WEAll News

Systems Change at Youth4Climate – a report back from Milan

Tags: cop26, united nations, y4c, youthforclimate
Published on October 14, 2021

By: Albin Wilson 

On September 28- 30, 380 youth from 190 countries gathered in Milan, Italy for the Pre-COP 26, Youth4Climate summit. As one of the two Swedish representatives, I was excited to meet the many global representatives, and understand how my peers were demanding for   governments to act on climate. 

It is reassuring that  systems change is finally being included in the conversation as it relates to climate, even though no concrete actions are being taken. However, the shift in the conversation allows the discussion to move beyond growth or even green growth, and poke at the conventional understanding of how to address the climate crisis. 

So how can we go about changing the system that we’re so deeply wedded to?

In Greta Thunberg’s speech, she said there is too much ‘blah blah blah’ amongst the leaders who can actually make the radical changes needed. I found it unique to this summit that as youth, we don’t have politics to play. Therefore, we didn’t hold back in the honesty of our experiences or calls to action.

In fact, we were encouraged to speak our minds, express our concerns and push hard for the changes that we want to see in the world – all without being withheld by a political agenda. 

However, there was tension amongst the attendees. Some of us have grandiose ideas for the future, while others are focused on what can get done today. Both of course are important – but for some, including myself, it felt the proposals being given may not be achievable in our lifetime.

Which gives me pause because if I feel this way, I can foresee leaders in high positions of power throwing out some of the proposed ideas if they seem too impractical in their eyes. This surfaces another tension – how can youth continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible (as it’s our futures that are most threatened), without pushing the boundaries so far that our proposals are considered impractical? 

I reflected a bit on my key takeaways from the conference which I’ve listed below:

  1. The proposals are still too transitional. We’re making policy proposals that are 10-20 years out. I was struck that we needed to also be thinking in terms of what we can do tomorrow. 
  2. Voices of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Indigenous communities are the most important voices in the room. Hearing the stories from these youth that are most significantly impacted by changes in climate validated the thinking that these perspectives are the most important to listen to. Not only does their entire environment shift, but their way of life shifts as well. We have a responsibility to attend to the needs of these communities, as they are often the ones who have contributed the least to climate degradation.
  3. The policy proposals that we created are not specific enough. We need more concrete actions to act on climate. However, this is the sacrifice that is made when we’re drafting policy  proposals that are inclusive of the entire world. How can we ensure everyone is included, while also ensuring that the policy is radical enough? 
  4. Climate technology must be looked at more seriously. We’re deep in our current system – and the solution cannot be just to stop everything and allow the planet to regenerate. We must use technologies that exist to support the transition. This requires us to lean into the opportunities out there – and the possibilities that technology has to offer.
  5. Financing must dramatically change. From government grants, private equity funds and venture capital firms, the financial bottom line is entirely insufficient. We cannot continue to fund growth as the end, rather than a means to the end. What’s unclear is the shared vision of the end we are aspiring to create. If we can agree, in this circumstance, that we’d like to live on a healthy planet, then the funding needs to begin to move swiftly in that direction. 

Some of the key moments are captured below:

This work is complex. It’s disheartening to listen to the perspectives of youth whose livelihoods are most impacted by our deteriorating climate. And we need to move with urgency for those people. The fact that this event even occurred proves that the narrative is changing. Never before have future generations been considered a key voice in these conversations, and now we’re leading them. This is the beginning of a culture shift which influences behavior and ultimately can change the system. I hope the proposals that we developed are taken into consideration and the leading governments stop the ‘blah blah blah’ and take the drastic changes needed to build better lives for future generations.  

To tune into the conversations from Y4C click here.

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