Catriona Patterson, Chair of the Board of 2050 Climate Group, shares her reflections on the role of youth leadership on climate change, after a week which saw Edinburgh host both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Christiana Figueres.
I’m generally not one for selfies. So it was a surprise to me for many reasons when I found myself taking a selfie with Christiana Figueres last Friday afternoon.
Christiana Figueres is arguably the climate heroine of our present. Lauded as the individual who made the 2015 UN COP Paris Agreement possible, she is a tour-de-force of climate commitment, optimism and encouragement. As the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), she presided over the first international binding commitment on greenhouse gas emissions made by world nations…ever.
Visiting Scotland to collect the Edinburgh Medal (awarded each year by the City of Edinburgh to a person of science and technology who is judged to have made a ‘significant contribution to the understanding and well-being of humanity’) at the Edinburgh Science Festival, Figueres often talks of challenging what we consider to be ‘feasible’ (a point particularly pertinent as Scotland discusses the level of ambition of our new Climate Change Bill), and seeing climate action as the biggest opportunity we have ever had. It is not hyperbole to cite her as inspirational: she needed to be in order to force international agreement.
2050 Climate Group was invited to participate in a roundtable of public, private and third sector leaders with Figueres during her visit to Edinburgh. Knowingly and obviously one of the youngest in the room, I was thrilled when she related her opening provocation – around rightful civic outrage, and radical optimism in the face of climate change – to the recent climate school strikes, and commended the actions of young people concerned about their future.
Days before, I had represented 2050 Climate Group as part of the ClimateXChange event ‘Climate Change Action in Small States’, taking place in the week that Edinburgh hosted a meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sitting on a panel between hugely knowledgeable climate change scientists and policy makers, I was aware I stood out. I am not responsible for regional emissions figures or target reports, and the IPCC has been around longer than I have been alive. But in talking about the unique approach of our charity, and how it connects with the knowledge and political processes which structures climate change action, I am consistently excited and proud of what we achieve, and inspired to do more.
Young people are often-quoted as the motivators for decision making on climate change, yet rarely are they given the genuine opportunity to shape that future. At 2050 Climate Group we are committed to ensuring our generation are prepared with the knowledge of climate change and its impacts that they need for their personal, professional and civic lives, but also have the skills to influence those around them, the network to support them, and crucially, the opportunities to empower them with the agency to effect change.
Being invited to participate in these two events – speaking alongside climate heroes from research and policy – is for me an example of how young people are beginning to be recognised for the role they play, and should play, in climate change leadership. The school strikes inspired by the climate activism of teenager Greta Thunberg have recently demonstrated the depth of feeling of young people at the very ‘young’ end of the youth spectrum, but at 2050 Climate Group we have a generation of young adults already participating in our society and economy, and arguably one step closer to challenging the causes of climate change and dealing with its impacts.
It can be easy to dismiss young people, and the methods and tools we use to effect change. Selfies may be chastised for a variety of reasons, but for me, this image is not (just) narcissism, it’s evidence: a demonstration and a reminder that youth leadership is recognised, valued, and necessary.
2050 Climate Group is looking for new partners from all aspects of Scotland’s public, private and third sectors, and is interested to hear from those looking to engage, educate and empower future leaders within their organisations and across wider society to take action on climate change. If you are interested in discussing opportunities to work with us, please get in touch with email@example.com