We now have the largest generation of youth in history, with 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10-24 and nearly 90% of these youths living in developing nations where consequences of climate change are having the biggest impact. Extreme weather events are projected to be a major consequence of climate change that will affect the health and safety of the population in these areas, and already across Africa droughts and floods have led to millions becoming displaced.
This growing awareness around the climate crisis has led to “eco-anxiety” – the fear of environmental doom – particularly prevalent among children and young adults. In 2021, the largest scientific study on how the climate crisis has impacted young people found that nearly six in ten are worried about the future, with four in ten hesitant to have children based on this fear.
While young people are victims of the climate crisis, many are harnessing this awareness and passion to be a force for good. The ability to connect easily and on a global scale has meant that younger generations, many of whom feel failed by governments, are coming together to be at the forefront of climate action.
We saw it at COP26 in Glasgow where thousands of youths took to the streets to demand climate action as part of the Fridays for Future movement, and the views of over 40,000 young climate leaders were shared with negotiators and COP officials.
This Friday for Future movement was started by Greta Thunberg, one of the most well-known youth voices in climate action. Greta’s campaign, which began with her sitting in front of the Swedish parliament steps every school day for three weeks, has inspired young people globally and similar strikes have happened in over 8.6 thousand cities.
While Greta is one of the world’s most well-known young campaigners, there are many others around the world who are using their voices and taking a stand.
We need intergenerational solutions to tackle the climate crisis; harnessing the dynamism and passion of youth and combining that with the experience and knowledge of older generations.
Here are just five of those changemakers and their view on the impact younger generations have on climate action:
Clover Hogan, 22
At 22, Clover Hogan is helping turn eco-anxiety among young people into action.
She is the Founder and Executive Director of Force of Nature, an organisation that is supporting young people to convert panic over the climate crisis into empowerment. Force of Nature works with businesses and educational organisations to create solutions that involve the voices of young people.
While supporting students in over 50 countries to make their voices heard, Clover has also worked with Fortune 500 companies, spoken at TED talks, and has connected with global climate change voices from the 14th Dalai Lama to Dr Jane Goodall.
In her TED talk from early 2021, Clover asked whether it was any wonder that mental health problems were on the rise when younger generations are told they are the last to save the face of humanity, despite not being the ones who created the problem.
Clover is working to shift this narrative to one that is more empowering. “Neither despair nor denial helps anyone,” she said, “they cause us to shut down, to remove ourselves from the picture. Denial erases our responsibility, despair lumps us with all of it.”
Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the climate crisis, Clover wants to empower younger generations to rewrite the stories that have caused inaction. In her view, this is the single most powerful thing that can be done for the planet and for ourselves.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 22
As well as a successful hip-hop career, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, who is also known as X, is an environmental activist who served as youth director of Earth Guardians, an organisation which empowers young people to be climate justice leaders.
Martinez is also a plaintiff in the Juliana vs United States lawsuit which challenges the US government for failing to act against climate change.
As well as speaking about the impacts of fossil fuel usage on indigenous and marginalised communities, Xiuhtezcatl advocates for youth empowerment and education as the key to tackling the climate crisis.
“The power comes from us – the people,” he says, “and our generation is rising to protect the Earth and create the world we deserve to inherit.”
Tooled with the right knowledge and empowerment, Xiuhtezcatl believes youths can be at the forefront of humanity’s most unifying moment.
Xiye Bastida, 20
Born and raised in Mexico as part of the Otomi-Toltec indigenous peoples, Xiye Bastida is a Spirit of the UN award winner who is passionate about making climate action more inclusive. Sitting on the administration committee of the Peoples Climate Movement and as one of the main organisers for Fridays for Future in New York City, she is driven to highlight indigenous and immigrant visibility in the climate movement.
Xiye sees younger generations as key to bringing a sense of urgency to the climate movement and is a strong advocate for incorporating climate change into the education system to empower these voices. “We see that the world around us is actually deteriorating, and we’re not going to be able to live in a world that is clean and stable. That’s why youth are rising up.” she said.
Luisa Neubauer, 26
Luisa Neubauer is one of the co-organisers of Fridays for Future in Germany and is often seen as the face of the movement in the country.
From an early age, Luisa has been involved in many campaigns and organisations from a Youth Ambassador at ONE, part of the Fossil Free campaign and the Hunger Project, to a campaign called Divest! Withdraw your money! Which successfully saw the University of Göttingen withdraw investments from companies making money from oil, coal or gas.
Some of her advice for young people is to connect with nature, join a movement, take to the streets, push for systemic change and learn lessons from the pandemic.
“Generations have failed us. If we don’t do this, they won’t,” she says.
Elizabeth Wathuti, 26
Kenyan climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti is a Green Climate Fund Youth Champion, and the founder of the Green Generation Initiative, a youth-led association helping to support nature-based solutions.
Elizabeth is determined to empower communities and young people to find practical solutions to end the ecological and climate crisis.
Having seen first-hand the impact of the climate crisis in Kenya, Elizabeth urged leaders at CO26 to stop acting selfishly and to consider how inaction costs the next generation. She commented, “[young people] don’t have to be put into such a situation where we have to beg and demand action from the leaders, yet they are the ones who are in power, they’re the ones who have the resources that we don’t even have.”