Mobilised Youth: how the next generation is raising its voice on climate

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This article is part of the Forum Network series on International Co-operation. The Forum Network is the place for you to debate policies that can shape the issues and challenges of our time with other experts and engaged citizensJoin for free using your email or social media accounts to share your stories, ideas and expertise in the comments!

On 2 December, 2018, 80,000 people marched on the streets of Brussels to demand Belgium sign the “High Ambition Coalition” of COP24.

Two days later, when the Federal Climate Minister flew to the COP – in her private jet – Belgium and the Czech Republic were the only two countries that didn’t sign.


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From that moment on, Belgium became a roller coaster of strikes and rebellious actions from angry youth. A movement of youth for climate was born.

For more than 20 weeks, thousands of young people came on the streets but our governments did not answer our calls for a concrete climate plan. Protestors occupied the Belgian Federal Parliament for two days to demand the government to sign a climate law. This is still unsigned.

Questioning the very foundations of our systems might seem very threatening, but it is the only way to build a new one.

Youth For Climate worked together with more than 100 climate experts, scientists, economists and others to develop a climate action plan, a plan that today isn’t used by any of the political parties. This disregard of youth, the voice of the future, and the inaction and carelessness towards the climate crisis is not just a Belgian problem. It is a global problem.

We see politicians all over the world ignoring that the “house is on fire”. Some of them have long and ambitious speeches on how to tackle the big issues, but most show no action. And this is exactly what we need. Action.

Moving Beyond a Future of Fear and Frustration: Just Transition will enable ambitious climate action by Sharan BurrowGeneral Secretary, ITUC


Thinking that climate change is not a crisis is a fatal mistake. But apart from that, thinking that climate change will be a long-term future crisis is even worse. When this happens, we hear things like “We must do this and we must do that...” instead of “We are doing this and we are doing that”. We see it all the time: this is the way our politicians and world leaders are able to minimise the idea of the disaster ahead.

But how can they minimise all of those that have already lost their lives because of climate change? The millions of refugees, the millions of suffering people, the millions of extinct animal species.


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How are we ourselves able minimise this? Because we can’t say that we didn’t know. Science reminds us every day of the urgency of the problem and of humanity being in the midst of a sixth mass extinction. But people are looking away, because that’s the only way possible to still act like business as usual. 

Questioning the very foundations of our systems might seem very threatening, but it is the only way to build a new one. We need to show unprecedented action to overcome the climate crisis. Humanity has never done anything like this before. But who can doubt the extraordinary, unprecedented things that we have already done? 

We made a whole world run on technology in only a decade. We ended not one, but two world wars. And when we put a man on the moon, John F Kennedy said: “We don’t do this because it’s easy, we do this because it’s hard”. 

Choose Your Future: Why cities matter when tackling climate change by Leah LazerResearch Analyst and Project Coordinator, Coalition for Urban Transitions


The difference is that right now the stakes are much higher. If we don’t succeed, humanity will cease to exist. 

So why are we not acting? Why are we so numb and ignorant towards this immense crisis that’s threatening everyone lives? How can some people feel as if this is not their problem, as if this will not harm them and doesn’t concern them?

Amidst global calls for real #ClimateAction, what can governments do? We’re highlighting 5️⃣ key actions in 5️⃣ sectors that governments can take to begin reducing emissions as quickly as possible. Let’s start with 5 ➡️ https://t.co/Wawb7F9l8s #TimeforAction pic.twitter.com/q1FbQTPBFd — OECD ➡️ Better policies for better lives (@OECD) December 10, 2019

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Not caring about the climate crisis equals not knowing about the climate crisis. Because if you know, you care. If you could actually “see” the people that are suffering, the animal species that are dying, the natural fauna and flora that are disappearing…you’d care.

2020 Vision: The super year for the planet (and ourselves) by Marco LambertiniDirector General, WWF International


This will be our biggest challenge.

Making sure people know, and by that, making sure they care. 

Because if we care, it’s unimaginable to think of everything we could do. Together. 

Related Topics

Climate Sustainable Development Goals

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Anuna De Wever Van der Heyden

Co-founder, Youth for Climate Belgium

Anuna De Wever Van der Heyden was born in 2001 and finished high school (human sciences) in June 2019. Realising that she would not be able to vote during the Belgian and European elections in May 2019 (because she only turns 18 in June), she decided to find another way of having her voice heard. Her main and most pressing concern is the way in which climate change is threatening human existence and cultures all over the world. Further the injustice that those who have the smallest ecological footprint will suffer most from the catastrophes, the global poor living in the south, made her realise that countries who can make a change, should make a change - now. The sense of urgency among Ms De Wever Van der Heyden's generation is overwhelming and she has followed Greta Thunberg's footsteps by starting school strikes for the climate. Starting in January 2019 in her home country, Belgium, she drew crowds of ten of thousands of students week after week. These strikes have now been going for several months and have had the biggest impact on Belgian politics of any movement since the beginning of this century. Together with Ms Thunberg, she has turned these strike into a global movement. Ms De Wever Van der Heyden was also present during Ms Thunberg's visit to Paris, when they joined the first French school strike, and wants to continue with school strikes until her country is in line with the Paris Agreement.

4 Comments

Go to the profile of Chris Hoenig
Chris Hoenig 9 months ago

Anuna, After meeting you and hearing your message of inspiration and action at the OECD Forum this year, many of us were determined to take responsibility for raising our collective game in world society. Your thoughtful article here outlines yet more reasons for fundamental change in the systems by which humans govern the world, but it is your actions which speak loudest.  I hope you see the Campaign for Universal Human Responsibilities, which we launched today here on the OECD Forum Network, as a direct outgrowth of your own work, and we hope you will join us in the cause. Our blessings to you for your courage, your humility and your unyielding efforts on behalf of all of us who call Earth "home."

Go to the profile of Samuel Bbosa
Samuel Bbosa 9 months ago

Great vision Anuna! Someone must do something beyond the rhetoric by especially the political class if climate change discourse is to have meaning. It is this strong urge to do something about the situation that 'College-to-Work Africa'  was conceived recently to mobilise youth towards sustainable development and stimulate their interest in green enterpreneurship and related skills - officially to start work early next year in Uganda with plans to spread across the African region, especially sub-Saharan Africa.

Go to the profile of Alfonso Giuliano Navarro Carvallo

In my opinion we do not have culture and education in sustainable development, we are afraid of the risk of changing things, we want to be in the comfort zone but the planet says the opposite is time to act.

Go to the profile of Peter Kraneveld
Peter Kraneveld 9 months ago

Two messages from a retired granddad, un vieux crouton.

There are in fact many supporters of your movement that are not in your age class. Let me give you my own reasoning as an example. In 2030 my children will be 53 and 51. The easy part of climate change will be over. The path will look attainable and holdout countries will change or become pariahs. Their gardens will be dead and they will be spending more on energy and water. If all goes well and they will not go well without significant change. In 2050, my granddaughters will be 35 and 39. If things have not been arranged, they may be fugitives or slowly cooking to death by over 50°C temperatures. Do I accept that? No way. My message: broaden your support base. A child with a microphone is at least as effective as a child and her grandmother standing hand in hand before a microphone.

Politicians react to masses of voters. Many of those don't support you, which diminishes your political weight, in spite of being right and activist. I think the principal reason is fear of change. That fear is so strong that there is a whole political movement devoted to it: conservatism. Originally, it was something like "if it ain't broke don't fix it". It has become a caricature of that, truly a movement that fears change. Don't attack the conservatives. It is of no use. Learn how to handle their fear of change.

I leave it to you to figure out how my two messages overlap.