Adapt For Our Future - Youth Consultation

Vancouver has been selected as one of 11 cities around the world to gather youth perspective on how climate change impacts youth. Climate Guides and CityHive co-hosted this event at CityStudio Vancouver on February 26th, 2019.

Adapt For Our Future is led by YOUNGO, the youth constituency to United Nations Climate Change processes. These gatherings will provide input to a report delivered by the Global Commission on Adaptation the UN Climate Summit in September 2019. 

Following the guidelines of reporting, see our full synthesis here:

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Consultation Summary

The Adapt for Our Future consultation in Vancouver gathered 25 youth from the region. Climate Guides and CityHive are two youth-led non-profits that co-hosted the event. In lead-up to the event, the consultation gathered significant interest, including a morning radio interview before the event (Listen at 1:21:30). The two-hour session provided high engagement throughout. While youth and one young-at-heart joined from various sectors, most were students. The climate adaptation awareness was significant and provided insightful discussion on the themes. Youth felt that there are current climate impacts, such as forest fires and changing weather patterns are most significant in the region. However, most climate impacts will be felt in the future. Barriers for engagement focused on financial and capacity building opportunities. Youth shared success stories of engagement and support in current initiatives, non-profits, and social enterprises that are taking adaptation action. A consultation highlight for many was a facilitated mapping exercise of the region of Vancouver, where youth placed the climate risks and adaptation needs on the map. Following the session, feedback forms revealed that youth felt heard and comfortable sharing their thoughts around climate adaptation.

Climate Risks and Adaptation Needs

While current climate risks in this consultation’s region are not felt as strongly as in other regions, local climate risks and associated adaptation needs are critically important to young people in the region.

During the consultation event a broad range of regional climate hazards and associated vulnerabilities were articulated by consultation participants. Youth also shared quite a high level of local knowledge on regional climate adaptation initiatives. Physical climate hazards that were of concern included wild fires, sea level rise, ocean acidification, high rain, wind events and earthquakes. Other non-physical climate hazards identified to be of concern included transportation limitations, housing crisis, cultural and language barriers and mental illness.

Specific impacts that are currently felt by youth and that were articulated at the consultation were numerous and spanned across a breath of values. Examples of specific impacts include a dissociation of where food is coming from, general economic vulnerability and the inability to find jobs in their fields of study. Other concerns included loss of biodiversity, concern about increased disease from vectors due to warming and concerns over increased mental health issues amongst young people. With respect to regional present and future risks climate risks, consultation participants had many concerns and a high level of knowledge supporting their concerns.

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Young people who attended the consultation event demonstrated a high level of knowledge about regional climate adaptation initiatives and specifically about initiatives led by other young people. From re-vegetation initiatives to a municipal sea level rise plan, young people are aware of what is happening in the region and are demanding greater commitment to supporting youth-led climate adaptation measures that meet a breadth of values.

Youth Engagement in Climate Adaptation

During the consultation event, attendees pulled their minds together to map out existing youth initiatives and opportunities, which also illuminated gaps in each of these areas.

Youth agreed that most climate and adaptation related opportunities exist on a local level (as opposed to provincial or national), although these are mostly not initiated by local governments themselves. These initiatives were categorized into post-secondary, non-profits, education, political and for-profit. Within the post-secondary category, there are many existing initiatives that are led by universities and colleges (ie UBC Sustainability, SFU Embark) as well as student associations and organizations. Many of these initiatives are focused on the respective institutions’ campuses, although there are also community or city-facing programs, such as CityStudio Vancouver. The non-profit category was most extensive, ranging from youth-founded and youth-led non-profits such as Climate Guides and CityHive, to organizations with strong youth programming such as BCCIC, and educational focuses such as Elements Society. There are a few specifically related to Adaptation, including ResilienceByDesign, ResilienceHubs and CityHive’s Envirolab program. In terms of educational initiatives, there are several non-profit organizations that do school presentations for kindergarten to grade 12 (5-18 year olds) as well as extra-curricular programs, including Elements Society and Metro Vancouver Youth4Action. In for-profit, participants agreed that most opportunities exist in fields that are explicitly linked to climate change.

In terms of education, although many participants had not learned about climate change or adaptation in school, they reflected that recent changes in curriculum in British Columbia meant that climate change is more embedded curriculum. This does not apply to all of North America and where it does exist in the curriculum, it often depends on teachers to decide the extent to which this is taught. There are several opportunities outside of school or the education system, including park interpreters at provincial and national parks. Participants agreed that climate change and adaptation should be more embedded within formal education.

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The extensive list of existing initiatives illuminated what the gaps are. Participants reflected it’s difficult to know about all of the opportunities that exist through a shared program. Participants also reflected that climate change is often spoken about as a niche field, and there needs to be greater integration of climate change and adaptation within fields that are outside of the traditional climate related fields, which includes climate-focused employment opportunities. Participants also agreed that these issues are mainly taught from a Western perspective, and there needs to be greater opportunities to integrate and learn from Indigenous and other perspectives. Youth also agreed that concrete opportunities on a provincial level or national level are needed, but that reach out to youth in their own local community or city.

Barriers for Youth in Adaptation Action

Consultation revealed a number of barriers that youth in Vancouver (and, to the extent that we are able to generalize, North America) face in engaging in adaptation action. Of the core institutional challenges that youth noted, a lack of available jobs, generational divides and communication gaps (in both media and educational curriculums), and tokenism were key. One youth noted that the limited jobs that are available in climate adaptation work tend to not pay well, yet are extremely competitive.

Additionally, as Canada has a natural resource-based economy, another youth explained that in cities that rely on the oil and gas industry, like Calgary, the majority of funding for careers stems from that industry and therefore the dominant narrative on career options is focused on fossil fuel development. In regards to generational divides and communication gaps, youth find that it can be challenging to engage in climate action and adaptation work when older generations feel “behind” in their thinking, limiting options to act. Several youth shared the challenge in reaching across groups to communicate climate change to those that wouldn’t normally participate in the discussion, and how discouraging this can sometimes be. Generational divides are also reflected in Canada’s first-past-the-post voting system, which several youth emphasized is outdated, does not represent youth perspectives, and is a significant barrier to engaging in climate action.

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Other barriers related to voting were noted as well, including the 18 year age limit, the need to be a citizen, and the need to have an address. Tokenism was another institutional challenge that youth emphasized. Often, youth feel as though their participation in consultations and in decision-making does not extend beyond a symbolic gesture. One youth stressed how decision-makers are “hearing us but not listening to us,” and that consultation is often just to “check off a box”. This results in disconnect between youth and decision-makers and can be tiring for the youth trying to engage.

Of the core capacity challenges, youth stressed the challenges from a lack of financial resources, internal barriers, and accessibility issues. “There is never enough money,” stressed one youth, either for funding youth projects, funding climate jobs, financing education, or attending high-level conferences. Low paying jobs, contract work, and student loans are significant barriers to engagement, especially for youth living in Vancouver, a city with one of the highest cost of living in Canada. There are many internal barriers youth face as well, including mental health challenges, a lack of family support, and a lack of time. One youth noted how young people have huge expectations placed on them, including school, volunteering, social demands, jobs, and extracurricular activities, making it difficult to find the time to engage in climate action and adaptation work. There is also a barrier from guilt. One youth emphasized how they feel guilty whenever they forget a reusable bag or for wanting to travel, which are all activities our parents did without worry, and sometimes guilt can prevent engagement. Another youth mentioned accessibility barriers, including the jargon that can accompany climate and adaptation work and the white-middle-class societal narrative that youth feel dominates most fields or areas in Canada, including the climate movement.

Despite the barriers, there were some success stories that youth highlighted. For example, there are more young people entering politics than ever before, who are leading by example, inspiring other youth to be more engaged, and shifting the overton window towards more ambitious climate policies. Stronger efforts to raise youth voices and tell youth stories by non-profits like The Starfish Canada (who runs the Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 campaign in Canada) are also a success in encouraging youth to engage in climate work and to see their efforts being recognized nationally. Lastly, the mass mobilization of youth advocating for climate action is another important success story for young people in Vancouver. School strikes, political movements like those led by the Sunrise Movement in the United States, and youth conferences like PowerShift are calling attention to young voices, providing youth with the tools they need to engage, and encouraging youth to participate in climate action and adaptation work.

Support for Youth in Adaptation Action

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To address barriers with opportunities, youth shared perspectives around increasing support for youth in climate adaptation work.

Firstly, youth shared ideas around existing initiatives that provide support for youth in adaptation. Several youth felt most supported in the privileged context of University. For most, this learning environment was their first in-depth exposure to impacts of climate change and opportunities for related involvement. In Vancouver, the University of British Columbia provides seed funding for climate initiatives, has a newly funded Climate Hub, and has several student groups who carry forward climate adaptation measures on campus.

While some high schools were the exception, generally, youth did not learn about climate adaptation in classrooms in this area. Rather, they are inspired by recent local movements like the Sunrise Movement and the School Strikes for Climate around the world. Vancouver students have also joined in solidarity. Similarly, in Canada, following the Green New Deal in the United States, the PowerShift movement is calling for a transition to 100% renewables, green jobs and indigenous rights. Some youth advocated for the voting age to 16 to influence climate adaptation policy.

Vancouver is a hub for social entrepreneurship and youth-led start-ups in sustainability. This year, Vancouver’s first zero-waste grocery store called NADA opened by young professionals. CityBeet Farm is a youth-led urban agriculture social enterprise that tackles food security. Similarly, UBC Farms addresses the slow food cycle and resilience of farming by producing community shared agriculture on the University Campus. Youth at the consultation would like to see more of this innovation in acting on climate adaptation.

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Further ideas to support youth in adaptation action include, firstly, providing meaningful funding for initiatives and secondly, building political capacity for youth. Firstly, some of the funding opportunities come from non-profit organizations such as Taking IT Global, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and the David Suzuki Foundation. There needs to be more governmental and institutional support that invests in the power of youth as change-makers. Secondly, youth need to be included in decision-making platforms and climate policy. Visible policy, like the placement of solar panels on schools and the use of electric school buses, would be excellent examples of commitment to youth. A current success story was that Vancouver’s city council officially declared a “climate emergency” with the support of youth. Intergeneration justice means there is fairness between generations. Since the older generation has sacrificed the next generation’s future, we should work together to address climate adaptation.

Call to Action

Youth want to see the creation and advancement opportunities in climate and clean energy sector jobs created for current and future generations. We believe that climate change is an intersectional issue and should be collaborative in progression towards multi-disciplinary solutions. We want to see governments and civil societies adopt a structure of forward-thinking similar to the “Green New Deal”, where issues such as indigenous sovereignty, racism, and corporate greed are not being discussed in silos, and youth are effectively included in the conversation and decision-making process in executing solutions.


One solution we would like to see implemented is the creation of an online platform where youth from around the world can be connected to share success stories, challenges, opportunities in the climate arena--especially contributing to helping youth mobilize collectively. We want governments to invest more money in green sector jobs advocating for multi-disciplinary solutions to bring various cohorts of young talent on board. We want more funding being put towards capacity-building and training programs for climate awareness and education, and money put aside especially for engagement projects in climate change education and youth-based solutions.

Conclusion

  • Climate Guides and CityHive co-led Adapt for Our Future as a two-hour session with high engagement and interest throughout.

“The facilitation team from Climate Guides and CityHive were great at ensuring good dialogue and were very knowledgeable about urban and global climate adaptation issues.”

  • The climate adaptation awareness was significant and provided insightful discussion on the themes. Youth felt that there are current climate impacts, such as forest fires and changing weather patterns are most significant in the region. However, most climate impacts will be felt in the future.

“I really liked the welcoming environment! It made it a safe, comfortable space to share ideas about climate adaptation. I feel more inspired to keep seeking learning opportunities outside of school.”

  • Generally, youth were pleased the consultation was youth led for youth. Some youth identified they would like to learn from established professionals about climate adaptation as part of the consultation.

“This consultation allowed me to brainstorm with other like-minded people and hear about new ideas that are occurring in our community.”

  • While youth enjoyed knowledge sharing with like-minded peers, others felt the consultation was missing marginalized voices and indigenous youth representation.

“To me, meaningful engagement means creating positive collaboration opportunities that have no limits or restrictions and are available to everyone. I think tonight definitely did that!”

  • Youth shared success stories of engagement and support in current initiatives, non-profits, and social enterprises that are taking adaptation action. For many, this was the consultation’s greatest takeaway.

“This consultation was incredibly inspiring and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the perspectives of other youth within the local community. The consultation motivates me to educate myself and learn more about climate adaptation in the Vancouver area.”

  • Following the session, feedback forms revealed that youth felt heard and comfortable sharing their thoughts around climate adaptation.

“We want to see concrete actions and results come from consultations like these. We want decision makers at the UN and at the federal level to actually implement some of these ideas.”

The Vancouver Facilitation Team, including CityHive and Climate Guides team. Photos: Michal Marcis

The Vancouver Facilitation Team, including CityHive and Climate Guides team. Photos: Michal Marcis

Caroline Merner