Empowering Youth To Become Agents Of Change In Climate Crisis

Empowering Youth To Become Agents Of Change In Climate Crisis

Empowering Youth To Become Agents Of Change In Climate Crisis

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Across the world as the climate crisis goes from theory to a reality with floods, massive forest fires and many other climate emergencies, governments and individuals are embracing the wisdom that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, but rather borrow it from our children. When we see the challenge from that perspective, the role of the youth in furthering the conversation on sustainable development is more important than ever before. And the issue is critical—according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by 2040, the world will have warmed an additional 1.5 degrees Celsius. Every other problem we face as societies seem to pale in comparison to the climate crisis.

To foster a positive change, youth are crucial to facilitating large-scale change. Young people are likely to be most impacted by climate change and they also have the power to turn this around by contributing to achieving the climate goals necessary to meet the challenge.

Flip the Switch is a unique and popular podcast series by Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) and Smart Power India, to exchange ideas, knowledge and solutions impacting the progress in achieving universal access to clean and reliable energy. The latest episode deep dives into mainstreaming the role of young people in energy and climate. And there are few people more qualified to do that than eminent young climate activist Eduarda Zoghbi, a political scientist and alumni of Columbia University. Zoghbi was also recently selected for the Atlantic Council's Women Leaders in Energy Fellowship and led the expansion of Columbia University's Women in Energy programme to Brazil. She discussed with us the challenges of the impact of climate on future generations. She also explained the importance of youth, especially young women, joining this process to shape better policies through technology deployment and reach rural communities and those most vulnerable. She also presented viable solutions for bringing about actual change.

Zoghbi's passionate plea throughout the conversation focused on the importance of education, innovation and technological development as central to fixing the climate crisis. "The conflicts we see today for natural resources are going to be exacerbated," she emphasised.

She sees the energy sector as crucial for future decarbonization. "Two thirds of the global population do not have proper access to electricity. In Africa, the population under 35 represents almost a billion people, accounting to 23% of the world's total youth population and Asia has 58% of the world's youth. So, when thinking of solutions, we must ask ourselves how can we integrate young people in all continents to be part of the solution? How can they lead a decarbonized society through adequate support, finance, mentorship from leaders?" Zoghbi thinks it is therefore vital to engage young people in various levels of education.

The role of youth is key

When asked about the role of youth in climate intervention, Zoghbi believes green jobs hold the answer. "As part of networks such as Student Energy, the SDG7 Youth Constituency and BRICS Youth Energy Agency, we work together from the bottom up, talking to local governments, reviewing policy documents and consulting with young people on what they want to see in the transition."

She reminisces that as a climate activist in the early 2000s, when she was just 12, it was inconceivable to visit law enforcement agencies. But now she is witness to the massive change of how more and more young people are involved in every sphere and aspect of society working with climate issues. "We are in the process of building the capacity of future leaders and working with young people across countries to empower them to understand what climate change means."

And Zoghbi insists that young people make a huge difference —"We have enough data to say that young people are the most threatened generation as they are the most vulnerable to climate change. We need young people to learn at an early stage how to discuss challenges in a multicultural environment, negotiate and represent the interests of their countries at a global level."

Getting women involved

But she also warned about the urgency of the situation, "To change the world, we need to act immediately. Young people must adopt renewable energy solutions to tackle climate change and work with policymakers and businesses to make a difference." However, in her experience, she stated that not enough emphasis is being given to involving young women in conversations.

"There is an issue not just in terms of integrating women and having them participate in the process, but also in decision making. For example, public lighting is a critical factor in protecting women in their daily lives related to energy access. But women barely make the cut as urban planners, architects and engineers involved in placing public lighting in cities. All stakeholders should seek to create space for women and young people in all industries to participate in developing our world's energy future."

She explained that there is an absence of a gender lens in policymaking in most countries; women in global parliaments are barely visible. "In Brazil, I think we rank 153 out of 180 countries in terms of female participation in Congress. We have fewer than 12% of women involved in decision-making positions."

Zoghbi urged energy organizations and companies to offer opportunities to young women. Her conversations with undergrad women through 'Women in Energy Brazil' have made her understand the lack of work opportunities for young women in the energy sector.

"Gender lens is crucial if we want women to occupy a larger space in the energy industry. Consider gender and energy as together: One is female participation in the workforce, especially in decision- making positions, but also acknowledging women's role as energy consumers, different than men's responsibilities."

The affordability question

While it is essential to democratize energy access for all stakeholders, Zoghbi also emphasized the affordability issue due to the surge in energy prices. "Introducing electric vehicles to countries is an excellent move towards reducing carbon footprint, but we forget that most communities are struggling to survive. We must look at affordability, how to shape demand, view energy tariffs, models that work and those that do not. In my experience, Latin American and African countries have led the solar energy movement to enable low cost for communities."

In this era of universal access, one must remember that no country is immune to climate change. "Energy is a catalyst to improve people's lives and should not be treated as an object." When asked about her vision of a constructive, climate-empathetic workforce in the future, Zoghbi highlighted the Global Youth Energy Outlook study, where youth from across the world are interviewed on how they can make a difference by transforming an idea into action.

"While there is hope and opportunity, much needs to be done by governments, businesses and civil society organizations in imparting energy education, training and mentorship to youth and women to become sustainable energy consumers and energy leaders in the future.