Engaging youth in climate action: recommendations from Ireland and Tanzania

Despite being important agents of climate action – with new ideas, perspectives, and solutions – young people are often excluded from climate decision making. An IIED study commissioned by World Vision Ireland explores the barriers young people face and their solutions to overcoming them.

Sarah McIvor's picture
Insight by 
Sarah McIvor
Senior researcher in IIED's Climate Change research group
15 December 2022
A group of young people with their hands up posing for a picture

Youth participation in climate action – image shows youth engaged in the SAUTI Youth project from Tanzania and Ireland on a learning exchange (Photo: copyright World Vision)

Today’s young people are the generation that will be most impacted by climate change; they will also inherit responsibility for addressing it.

Our study on youth engagement in climate action in Ireland and Tanzania SAUTI-Youth Inclusive Participation Research I World Vision finds that a lack of time, finance and respect for youth voice, restrictive social norms and other constraints prevent young people from accessing climate decisions and action spaces.

Summarising the findings of our interviews with youth leaders, youth group members, youth workers and local government officials, this blog explores their perspectives on the barriers and solutions for engaging young people in climate action. The study was part of the SAUTI-Youth project implemented by World Vision Ireland, World Vision Tanzania and Youth Work Galway.

Barriers to participation 

Lack of time: Young people are extremely busy. Many attend school, college or university, and often combine this with part-time work. When climate action or policy meetings take place in school or university hours, young people face an impossible choice between advancing their education or taking climate action.

Need to consider the unique challenges around youth availability – school and work

Youth interview participant

Lack of money: Young people are often expected to engage in climate action voluntarily, without any financial support. But they also have to generate income in part-time or full-time jobs to support themselves, their studies or their families.   

Lack of respect or appreciation: Young people told us that older people do not always appreciate or respect their voice or value their input. When older people talk over them in meetings, or do not listen to their perspectives, they are disempowered. 

Jargon: Climate information tends to be communicated in complex forms. It is also usually full of technical jargon and acronyms, which intimidate and alienate young people.  

Inequalities and restrictive social norms: Young people experience intersecting inequalities based on age, gender, race, geography, socioeconomic status, ability and status, limiting their ability to engage in climate work. For example, in Tanzania, young women advancing climate action felt restricted by community expectations not to be outspoken and to prioritise domestic and family responsibilities. 

So, what are the solutions? 

It does not have to be this way. Our interview participants noted that the SAUTI-Youth project used many effective approaches to engage young people. These are some of the simple solutions that policymakers and practitioners could easily adopt to help overcome these barriers and engage more young people in climate policy, programmes and action.  

  1. Holding policy meetings outside of school hours, or during school holidays or mid-term breaks, can make it easier for young people to attend and contribute to policymaking
  2. Incorporating youth economic empowerment and skills development activities into climate programmes can help young people build skills and generate income, while also advancing climate action. Combining the two removes time and money challenges and equips young people with skills for the future climate economy
  3. Building community members’ and policymakers’ capacity to appreciate the importance and value of youth voice can help build supportive environments for youth engagement and remove restrictive social and gender norms
  4. Incorporating participatory, youth-led approaches into climate programmes creates space for youth voice, leadership, decision-making and action, and empowers young people to choose and implement climate actions that matter to them
  5. Communicating climate information in a straightforward, youth-friendly and easy-to-understand way can enhance climate understanding and learning among young people. From embedding interactive learning through games and roleplays to creating safe, comfortable spaces to learn, ask questions and receive honest informed answers, there are many ways to help young people build their understanding and confidence to engage in climate action, and
  6. Considering all the intersecting inequalities young people face can increase their ability to participate in climate action work. For example, factoring additional support for accessible activities in climate programmes can increase access for young people with disabilities, while building community capacity and awareness can help remove restrictive gender norms

They let us take the lead and decide what direction to go in

Youh interview participant

Climate leaders of today and tomorrow 

Today’s young people are tomorrow’s policymakers and world leaders. The 27th international climate conference, COP27, was the first to have a children and youth pavilion, and this is an important step forward. Efforts must continue by policymakers and practitioners to include young people’s perspectives, particularly marginalised youth, in climate policy dialogues, in decision-making forums and across climate programmes.

This will help recognise and value the expertise of young people, and the vital role they play as climate leaders both now and in the future.