By C40 Executive Director Mark Watts

One of the things that keeps me optimistic is that many of the foremost climate leaders influencing political discourse at the local, national, and international levels are under the age of 29. That is why C40 Cities is supporting cities to work with youth on effective climate action that benefits all of us, and why, this London Climate Action Week, I am delighted to announce two new initiatives that empower cities and youth advocates to work with one another towards their shared aims on climate. 

At a time when the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, described national government responses to the threat of climate catastrophe as “pitiful,” young people are – across the world – showing the clarity of vision and consistency of purpose that the crisis demands. 

The “school strike for climate” movement has brought more than 10 million people onto the streets globally to demand climate action, while a US study found that people who report being familiar with the Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg are more willing to take action on climate themselves. Children and young people have brought cases before the UN, The European Court of Human Rights, The Inter-American Commission On Human Rights, and to state and country-level courts demanding action on climate in countries such as Germany, Colombia, the United States, Australia, Peru, the UK, Canada, Austria, India, Indonesia, Ecuador, and Pakistan. Over 4,000 young women have signed up for C40’s Women4Climate online course, which features the Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate and equips women and girls to strengthen their leadership skills. 

We can expect young people to continue to lead on climate, not least because their futures depend on achieving a radical change in the way the world is currently run. It is important, therefore, for mayors to engage with youth to achieve their vision of greener, more equitable cities. Many already are, such as Auckland, which has a youth empowerment team to support youth inclusion in the city’s climate action decision-making processes, and Freetown, which includes youth in its Community Disaster Management Committee and tree planting campaign.

Mayor of London and C40 Chair Sadiq Khan with youth delegates at the Summit venue, Buenos Aires. October 2022
Mayor of London and C40 Chair Sadiq Khan with youth climate leaders at the 2022 C40 World Mayors Summit in Buenos Aires. © Franco Fafasuli / C40

City governments are also working with young people through C40’s Students Reinventing Cities and Schools Reinventing Cities competitions, which train the next generation of professionals in sustainable urban development. Young people are invited to reimagine real-life urban spaces and devise solutions to some of the most pressing urban climate challenges, transforming places into green and thriving neighbourhoods. Five C40 cities – Buenos Aires, London, Medellín, New York City and Quezon City – have taken part in the Schools Reinventing Cities competition this year, which is run in partnership with Minecraft Education. In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan has been inviting students to submit their ideas to the Design Future London competition for a ‘fairer, greener and more prosperous’ Croydon High Street in the south of the city. So far, more than 4,000 people have voted for the many remarkable ideas that have been put forward; a panel of judges will pick the finalists at City Hall on 14 July.

A priority area for cities to work with youth is on building a green economy, especially job creation. C40 research has found that, for cities to contribute their fair share towards reducing emissions and limiting global heating to 1.5°C, 50 million good, green jobs need to be created this decade. As well as giving people a chance to contribute through their working lives to reversing climate breakdown, C40’s research shows that investing in cutting emissions and improving resilience will create 30% more jobs compared with business as usual, and yield US$ 280 billion in savings from health-related costs. Young people will be taking up many of these jobs, so cities can, and are, working with businesses, investors and unions and youth to co-create the green and just transition and ensure inclusive access to employment opportunities and training in the necessary skills. C40’s award-winning video – Good, Green Jobs Now – in which young people call for a reorientation towards green jobs of all kinds, has received over 5 million views, highlighting the enormous interest in this space.

Cities that are already taking action on this include Salvador, Brazil, whose free solar energy “train to employ” programme has already trained around 100 young people and adults, the Los Angeles Just Transition Taskforce – a C40 Global Green New Deal pilot project – which includes youth representatives among the stakeholders represented in the taskforce, and the Vancouver Economic Commission, which among other things, supports youth entering the green economy by hosting skills roundtables, engaging in dialogue with the education sector and through extensive engagement with youth and equity groups. These cities recognise that for the transition to a green economy to be truly equitable, it will require participation from everyone, especially the workers of the future. 

The C40 Youth Engagement Network (CYEN) and the C40 Youth Hub, both launched today, will strengthen youth engagement in cities and connect youth climate leaders from different countries and cities to each other and to C40. Building on the success of C40’s peer-to-peer learning model – in which city officials come together to learn from each other’s experiences and collaborate on innovative approaches – the CYEN will bring city officials from C40 Cities together to work with each other and learn about effective youth engagement. The C40 Youth Hub will offer opportunities for dedicated youth activists to connect with others across the world and be part of a global community taking action on climate in their city.  

The energy and vision of youth activists will continue to shape climate action in cities and across the climate movement at large, bringing innovative, entrepreneurial and out-of-the-box perspectives to the work of ending the fossil fuel era and delivering climate justice. I look forward to seeing how these two exciting initiatives develop and contribute to securing a cleaner, greener, and healthier environment for the more than half the world’s population that lives in cities.

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