This past February, youth from across the United Kingdom stood in solidarity with their Swedish peers by ditching school and mobilizing a mass protest over their Conservative government’s poor response to climate change. The protest included student groups from over 60 cities in the U.K., from ‘Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands,’ as CNN reports. These actions echoed strong support for Greta Thunberg, whose frank speech at the United Nations climate talks (COP24)—in which she told political leaders that they ‘were not mature enough’ to deal with climate change—culminated in her weekly sit-ins at the Swedish parliament.
School protests have since sprung up across Europe, Australia and the United States, and there are no signs that they will go away anytime soon. The global movement, known as the “Youth Strike 4 Climate”, gained momentum last October following the publication of a landmark report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warned of catastrophic consequences if humanity fails to act on climate change within the next 12 years. These include worsening food shortages, rising sea levels, floods and wildfire. An intern at The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC), Christiana Agustin, noticed these trends and interviewed her colleagues at the International Forestry Students Association (IFSA). Christiana aptly noted that, “Youth have been engaged in the climate change conversation for years, yet their voices are often not heard”. In her article, Christiana and the IFSA students made it clear that they strongly believe that more “youth must be engaged to prepare for the future, especially those in South-East Asia and developing countries [who] will be affected by climate change more”.
It is time that these youth voices are not only heard, but also amplified. This March, RECOFTC and its partners, including FAO, UN Environment and the UN-REDD Programme, will commemorate the International Day of Forests (IDF) with IFSA, students from Kasetsart University and other educational centers in Bangkok. While the theme of this year’s IDF- “Forests and Education” - is not on climate change per se, it is clear to all involved that youth engagement on climate change is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. As Desmond Deh, IFSA representative to RECOFTC and The Forest Dialogue, stated, “Students and youth are closer to the ground. They know what is going on at the local level”.
While the movement to halt deforestation and forest degradation is certainly growing, the community at the heart of improving forest governance is not doing enough in my view to engage and hear the voice of our students and youth. This can be attributed to the fundamental misunderstanding of what good governance is and how to get involved. Organizations like RECOFTC, FAO, and others have been working to define good forest governance for decades. Governance, a cross-cutting theme, is now at the heart of achieving Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly in assuring rural economic growth and poverty reduction. Forestry education, and education as a whole, must teach our youth the proper principles of governance so that they know where and when to get involved.
The United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD Programme) and the FAO-EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Programme serve as prime examples. Although both organizations have different mandates, they are in unique positions to work together to strengthen the voice of young people in both processes.
Good forest governance is key to all multi-stakeholder dialogues, and youth involvement extends beyond just the forestry education to other sectors critical to the SDGs. There are a number of successful examples, such as the SDG Youth Network of Sri Lanka, which has been active in raising awareness and speeding up the implementation of the SDGs. Similar initiatives are underway through ASEAN with its ASEAN MY World 2030 Advocacy Programme and through innovative Youth for SDGs conferences like the one hosted by the Wells School in Bangkok. The Asia-Pacific region is particularly well-represented with initiatives like UNDP’s 2030 Youth Force.
Lastly, the one area (and likely most powerful) where youth can get involved is in their roles as consumers. Education and its institutions are important arenas to display this power. Whether it is walking out of class, selecting certain courses, or pressuring administrators through other actions, students are able to exert their influence on environmental education. In addition, youth may learn from online climate change modules such as those provided by RECOFTC, UNESCO and the REDD+ Academy. And beyond academics, students are leading the way by buying plastic free alternatives, thus driving change through action. These are all key examples of students taking principles of good governance, education and climate into consideration. The youth of today are the future of tomorrow. Their actions, as both consumers and producers, are in a position where change can start anew.
RECOFTC looks forward to continuing its engagement with both REDD+ and FLEGT in building capacities and understandings amongst educators and students alike. It starts with the youth, and it starts with education.
About the author:
Executive Director, the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC)
Dr. David Ganz has over 28 years of experience in natural resource management including several years working in Asia on large-scale natural resource management and biomass energy projects. Before joining The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC), David served as the Chief of Party on SERVIR-Mekong, a joint initiative between USAID and NASA aimed at developing geospatial data to respond to the environmental and disaster needs of the region. Prior to SERVIR-Mekong, David was Winrock’s Chief of Party on USAID’s Lowering Emissions in Asia’s Forests (USAID LEAF) Programme, where RECOFTC served as a key partner. He is a graduate of two distinguished community forestry institutions, holding a BSc from UC Berkeley, and a MSc and PhD from Yale University. He has successfully taken these skills into project management of international organizations including The Nature Conservancy, FAO, IUCN and WWF. David has also recently begun to serve as a CSO observer to the UNREDD Executive Program Board representing Asia and the Pacific.