Posted: 28 Sep. 2020 4 min. read

Protecting Our Future: Youth Demand Climate Action


Climate change is not just an environmental problem – it’s also an ethical and political challenge. It is a global challenge that is mobilizing civic action across all generations, but evidence suggests that activism is particularly strong among the younger generations. Perhaps because they are the ones who will have to live as adults with the consequences of how this issue is addressed today. Perhaps because they dare to think outside of the common constraints (real or illusory) of those currently in power.

The passion and drive of younger generations on climate change is personified in teen activist Greta Thunberg’s 2019 speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. Thunberg proclaimed, “The eyes of all future generations are upon you, and if you choose to fail us, I say, we will never forgive you.” This bold statement was made to heads of state and business leaders from across the globe. Her message: we are the future, and we demand to be taken seriously.

A Call To Action

Thunberg isn’t alone. Younger generations are largely in agreement that climate change is a serious issue that requires immediate attention. The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020 reveals a cautious but hopeful generation. The initial survey (conducted pre-pandemic) found that half of respondents believed climate change was irreversible. However, a more recent “pulse” survey (included in the Millennial survey report) found that those numbers had dropped, and that Millennials now believe there is still time to protect the planet. In fact, that same survey found that climate change and protecting the environment was the top concern for Millennials and Gen Z pre-pandemic, finishing higher than healthcare, unemployment and income equality. When it comes to mobilizing action around climate initiatives and climate justice, younger generations are leading the charge.

The Millennial and Gen Z generations are not just “talking the talk” – they are “walking the walk.” They are mobilizing in the form of marches, rallies, sit-ins, walk-outs and various other forms of protest across the world. They have a unique way of using their energy to cut through political barriers and captivate audiences.

In early 2019, students from more than 2,000 schools in 130 countries organized to protest political inaction on climate change. This mass mobilization of youth was inspired by none other than Greta Thunberg – who at the time was just 16 years old. But while she may possibly be the most recognized face of the global climate crisis, there are legions of young people behind her who don’t see climate change as a far-off problem that can be deferred for another few decades. To them, it’s already here and it threatens their future on the planet.

Driving The Vision of Tomorrow

The protest signs brought by young people to rallies and demonstrations bring stark messages: “You will die from old age – we will die from climate change”, “Only fossils like fossil fuels”, and “I am ditching school because you are ditching my future”. But young people are also constructive and coming up with plans to drive change. They are not just complaining or dreaming about a better tomorrow; they are crafting a vision for the future.

This notion was on display in Denmark where Deloitte facilitated the Small Great Nation Youth Panel. Forty-two young people from around Denmark (between the ages of 20-28) were brought together and asked to formulate a vision for the nation by the year 2040. What they came up with was not only ambitious, but provocative and visionary. The vision they agreed upon contains several actions related to climate change including:

  • Denmark must be carbon neutral by 2040 achieved in part through higher CO2 taxes
  • Denmark must be the ‘green’ answer to Silicon Valley, funding research and roll-out of sustainable technologies
  • The Earth has rights that must be protected by enshrining them in the Danish constitution
  • A Climate Court must be set up to enforce regulations, ensure accountability and promote climate justice
  • A ‘Green Mobile Taskforce’ must travel around the country to guide and monitor businesses on their responsibility to measure, disclose and reduce emissions
  • The tax system must reward green investments – e.g. through simplified tax conditions that support green investments and sustainable consumption.

This represents just a sampling of their vision, which has drawn the attention of chief executives in the business world as they begin to realize that these young voices cannot be ignored.

Business Takes Notice

Several Responsible Business blog posts this week have discussed how businesses need to respond to the demands of their stakeholders (customers, employees, investors, etc.) for more responsible and transparent business practices. Those same businesses need to consider the ideas of younger generations – because soon, they will become those very stakeholders. In many cases, they already are.

As we saw with the rise of social media and digital media, the collective behavior of young people today has the power to force businesses to shift their business practices – even transform their operating models. So, when large groups of young people raise their voices and make choices based on their experience with climate change, smart businesses listen.

For example, a leading toy firm is working on how they can use children’s play and online platforms to educate children about the climate and moving towards a circular economy. And they’re smart to do so because the same children they are educating today will potentially become the customers, employees, investors – even leaders – of tomorrow.

Other companies are responding to the demand for transparency around the carbon footprint of their products. The Small Great Nation Youth Panel mentioned earlier included, as part of its vision, a goal that all product packaging should provide transparency with labels detailing the CO2 emissions caused by the product. Adopting practices like carbon labelling can help companies create competitive differentiation among these younger generations.

A Generation of Believers

Throughout history, younger generations have been impatient for change, yearning for the social, economic and political improvements that will deliver on their dreams for a good life. The youth mobilizing today around climate change mitigation and climate justice are not only fighting against the vested interests and harmful effects of our fossil-fuel-driven life-styles; they are also cheering for change, advocating constructive solutions, inspiring sustainable business practices, championing climate resilience, caring for the preservation of nature’s biodiversity, and building communities – physical and virtual – around a common vision for our shared planet.

Ten years ago, the popular discourse surrounding climate change was often focused on images of polar bears floating on melting ice pieces. Now, we have young people who are experiencing climate change every day. They have lived through fires and floods, and they are seeing the impacts of climate change in their own neighborhoods. The widespread activism of younger generations will continue to shape the global conversation on climate change. Climate change is an issue that sometimes seems overwhelmingly dire – but watching the actions of the world’s youth should give everybody hope.

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