British Council report highlights urgent need to include young people in climate change policy

*75 percent of young people around the world report having skills to deal with climate change in their communities – but 69 percent have never participated in climate action.

*Concern that voices of women and minority groups overlooked in current climate change policy.

*67 percent of young people feel leaders cannot address climate change alone. Consistent call for young people to be included in policy decisions

Young people around the world unanimously consider climate change to be the biggest threat facing the planet but many struggle to engage in meaningful action and have their voices heard, a British Council report published recently (on 9th September) has revealed.

The Global Youth Letter Report used a mixed methodology approach including crowdsourcing to garner the views, experiences and aspirations of 8,000 young people aged 18-35 across 23 countries – including Brazil, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka and the UK – about their perspectives on climate change. It found a strong, unanimous voice of young people on climate change across all 23 countries.

This research is part of the British Council’s Climate Connection programme, which aims to bring people around the world together to address the challenges of climate change. Research for the report was carried out between January and March 2021.

The findings from the report have been used to write a Global Youth Letter, a plan of action setting out young people’s aspirations and recommendations around climate change. The letter directly addresses the policymakers and world leaders who will attend the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November.

25 percent of the young people surveyed globally, came from rural areas, which can be harder to reach, and 75 percent from urban areas. 55 percent of respondents were female. The report also heard from traditionally overlooked groups such as young people with disabilities, and those belonging to minority groups and indigenous communities.

67 percent of young people felt that their country leaders could not address climate change on their own. They raised concerns that the voices of women and minority groups were not reflected in current climate change policy.

The report found a consistent call for young people to be included in policy decisions. Young people felt that their involvement would ensure more innovative ideas for tackling climate change and would have a wider, more effective reach. The findings emphasised a clear need for policymakers to channel the passion and enthusiasm of young people in more practical and structured ways.

The report found that whilst young people are willing and keen to make meaningful contributions, many lack the opportunities to do so. 75 percent of young people reported that they had the skills to deal with climate issues in their communities and 63 percent said that they knew about the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). However, 69 percent said they had never participated in climate change action.

Some of the barriers to youth participation in climate action include limited digital access, hierarchical social cultures that exclude young people, and a lack of access to training and skills development.

The report also highlighted the role and potential of digital channels as a tool for young people to tackle climate change, although acknowledged that the ‘digital divide’ that sees some people excluded from accessing the internet must be taken into consideration.

Young people unanimously viewed social media as an important platform to share messages about climate change with their peers, countering disinformation and influencing those around them. For young people in remote areas without internet access, television and radio can provide them with information about climate change instead.

Young people are encouraged to sign the letter and pledge to tackle climate change, adding their own recommendations to be considered. The letter can be signed here:

The Global Youth Letter was launched at a virtual event recently (on 9th September). Insights from the Global Youth Letter will inform ongoing discussions with policymakers in the run up to and during COP26.

The Global Youth Letter includes youth voices from Sri Lanka extracted from the ‘Perceptions of Young People on Climate Change and Action’ research study that was conducted with over 1000 respondents. In relation to youth perceptions, youth in Sri Lanka are generally aware of climate change but the majority does not have a technical understanding and detailed knowledge of it.

There is a significant interest among youth to learn more about climate change, and the majority believes to some degree that their opinions and actions on climate change will matter in the future. When it comes to making this change and engaging in climate action, emphasis was placed on education and showcasing successful practices as a tangible way to inspire and facilitate action. Sri Lanka’s youth believe in collective action for climate change and see it as a public responsibility, not an individual issue, highlighting the need for systemic changes and large-scale actions.

In both urban and rural contexts lack of access to knowledge resources, lack of tutoring and low engagement with government action were highlighted as barriers for youth engagement.

The UK will host COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, from 1 to 12 November. The British Council is supporting the UK government’s ambition for COP26 to be the most inclusive ever by using its global networks to inspire millions of people around the world to take action against climate change.

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