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Young people inspire progress on climate change

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By Duncan Strachan and Emma Lidstrom Duncan Strachan


Published 11 November 2022


Young people exert a powerful influence on global climate change negotiations. Ever since Greta Thunberg emerged as an articulate and persuasive advocate for greater climate action, their voices – and actions – have forced the world to take notice of their demands. For the first time at the UNFCCC COP, the youth and children were allocated their own pavilion – a space to be run by young people to host events and working groups.

António Guterres, UN Secretary General, a major advocate for the youth at COP27, has said:

“My best hope is in young people’s leadership. You have been leading the fight against climate change everywhere … do not give up.”

Yesterday was Youth & Future Generations Day at COP27. The day aimed to showcase youth successes as well as challenges, and provide an opportunity for young people to interact with policymakers and practitioners.

The 17th UN Climate Change Conference of Youth (COY17) was held in Egypt just before COP27, on 3-5 November 2022. COY aims to empower young people and bring their voices to the UNFCCC processes to help shape climate change policies. The key points from COY17 were incorporated into a Global Youth Statement presented during the Opening Ceremony of the Youth-led Climate Forum. It is a comprehensive 107 page document outlining key youth led policy demands based around 15 key themes, including climate finance, energy and loss and damage.  

The Glasgow Pact from COP26 invited future presidencies of COP to facilitate an annual youth-led climate forum for dialogue between the parties and young people.  Yesterday morning’s sessions were the response to this, and included two ‘Passing the Baton’ intergenerational panels focusing on loss and damage, mitigation and just and fair transition. Young activists and climate change organisations have repeatedly highlighted these issues, arguing that a fair, intergenerational response to climate damage requires greater contributions from richer countries. It is clear that children and young people in many parts of the world are disproportionally affected by catastrophic climate change events such as floods, heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, and crop failures.

A key announcement was the launch of the Climate Education Coalition, led by earthday.org and already backed by over 100 organisations. It aims to establish climate education in schools worldwide.

Yesterday also saw the publication of ‘10 New Insights in Climate Science’ as part of the science theme of the day. This summarised key insights from the latest climate change-related research and is a brutal reminder (if you need another one…) of what is fueling youth activism.

For example, ‘Fridays for the Future’ is a youth-led global climate strike movement which began in 2018 and now has a global network of climate strikers. In September this year we saw the Climate Justice Camp take place in Tunisia, with an estimated 400 participants from more than 65 countries in the Global South. This is yet another example of the unwavering perseverance of young people in tackling the climate change crisis.

Fittingly, protests also received a lot of attention yesterday. One protest called for the 600 plus fossil fuel representatives to be “kicked out” of COP27 and instead provide a greater voice to African countries and indigenous communities. The size of the fossil fuel lobby at COP27 has been the subject of growing criticism. The summit continues to get a bad press for intimidation of civil society, as well as difficulties in accessing financial support for participants (given extortionate hotel fees) and the lack of catering – and water – outside the main governmental zones.

Activists have, however, celebrated some good news with the announcement from Norway’s state-owned energy company Equinor that it would delay plans for a new oil field in the Arctic, showing the fossil fuel lobby is not having things all its own way. Equinor said its decision was based on cost increases due to global inflaiton, but many activists have seen this as a victory.

The story of south London schoolgirl Ella Kissi-Debrah, who died from an asthma attack caused by pollution, was also told to demonstrate the connection between climate change and pollution. Dr Maria Neira, the World Health Organisation’s director of public health and environment, said the climate crisis and health were “intimately connected”. She added: “The price of not taking decisions to fight climate change is paid by our lungs.”

Youth-led and other strikes are expected to continue to grow in size and frequency in the years to come. Insurers need to keep close to these movements as businesses affected by social unrest and disruption often look to insurance policies for cover.

Duncan Strachan, Partner at DAC Beachcroft, commented:

“It is likely that climate activism will become more frequent, with an increased risk of turning violent when combined with other factors such as protests against inequality that we have seen at the centre of protests all over the world in recent years. The impact of climate change is already being felt on society and has been linked to an increased risk of civil unrest.  Insurers need to be aware of this growing risk, particularly in areas most acutely affected by climate change, but there is an opportunity to work with governments and local businesses to help mitigate the risks.”

Intergenerational discussions are paramount in recognizing the complex challenges faced by young people. The hope is that this will accelerate solutions to facilitate an inclusive and ambitious climate future. As the generation that will be most affected by climate change, youth movements will no doubt grow in strength and size. Insurers need to make sure they are alive to this issue, in both considering risks in their portfolios as well as their own climate strategies.  Our young people already form part of and are the future of our work force and they want to work for responsible businesses. Engaging and acting on ESG issues is key to attracting and retaining talent.