We owe young people a listening ear on climate change

A new survey by the IB reveals young people’s eagerness to learn in order to tackle the climate crisis and their frustration at not being heard

A new survey by the IB reveals young people’s eagerness to learn in order to tackle the climate crisis and their frustration at not being heard

18 Mar 2024, 17:00

We know that young people are the future. We also know that young people will bear the worst burdens of climate change.

While both statements are undeniably true, it’s less obvious what young people would like adults to do to prevent it — perhaps, because we’re not listening.

If we listen, we will learn that young people are convinced that today’s leadership is failing to responsibly address the challenge.

In an effort to learn more from students, the International Baccalaureate (IB) took a first step by carrying out an extensive student listening exercise late last year.

And we learned a lot.

The perspectives students shared reflect what matters most to them, unclouded by modern-day adulthood. If we listen, we can adequately prepare them for future challenges and develop the solutions that allow communities and the planet to flourish.

A vital exercise

The IB asked more than 10,000 enrolled students from around the world to answer questions on the biggest issues facing our world, including climate change, mental health and artificial intelligence (AI). Their responses underscored the pressing need for greater action from today’s leaders.

A decisive trend among IB students polled in the United Kingdom is that only 22 per cent believe their voices are being heard – specifically about climate change.

We must open our minds and give our full attention to young people who are pleading for change.

Today’s young people understand and embrace that behavior modification is a necessary response to the environmental crisis. They want leaders to do the same; to change our behaviour as individuals and the laws that guide us, to push further to find solutions.

Among UK students, 73 per cent believe humans have the capacity to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. However, only 54 per cent are confident that today’s adults will do so. While students feel that those governing the world are failing, they are surprisingly optimistic about humanity’s potential to act.

That optimism must and will guide the way forward.

Enabling through education

In order to be optimistic, today’s students must understand the challenge at hand.

More than half (55 per cent) of IB student respondents reported wanting to be taught more about the climate emergency. They understand that their work in school will impact their capacity to act with skill and resilience as stewards of the planet.

In a separate survey, UNESCO’s Youth demands for quality climate change education reported in 2022 that 70 per cent of students across the globe could not adequately describe climate change.

That they remain hopeful in the face of such shortcomings is not a result of ignorance. Young people understand that complex systemic changes are required if we are to secure a safer, more equitable and sustainable world. It is our job to help them discover and build those changes.

Their minds are more open, less rigid and therefore capable of understanding the many complex factors that both cause climate change and result from it. They deserve a rigorous multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural education system to to explore solutions to this global crisis.

Too often, current leaders fail to prepare the future generation. Let that not be us.

Imperative to act

If we overlook the voices of young people, we are doing a disservice to tomorrow’s leaders.

With a looming existential crisis for all of humanity, the voices of the global youth have never been louder – or more necessary.

Despite more than a decade of activists like Greta Thunberg leading a growing movement to elevate youth voices, students are still largely unheard. Yet they are shouting to be heard, because they know as well as we do that they will be the ones who suffer if nothing changes.

For that reason, they are also the most motivated to act.

To address the climate crisis, we must hear students’ voices for both their concerns and solutions and ensure every young person is equipped with an education which prepares them for the future.

They are eager to learn and to act. We must begin by listening.

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