This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Sisekelo Sinyolo, President of AIESEC Belgium.
“Climate change? What do you mean? The weather is the same for me. It’s just a figment of your imagination. It doesn’t affect my day-to-day life, why should I be concerned?”
I can see now with the benefit of hindsight that this would be my view on climate change three years ago. I believe that these thoughts echo in the minds of young people far and wide. The understanding that climate change is real, it is here and it is global in its impact barely exists. At a primal level, we seem to understand that more sustainable patterns of production and consumption at collective and individual levels are needed. Unfortunately, nonchalance hinders us from action.
One thing has become clear: with regard to combatting climate change, procrastination cannot be an option. This phenomenon is a defining feature of the future of today’s youth. Our action cannot be deferred to a later date. Young people need to educate themselves on the actual impact of this trend on their future. At juvenescence, we are undoubtedly the key stakeholders in this fight. We need to be more actively involved in shaping the decisions that relate to climate change as we will feel the impact acutely in the course of our lives.
While governments and policy makers offer solutions, it is also necessary that we tackle climate change sustainably at a human level. If we are to foster a feeling of ownership and responsibility we should start with unequivocal acknowledgement that it our comportment and way of life and the societies in which we live that are ultimately responsible for the emissions that drive climate change.
I have been involved with AIESEC for four years. Our organization strives for peace and fulfilment of humankind’s potential. My experience leading to that end have been characterized by a practical learning environment that values self-awareness and being solution oriented. Through these points a young person starts to understand their key contribution to being a global citizen who empowers others. Take for example, Think Green, a project launched over four years ago by AIESEC in Egypt. The main aim was to raise environmental awareness in different communities. It targeted children at primary school level. They grow up with a feeling of ownership for their community.
This and other experiences within AIESEC has led me to envision three levels of participation for young people:
- Learning circles
- Youth involvement
- Collaborative partnerships
Learning circles are interactive and participatory group work whose goal is to “build, share, and express knowledge through a process of open dialogue and deep reflection around issues or problems with a focus on a shared outcome.”
Through these circles, we would be able to exchange ideas on climate change and educate our peers. It would serve as a platform to collect information from young people who potentially care about the environment and future impact and have their perspectives on policy and programs that could be held.
Based on the output of the learning circles, we proceed to the next stage which is youth involvement. This is when we give the opportunity to young people to help set the agenda and contribute to deliberations or influence the course of events. When we are involved at this level, we develop ownership and have commitment to contribute in a meaningful way.
Finally, we proceed to collaborative partnerships. We need to empower young people to be engaged in decision-making processes. Youth need to contribute actively to the solutions of our world’s woes and reach an agreement on how the solutions can be implemented.
One thing is clear, if any initiatives are to be successful beyond measure we need to be more inclusive. We need to give a voice to those who are not often heard. Genuine participation where participants have an equal voice and dialogue is two-sided. And finally, the ideas proposed actually have the possibility to be implemented and bring about a change.
The situation is not dire. Young people who want to make a difference are here. However, they need to have a support system from education institutions, parents and government. They need to have access to the opportunity to bring that difference and the means to achieve. Concurrently, we need to have policies that address and encourage environmentally friendly lifestyles.
A final word to youth: it’s our time. We need to:
Get informed: what is happening in the scientific world pertaining to climate change?
Lead by example: challenge our lifestyle choices. What are the consequences of my behaviors for the environment and society? Do I throw things in the trash? Do I have eco lightbulbs installed at home?
Volunteer: at home, abroad, wherever. We need to be able to devote a part of our time to building that sustainable future and home for our offspring.
Let our voice be heard: give your opinion, advocate for government action and the institutionalization of youth participation in decision-making.
About the author
Sisekelo Sinyolo is the current President of AIESEC in Belgium, a branch of the global AIESEC organization. In his role, he is responsible for managing the vision and coordinating the growth of the 400 members within AIESEC in Belgium. He was born in Zimbabwe and studied Business Administration at the KULeuven Campus Brussels. He is an aspiring youth leader and opinion maker who believes in the active involvement of youth to tackle current world issues.