This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
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Over the last few years, environmental activism is increasingly involving young people. Unsurprisingly, the fight against climate change has become associated with the bold and brave faces of adolescents around the globe, including Greta Thunberg, Xiye Bestida and Adenike Oladosu. Despite their young age, young activists are shaking world leaders’ consciences on how global economies and policies need to reflect our climate goals.
When COVID-19 first hit, a profound sense of silence invaded the community of young environmental activists, particularly those who had made schools and student activism the core of their campaigns. As the places they gathered were shut down, young people’s inner aspirations were paused, together with the idealism of their most historical battles.
This year, the Youth engagement group of the G7 (Y7) had the honourable task of gathering the young people’s voices silenced by the COVID-19 restrictions. Young people remained worried that the proposed economic packages would fail to capture our climate ambitions and seize the opportunities offered by a green transition.
Find out more about the OECD's International Programme for Action on Climate providing policy advice and sharing best practices to support countries’ efforts to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement
In this peculiar moment of silence, the Y7 delegates made clear that young people’s priorities must be discussed at the negotiating table of the 2021 G7. Held in Cornwall in the United Kingdom from 11-13 June, the leaders of the seven most industrialised countries were urged to address the ambitious demands of the youth. This year, the Y7 delegations developed policy recommendations on the global economy, digital technologies, health, and climate and the environment, all of which made up the proposals for this year’s ambitious communiqué.
2021 appears to be at a crossroad of important events for climate and the environment—and a year which could pave the way for an unprecedented international response. The United Kingdom will also chair COP26 in November, where the Paris Agreement paradigms on carbon emissions are expected to be clarified. COP26 will be co-chaired by Italy, which also holds the G20 presidency, and its 2021 motto “People, planet and prosperity” should be the focus of the international community’s recovery measures. Finally, in October China, an increasingly committed and crucial global player, will host the 15th Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, to finalise the decade’s objectives to reverse the degradation of biodiversity and nature.
Read more on the Forum Network: "A Breaking Point with the Past: Why young people must shape a sustainable future" by Alberta Pelino, Chair of the Y20 Italy
The Y7 wanted to set the pace for this ambitious recovery ahead of all the international gatherings that will happen in the next few months. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that effective international mobilisation and co-operation is not utopian. Countries and their respective leaders, bureaucracies and scientific communities can work together and share their best practices. It was thanks to this openness that first examples of aid arrived, patients could count on doctors from foreign delegations and, finally, vaccines were developed and globally rolled out.
There is an opportunity to use the sense of emergency that fuelled this global response to COVID-19 to help us combat the climate and environmental crises. The massive impact of human activities, reflected in tremendous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and man-made environmental degradation, are among the major causes of natural disasters that continue to be important concerns for young people across the G7.
The Y7 is calling for the world's most influential leaders to follow a three-step plan for the years to come, to ensure a green recovery while building sustainable and inclusive societies.
Read the report "The long-term environmental implications of COVID-19" and see the latest OECD data for #ClimateAction, recommendations and policy advice on the Green Recovery
Firstly, we must approach the climate and biodiversity crises with the same prompt resoluteness that we faced the COVID-19 pandemic with. Over the last few years, data and monitoring capabilities have been boosted, yet the political will is still lacking; the latter will be needed to define these crises as global, both in environmental and humanitarian terms. The Y7 delegates are calling for international intervention, co-ordinated by the G7 countries, to protect the most vulnerable communities, identifying the natural disasters affecting them as a direct consequence of human activities.
Secondly, the patterns of these human activities must be reversed. The Y7 is calling for the reimagination of our economic future, one that prioritises the sustainable management of our natural resources. In Italy, for example, one in three young people are profoundly worried about deforestation, and the same proportion cares about biodiversity loss (data collected through an online questionnaire to Italian young people, aged 14-30, between March and April 2021). The Y7 proposals include incentivising a sustainable agricultural system as a source for youth employment. Harmonising the deployment of renewable energy technologies and recycling batteries is also an important issue that still lacks international attention. Young people also want to see more comprehensive regulations to protect international waters—the world’s richest and most extensive ocean resources that as yet are under no one’s jurisdiction, and at risk of depletion.
Thirdly, global leaders must firmly commit to stop funding carbon-intensive and biodiversity-unfriendly activities. While several commitments have been made so far, 2021 is an opportunity to finally set the pace at which finance flows can be redirected towards net-zero and nature-positive activities.
The Y7 is joining voices with the numerous other engagement groups of the G7 (Business, Women, Civil Society, Science, and Labour), to advocate for the type of society we want to leave to future generations. In our way of “making waves”, this year we strongly believe that it is crucial to shape the world’s post-pandemic recovery through green, inclusive, and sustainable lenses. We owe it to the future inhabitants of our planet.
We call on all G7 leaders to take action on the youth recommendations. We also need to encourage the broader and more inclusive participation of our fellow citizens to make our voices heard following the Cornwall negotiations. To find out more, visit the Future Leaders Network website.
|Tackling COVID-19||Green Recovery||Intergenerational Solidarity||International Co-operation|
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