Collective efforts for far-reaching changes (climate change) are possible and realistic should politicians choose to listen to the voice of their young people.
Students at New Delhi at another interaction with with Prof Mathew Hibberd
The 22nd United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, COP22 marks the 22nd yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21). Post the historic CoP21 held in Paris on November 30, 2015, India became the 62nd country to ratify the Paris deal with 14 more countries committing to ratify the deal before the end of 2016. With the ratification, “India has to implement an array of standards in its energy production and emission monitoring. India had also linked the ratification of the treaty to its admission to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Getting the agreement implemented is a key strategic objective that President Barack Obama has set for himself before he leaves office in less than four months.” (The Hindu, October 2, 2016).
Against such a backdrop, as the world waits for the ratification from other countries so that the Agreement meets the need of slightly more than 3 percentage points to reach the 55 per cent threshold, it is pertinent to ask where does youth stand, against such a backdrop, in their understanding and perception of the climate issues. Our study, “ClimateAction: Youth Voices – A Four Nation Report” conducted across four nations, two Asian and two European — India, Vietnam, Italy and the UK — by the University of Stirling, Scotland and Centre for Environment Communication, New Delhi brings into sharp focus the pressing need to engage the youth into climate change talks to understand and platform their ideas, expectations and solutions to a cleaner climate.
The now worldwide Divestment Campaign is a powerful example of youth action for a clean climate. The divestment campaign which began on US college campuses in 2011 slowly grew into a nationwide divestment campaign with more than 400 US colleges and universities joining in. To quote the Guardian: “The speed at which the fossil fuel divestment campaign is growing seems to have rattled its opponents in the coal and oil lobbies.” So why not involve more and more youth to create a cleaner climate? What do the young people across the four nations involved in our study think about climate change?
Students at New Delhi interact with Prof Mathew Hibberd
The ClimateAction: Youth Voices – Four Nation Report finds out that today’s youth believes they will inherit a deteriorating environmental situation from older generations, with some arguing that the young generation will be required to pay a greater price for profligacy of earlier generations. There was, however, uneven knowledge of key events relating to climate change. For example, some of our focus group members had not heard about the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (CoP) in Paris in November 2015. Only a small minority of focus group participants were actively involved in climate change campaigns. There was clear support for focus group findings that young people lack resources to take effective action; do not practice daily rituals that might be more eco-friendly; and that the lack of immediacy means that relevance of climate change to daily lives remains low.
An international binding agreement was considered vital in tackling key ecological problems of the 21st century. But many argued that when it comes to action there is still a lack of political will relating to the enforcement of climate change agreements. Youth from Europe and Asia remain pessimistic to the international community’s ability to implement such an agreement.
Youth look to definitive leadership and institutional support as a key ongoing requirement for climate change and look to local, national and international institutions, public and private, to provide that the stewardship and, crucially, the funding for infrastructural projects and services that can affect real environmental change. Their viewpoint came with the expectation of a substantive and viable solution at Paris, the absence of which, they said, would not only have a disastrous impact on environmental issues but would also undermine key social problems which, to their minds, have been worsened by climate change. One problem highlighted was the issue of migration where participants see a direct and causal link between mass movements of people, crop failure, extreme weather and climate change. Another pertinent issue was that of ‘free riders’ — those who seek to evade responsibility for climate change whether they are individuals or nations. Climate change is a collective issue requiring societal solutions that go beyond individual involvement.
The world’s poorest are seen to be disproportionately affected by climate change. This, paradoxically, lessens the importance of climate change among some, especially in India and Vietnam, as fighting poverty remains the key issue. There was strong support across focus groups for advanced national economies in the West, the USA, Canada, Europe, etc., to support the developing countries through financial or technical support in adopting climate change initiatives. While the UN was seen to be a key mediator in coming to a successful climate agreement, yet the dependence of its decision on the unanimity among its five permanent members — China, France, Russia, UK and USA — was seen to somewhat weaken its authority.
Youth across the four nations have come to believe that all the major institutions of our modern societies have largely failed to engage them in climate change issues, let alone to motivate and mobilise them into changing their behaviours towards more climate-conscious lifestyles. One of the prominent problems identified in this research is that common visions or mutual understandings of climate change have remained difficult to execute properly, whether one looks at international agreements or initiatives in affecting behavioural change.
It should be noted, however, that the cause for audience skepticism and pessimism found in this research is not simply due to the failure of the major institutions involved in the tackling of climate change. The story is, arguably, far more complex than lack of relevancy or a perceived lack of leadership or green-washing and so on. It relates more to deep-seated social vacuum at the macro and micro level in societies. Many people view climate change messages through ideological or social frameworks in line with their nationality, political beliefs, socio-demographic data – age (of especial importance for this study), gender, class, ethnicity, location, peer group, and so on. Climate change is tied closely to vaguer and contested notions of national, regional and local identities, cultural meanings and values and audience dissemination of texts and images. As such, climate change communications stretch beyond the realm of science, government policy and targets. As the Alliance of Religion and Conservation argues:
The emphasis on consumption, economics and policy usually fails to engage people at any deep level because it does not address the narrative, the mythological, the metaphorical or the existence of memories of past disasters and the way out (quoted in Hulme, 2009: 356).
Climate change communications, in other words, might generate much stronger impacts in communities if they speak to the reality of people’s life in a subtle, more “naturalised” way. The agreement at the Paris CoP needs to be ratified and enforced in ways that different people can understand and adopt. Key to this process are the leading industrialised countries and the leading developing nations such as BRICS. Special hope has been placed in President Obama to lead the USA and help secure success thus reinforcing his legacy as a forward-looking and progressive democratic president.
While young people are hopeful of the Paris Agreement being successfully ratified and implemented, they are also realistic enough to understand that all countries need to make major changes and sacrifices in order to help secure a better chance of limiting the damaging and pernicious impacts of climate change. Collective efforts for far-reaching changes are possible and realistic should politicians choose to listen to the voice of their young people.