One person that has not escaped the public eye during, before, and after the COP24 has been Greta Thunberg.
The 15-year-old Swedish climate activist has popularised the notion of “school strike for climate” and has been sitting on the Swedish parliamentary steps every Friday.
She’s just done a TED talk on her thoughts on what climate leadership looks like, and gave very outspoken statements during the COP on where she sees our political leaders failing when it comes to climate action.
I would dare to say that her appearance gained more momentum and publicity worldwide than the appearances of Al Gore or Arnold Schwarzenegger, both of who also attended the COP.
Greta’s statements have led some commentators to conclude that the real climate leadership is amongst people like Greta: young people who demand and take climate action on the ground rather than amongst the political elite who negotiates the UNFCCC agreements and rules.
In many ways this is about questioning and re-defining climate leadership.
Youth will live in a world that we are creating right now
The climate strikes across the world should not really come to us as a surprise although we tend to treat them this way.
The young people are the ones who are inheriting a planet in imbalance, and they are being vocal about that.
Because, simply, it’s their future.
The concerns around climate change are something that will define their generation as those who are now making decisions and policies will be long gone before the worst impacts materialise.
This week I had the opportunity to connect with Finnish high school students in the city of Jyväskylä as I was visiting my family after attending the COP.
Photo credit: Schildt High School.
The teachers asked me to come and speak about climate change, its causes and impacts, and also of the solutions in terms of climate adaptation.
The students had really thought through their questions and put lot of effort in formulating questions that we often want to ask but don’t know answers to.
For example, I was asked a range of questions that really highlighted to me the complexity of climate change decision-making, both for mitigation and adaptation:
- Whether it is better for climate to eat locally produced meat than eating vegetables that have been grown overseas and flown to Finland;
- What the withdrawal of US means for the Paris Agreement and global climate action;
- What climate actions are most effective and can be done by individuals;
- Which countries are the most vulnerable to impacts of climate change;
- Which countries are causing climate change the most;
- How Finland, as a country, should undertake climate action in a way that does not reduce the well-being of its citizens.
All of these a snapshot of what many of the youths are thinking about, the kinds of questions they ask and the kinds of solutions and information that they are after.
They are truly concerned about the impacts, but also more and more curious about potential solutions and how they as individuals can reduce those factors that contribute to climate change.
Role of science and education
There is an immense opportunity for education and science communities to really start thinking strategically as to how we can foster a new generation that has the capacity to enact change.
Tackling the climate crises requires a new way of thinking, a new mindset where we do question the way our societies have been built, how they function, and what we can do differently.
I was for example also asked what I thought is the future of the private car: do we all really need our own cars or whether there are solutions to do car sharing.
Some of these strategies are already being trialled, and services such as Uber and Airtasker are already proving popular where one does not need to own a car to gain access to transport.
Innovation often lies in constraints.
If we truly recognise the constraints that we currently have in the way our policies and bureaucracy and mindsets have, there is an immense opportunity to innovate.
But this has also to do with our education systems: for example, currently there are not many universities that offer degrees in climate change adaptation; certificates in innovative thinking how to deal with the climate impacts while also building long-term sustainable solutions.
Our education systems are a good example where we can enact change and innovation by introducing new degrees and new knowledge that respond to real-world problems.
We can in fact create new professions that are all about being green, and understanding that our world has changed and won’t stop changing in near future.
To make sure that business as usual is not normal anymore; that the first principle of designing infrastructure, social policies, or supply chains is sustainability in a changing climate.
That sustainability and climate adaptation are not the outliers but core principles of sound policy-making and practice.
As Greta notes in her TED talk: “
The climate crises has already been solved.
We already have all the facts and solutions.
All we now have to do is to wake up and change”.
I both believe this and disagree: I believe sincerely we understand the problem and know about the solutions.
Yet, at the same time I also believe that there is lot of innovation around the corner that can make the world more sustainable.
All in all, I am glad there are young people out there like Greta who are challenging the status quo and making business-as-usual the new abnormal.