youth-led entrepreneurship to contribute to climate action and connect ground-level action with national commitments and global climate processes.
Action for Climate Empowerment
Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to which Sri Lanka is a Party, youth have been recognised as a key stakeholder group through Article 6 of the Convention and Article 12 of the Paris Agreement. Work related to both articles is mainly carried out through Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE), which focuses on six elements that encompass different areas of youth engagement, including education, training, public awareness, access to information, participation, and international cooperation.
At the last global climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland (COP26), parties decided to establish the Glasgow Work Program on Action for Climate Empowerment, which aims to serve “as a flexible framework for country-driven action that […] reflects national priorities and initiatives while building long-term capacity and expertise” for implementing the elements of ACE. The Work Program is guided by several principles, such as cost-effectiveness, flexibility, a phased approach, and the promotion of partnerships, and has four thematic priority areas: policy coherence; coordinated action; tools and support; and monitoring, evaluation, and reporting.
The Work Program places high importance on the country-driven nature of climate action, which is crucial for creating an enabling environment on the national and local level. However, the UNFCCC process can provide a space for youth to gather additional knowledge and experience, connect to like-minded youth, and exchange good practices on the international level.
In the face of global climate change, youth are key stakeholders and actors across all levels and countries. Creating spaces for them to engage in and facilitating climate entrepreneurship presents an opportunity to harness synergies between climate action, economic empowerment, rural development, just transition, and intergenerational justice.
The writer works as Director – Research & Knowledge Management at SLYCAN Trust, a non-profit think tank based in Sri Lanka. His work focuses on climate change, adaptation, resilience, ecosystem conservation, just transition, human mobility, and a range of related issues. He holds a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Cologne, Germany and is a regular writer to several international and local media outlets.