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Anarchy in the UK? Young people taking over at Glasgow.
And at Clim8.

Clim8 Investment Team

05 November 2021 Cop26

Day #6 at COP26 was about Youth and public empowerment. We’re fortunate to have young and talented people in our investment team supporting us in many different aspects of our jobs, and bringing valuable insights to our decision making process. They are the best-placed to express in their own words their fears and hopes. Let’s hear from them. 

There are a multitude of issues facing young people today. Whether it be mounting student loan debt, unaffordable housing, rising prices due to inflation as a result of the centrally planned monetary policy, or a job market that is becoming increasingly unfriendly to anyone without a masters degree, there is one issue that often tops the list of concerns: climate change. We have seen some interesting actions taken by YOUNGCO, the official youth contingency of UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). At COY16 (the youth equivalent of COP) they issued a Global Youth Statement, which over 40,000 individuals from all over the world signed. It called upon world leaders to implement the necessary policies (across key industries such as energy, agriculture, and finance) to help fight climate change. In addition, they have demanded that the most marginalised groups have a greater voice in guiding policy, especially because people in the Global South, BIPoC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour), and other vulnerable groups generally feel the worst effects of climate change.

However, there is an argument to be made that the most important events today regarding youth engagement in climate change, are not happening inside the COP26, but outside it. When Greta Thunberg spoke to protestors outside the COP26, she was speaking the thoughts of countless young people around the world. She said “inside COP, they are just politicians and people in power pretending to take our future seriously, pretending to take our present seriously of the people who are being affected already today by the climate crisis.”

Young people, on balance, simply do not trust governments to tackle this issue. In the UK for instance, a majority of young people think that the government is simply failing them. Many feel that conferences like these have little actual impact in fighting climate change, and that protesting and action on the streets is the only way to move the dial. “No more whatever the f*ck they’re doing in there”, as Thunberg put it1

What is more, there are actually a few cases where sustained public pressure against projects that could be deemed as environmentally hazardous actually led to the project being cancelled. For instance, the Atlantic Coast pipeline was cancelled in July of 2020, due to what Duke Energy and Dominion Energy (the utility companies financing the project) cited as “legal uncertainty”. This “legal uncertainty” came in the form of lawsuits, mainly from environmentalists, which sought to block the project. These lawsuits had increased costs to as much as $8 billion from about $4.5 billion to $5 billion when it was first announced in 2014. In addition, there was also the ambitious lawsuit led by the Dutch branch of the Friends of The Earth grassroots network against Royal Dutch Shell in May this year. This case saw for the first time in history a judge holding a corporation liable for causing dangerous climate change, and forced Shell to reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% within 10 years. 

This shows that while protesting is vitally important and shaping discourse, working through the established institutions, like the courts, is also extremely important at implementing the desired change. 

Being frustrated with “the system” is not new to young people like us, and when it comes to climate change we are faced with this constant duality. It’s a problem so big that we can never try and fix it ourselves and yet we are constantly told that it is our responsibility, while the structural change we ask for is only delivered in disappointing increments every few years (No wonder the term, “climate anxiety” has been added to our vocabulary). So we face the same choice as Greta, do we continue to ask for real leadership or do we abandon those in power and try to shape the world through our own lives and actions?

The answer, really, is both. We must continue to demand action and accountability from the people we vote for, the universities we pay expensive fees to, the organisations we work for and the companies we give our money to. 

At the same time, our individual actions matter too. When we reduce our meat intake, cycle to school or work, reduce our flying and even decide not to have children, we are communicating again and again that we are to be taken seriously and that climate action and a just world are not going to be abandoned. 

Here’s some of the ways we can exercise our power: 

  • As consumers… Over 70% of young people in a recent poll said that they have changed their behaviour because of climate change, with over 37% saying that this has affected what they purchase. This is an important way of communicating to companies that climate change is not just a fad, but that climate friendly products are necessary and marketable (look at Beyond Meat!)
  • As voters… Young people have the lowest electoral participation of any generation, meaning that passionate voices are often drowned out by the concerns of the “baby boomers” and pension recipients. While lots of these generations are starting to recognise the importance of Climate Change, it’s just not as far up the agenda as it is for us. So it’s important that young people are active and vocal during election times, sharing that they voted, asking friends to vote, asking family to vote on climate, and asking politicians what their plans are for climate. 
    • Politics doesn’t end at the polls. Remember that whoever wins the election, whether you voted for them or not, is representing you. That means that they are obligated to listen to your views and take them seriously. Different organisations (https://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/; https://www.writetothem.com/ ) help people find their representatives and send emails and letters about what they care about. 
  • As activists… Groups like Extinction Rebellion have garnered both praise and criticism for their style of protest2, from environmentalists and opponents alike. Being an environmentalist is more than just one thing, and as this movement gains momentum, we need to be careful of gatekeeping3 environmentalism. You can be just as much an environmentalist if you eat meat or are vegan, if you have a bike or a car, and if you’re out on the streets or sharing climate facts with those around you, and it’s never helpful to criticise or accuse people of not being a good enough environmentalist. The most important thing we can do is come together and multiply our power, in whatever shape it takes, rather than allow ourselves to be divided. 
  • As learners… Striking for Climate is a last resort. No child wants to or should be out of school, but the Fridays 4 Future demonstrated that something radical was needed and gained the attention of politicians (and parents) who finally sat up to take notice. In an ideal world, they don’t have to strike. But we can ask our teachers and politicians to integrate climate change into the curriculum and teach climate change and justice to a new generation. 

COP 26 has frustrated young people and activists alike today by both organisationally and politically excluding the voices that are most affected by the climate crisis. Let’s just find some hope in the fact that there are millions of people outside of those rooms who are still shouting, regardless of what happens inside. 

It’s not easy to continue to fight for climate justice today, and William Shakespeare’s quote seems appropriate: “(the young and) the miserable have no other medicine but only hope”. Hope in a greener, more just and more sustainable world that we will never stop fighting for. 

By Marie Allen, Aubrey McKinnon, and Piotr Habrajski

1Greta was speaking from inside COP 24, where she desperately asked leaders to take action. This year, she’s given up on that, and her space outside COP 26 is with the activists and the young people, where she says, “that is not leadership. This is leadership.” 

2Extinction Rebellion are a people-led movement with a general assembly structure designed to allow individuals shape the movement themselves based on their interests and local issues, as well as their preferred style of protest. Unfortunately, they have had a persistent lack of diversity in many groups and there are some fair criticisms of parts of the English leadership. Controversial actions have further tarnished their image. Due to its decentralised nature, XR is very different region by region (XR Scotland has coped much more effectively with diversity) and has had some uniquely powerful protests. 

3Gatekeeping is the practice of controlling, and usually limiting or preventing, someone’s access to something.