At COP15, if you want to protect the world’s biodiversity, then you need to include the world’s youth. We’ve come of age in the middle of a biodiversity and climate crisis that we did not create. We’ve matured watching the successes and failures of environment conferences, giving us a deep-rooted passion for these issues and a unique perspective on how we can address them. We are an invaluable, and untapped, resource in the work of protecting our planet.

By: Hannah Anderson, Corbin Bishop, Cassandra Carlson, Chloë Chang, and Meghan Scott – all Members of the 2022-23 Youth Advisory Council (YAC) for the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada.

This December, global leaders and environmental stakeholders will meet in Montreal, Canada for the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15). Young people must be included in this pivotal conversation, and here’s why. 

Biodiversity loss is one of the many environmental issues shaping the identities and futures of people between adolescence and adulthood, or youth. Resource extraction is fundamentally changing the world’s ecosystems. Pollution has hampered the biological development and health of youth everywhere. Climate anxiety has become an international phenomenon because so many of us feel uncertain and scared for the state of our future. Meanwhile, we’re expected to uphold an economic system that requires constant expansion and yet, we already see this cannot be sustained by our planet. 

Youth have grown up in societies with rapid change. With our generation maturing alongside this era’s digital bloom, we’ve cultivated unrivaled digital literacy and access to information. We were also the first children to have grown up watching international climate and biodiversity conferences; we have seen and lived through the successes of their triumphs and the impacts of their failures. We care about implementing solutions for tomorrow’s future because we know that we have the most at stake. 

Our unique perspectives mean that we are ready to bring novel ideas to the table.

To some, Gen Z has a reputation for being overly sensitive about the world’s issues, while lacking the resolve to do anything about them. But this is demonstrably false. The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada supports tens of thousands of youth who are leading grassroots projects year-round to protect the environment with their own local solutions. We are actively taking part in youth-focused environmental discussion like the UN’s Conferences of Youth and Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Youth Council. We are more connected and engaged than ever.

However, despite continuous calls for action from youth, no government or corporation has sufficiently addressed the biodiversity and climate crises. In fact, in the past ten years, we’ve seen environmental goals remain unmet. To many, it seems like things are only getting worse. That is why we call on adult decision-makers to empower youth, amplify our voices, and meaningfully engage with us in response to the environmental crises.

Moving forward, the capacity of youth must be recognized as equal to that of adult experts. We cannot be ignored under the pretense of naivety when we’re offering well-grounded and fresh viewpoints to the global crises that will affect us most. Instead of asking “can youth be helpful in protecting the world’s biodiversity,” we ask “how do you plan to protect our future without us?”

Youth councils are a great start. They support youth collaborations and allow us to understand the structure of global conversations. With each success, it’s easy to feel like the work is done and the right actions have been taken.

But we are not done. For decision-making systems to remain effective as environmental issues become more complex, we must expand how youth are involved, taking us beyond youth-only spaces so that we can engage across generations authentically and productively.

As members of the Youth Advisory Council at the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, we will be at COP15 in Montreal, representing those with the greatest stake in biodiversity loss. We are the leaders of tomorrow who will guide local and global change for the better.

To all adult participants: We call you to action. Take the youth of your life seriously, create space for youth to share their expertise, and involve youth in decision making.

When you see us, come say hello. We have lots to discuss.

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