Engaging Youth in Climate Action: Overcoming Challenges and Creating Solutions

Apr 26, 2023 | Farah Mohamed, CEO Prince's Trust Canada, and Board Member, Canada's Forest Trust Corporation

My generation sounded the climate alarm, the generation following turned up the volume, and now it’s GenZ and GenAlpha joining the fight and calling for bolder action. Today’s youth demand credibility and commitment to climate change action. They have access to powerful communication channels unlike any previous generation and are increasingly exerting their influence as consumers and voters. And yet, globally, youth are among the most valuable and underrepresented voices in climate action, especially around decision-making tables. 

Youth are genuinely afraid for their future, with burgeoning rates of eco-anxiety and ecological grief clouding their minds. A recent study found that nearly 80 percent of Canadians aged 16 to 25 say climate change impacts their overall mental health. As Alice Hardinge put it, “’the best antidote to anxiety and despair is action,

 

Today’s youth bring skills and perspectives that add real value. 

We will always need seasoned leaders with experience and expertise at our decision-making tables. At the same time, there is power in having new perspectives that don’t necessarily check all the “experience” boxes. All generations of youth have passion, and typically their judgment remains refreshingly unclouded and frank – which is hard to come by in some of the highest decision-making spaces. Our generations had these things as well. And, due to rapid advancements in globalization and digital technology, the younger generations have unique skills and ways of thinking. Those skills and differences in thinking are necessary for our country and companies to remain competitive and innovative. This is what young people bring. They have a vantage point that isn’t accessible to leaders like me. When we allow the perspectives and innovation of youth to collide with seasoned expertise, we are destined to create powerful partnerships. 

 

So what is needed to include youth in today’s decision-making? 

In speaking with many youth, I’ve consistently heard they find engaging difficult due to the need for more structures and systems that make room for their voice. Like any initiative that seeks to benefit from new and different perspectives, remember this: “Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard.”

Creating opportunities for young people to enter and stay in the green economy is vital. We must appreciate that the more traditional education and experience requirements may not always be feasible for young people passionate about climate action. This is why work-integrated learning, partnerships between experienced professionals and young people, and the realistic creation of pathways and opportunities are essential in making the green economy accessible to all. Without the necessary skills-training programs in place, it will become difficult for youth to enter the green workforce because most of these jobs have never existed before. 

 

To all the young people who want to become global climate change-makers, my message is this: Keep going! 

Let your passions guide you, be confident in offering your unique opinions and show up with 100%. Irrespective of age, none of us has everything figured out, so don’t worry about messing up, taking your time or pivoting. Use the power of networking, experiential learning, and mentorships to your favour. Reach out to professionals in your fields of interest, learn from their experiences and lessons, and gain insights that will help shape your future. Also, keep an open mind as new jobs in the green economy continue to grow in every industry. As the CEO, Prince’s Trust Canada and Board Member of Canada’s Forest Trust Corporation I can tell you that these two organizations are actively connecting the dots between future careers, needed skills and real life experiences. 

When I look to the next generation, I am encouraged and excited about the changes they are making. As more young people share their experiences and ideas, our planet will thrive in implementing the right policies, procedures, disclosures and solutions to mitigate the impending impact of a rapidly changing climate. For those of us in senior leadership today, our job now is not to step aside but to make room for these young people at the front of the action in our boardrooms, halls of government, and stakeholder and community decision-making tables. To do so is to set ourselves up for a more sustainable and prosperous future.