In 2005, at the U.N.’s Montreal Climate Negotiations, a ragtag but sizable delegation showed up at the conference, desperate to make sure that the world heard their call for climate action. The event proved to be a formative time for people involved in the youth climate movement, and many date its launch to that time. In a conference notable for acronyms and obscure policy jargon, the youth activism was like a breath of fresh air.
While delegates bemoaned the lack of action in the United States, there was an outpouring of activism and creative organizing — like the launch of It’s Getting Hot in Here — that made many of them think if the young people care so much in the U.S., maybe there is still hope to get them engaged.
Well, the youth are back and badder than ever.
International youth activists are coming with a deep understanding of the policy and political process, skills with digital organizing technology that have shocked the traditional NGO campaigners, and large activist bases supporting them in their home countries. Groups like the Energy Action Coalition, which pulled off this fall’s Power Shift 2007 conference, the largest citizen conference on global warming ever, and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, have emerged as a major force for action on global warming.
The ability to drive media coverage, pressure governmental delegations, and inspire action back home is a powerful element of why the youth delegation is so strong; another is the fact that the political climate in countries like the U.S. and Australia has changed so much. The shifts over the past year in the U.S. and Australia, two key blockers of progress for an international climate agreement, have driven home how fast the pressure for action is growing. The opponents of strong climate action seem to be dwindling, while climate campaigners are being joined by new allies, such as anti-poverty and humanitarian groups, that see global warming as the biggest threat to the livelihoods of the most vulnerable people in the world.
So while so many cameras are being pointed at the youth activists for their actions around the conference, the real story is playing out in an impromptu space dubbed “The Bunker,” where international youth climate activists are unified in a strategy to force world leaders to recognize that young people have the most at stake and must be heard. They are organizing both online and offline, and working to launch a global youth climate movement that can focus the world’s attention. In the bureaucratic mess that is any large U.N. conference, the seeds are being laid for a movement that hopes to shake the world. After all, it is our future that is at stake — and what could be bigger than that?