Guest Article #78

Connecting Youth and Nature to Act on Climate Change

We have sufficient information to act collectively to address some of the world's most pressing environmental problems. So why is it sometimes so difficult to find solutions? There are many examples of how our societies are collectively becoming increasingly disconnected from nature. As we progressively lose our connection to an environment, the chances that we should care, and therefore that we act to conserve and protect it, also decrease.

For the past two years, the British Council and UNEP/GRID-Arendal[1], with funding from Youth in Action, have been working together to educate and inspire European youth to act on climate change. By using sustainable tourism destinations, we have connected these students to places of outstanding natural importance, and where the effects of climate change are already being visibly felt.

In 2011, we brought a group of highly motivated students to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, to learn about the importance of the Arctic in regulating our global climate, and the region's growing geopolitical importance. Located between 74° and 81° North, these islands are an area of outstanding beauty and represent many features of the entire Arctic, but are also experiencing rapid environmental change. The Arctic as a whole has been warming about twice as fast as the global average, and Svalbard's glaciers have shrunk significantly over the last 40 years.

“I am still astonished about the impact this environment had on me. The wish to spread, to share, to discuss this incredible experience with all the people who are interested is steadily increasing.” Maike Buhr, Arctic Climate training participant.

Earlier this year, we brought students to experience the Wadden Sea, the largest connected area of tidal flats in the world, which covers parts of the North Sea coastline of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. It is a vast area of international importance for millions of migratory birds along the East Atlantic flyway, and where coastal managers already have to plan for, and adapt to, current and future sea level rise.

What we have seen through these trainings is that by immersing and connecting the participants to natural environments, they become inspired. Inspired to tell other people about their experiences, inspired to act in their local communities, and inspired to work together for a common cause.

Connecting participants with each other and thousands of young climate activists in the international ‘Climate Generation' network[2] also fulfills the objective of increasing intercultural understanding and collaboration globally. The exchange of knowledge and ideas and empowering young people to develop their own climate solutions is central to the programme.

As a multinational, omnipresent, multigenerational and perhaps existential global issue, climate change cannot simply be addressed by individual countries or by policy prescriptions, international treaties and national laws: these are vital, but have no bite at all without fundamental changes in the cultural will of our societies.

Change on the scale necessary to confront climate change over a long period of time can only be achieved through a cultural paradigm-shift across the world, taking in changes in lifestyle expectations, changes in the way we imagine and treat our world, and changes in the way we communicate and act upon this urgency, across political and cultural frontiers, at a non-governmental level. It is by building international, intercultural and intergenerational relationships that underpin cultural change that will support the global efforts for a more sustainable future. Working effectively and on a very large scale with young people, the demographic key to the future, is essential to overcome barriers to progress on this global challenge.

The long-term relationships developed among the participants and the follow-up activities that have resulted from these activities, such as a book and short film[3], are testament to the inspiring landscapes, the urgency of addressing climate change, as well as the role of intercultural understanding, international exchange and joint action.

“One of the moments that lingered in my mind was the presentation by the young people working at Schutzstation. After a few days of learning and exploring the tranquil and beautiful island, that evening I became vividly aware of the past and future of that place  – aware that, unless well protected, by the end of our lives that amazing unique habitat depicted in photographs a few decades old might disappear, and then old photographs might be the only things left to remind people of its significance – unable to replace it though.” Adela Nistora, Romania.


[1] UNEP/GRID-Arendal has expertise in nature-based experiential trainings for youth, policy makers, organizational officials and government representatives. These trainings use sustainable tourism as a means for inspiring and educating people about issues affecting a particular region and the linkages to the rest of the world. Please visit http://www.grida.no/tourism/ for further information about sustainable tourism activities.

[3] Watch the film online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zxZfYLNXpKE