Elizabeth Wathuti protests alongside climate activists Vanessa Nakate and Helena Gualinga at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, May 26, 2022.
Evgeniy Maloletka—AP

In every story of challenge and adversity, there’s a narrative of hope and resilience, in many cases driven by an often-underestimated group: the youth. As an environmentalist and young climate leader intimately involved in these narratives, I see daily evidence of how young people aren’t just future leaders but are leading today. Our current global challenges, especially the climate crisis, demand innovation and fresh perspectives—attributes that the youth bring in abundance.

This potential is especially poignant in regions like Africa, where over 60% of the population is under 25. This demographic is not just a statistic; it’s the rise of a significant force for environmental and social change. The voices of young Africans, and indeed youth worldwide, are crucial in climate conversations. They bring an understanding of technology, a natural inclination toward innovation, and a readiness to challenge existing paradigms. A good example is the Africa Youth Climate Assembly (AYCA), a precursor and official youth engagement mechanism for the Africa Climate Summit (ACS) held in Nairobi, Kenya, in September last year, ahead of COP28. I had the opportunity to work alongside other young people in hosting this. The Assembly, which also had a great representation at COP28, has been at the vanguard of youth climate engagement, representing a concerted effort to bring the energy and innovation of young people to the forefront of the climate conversation.

On the ground in Kenya, as the founder of the Green Generation Initiative, I work alongside a dedicated team of young people united in our commitment to environmental stewardship. We empower children and communities to become active caretakers of their environment by cultivating green spaces, planting fruit trees in schools, and addressing food security in our communities. We also instill a sense of responsibility and connection to the planet in the next generation.

At COP28, on key issues under negotiations, seeing crucial issues like fossil fuel phase-out make it into the official texts for the first time was a great step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. We need action that matches the scale and urgency that science demands. In this year’s COP, the youth stressed the need for inclusion in every conversation. It wasn’t just about having a seat at the table; it was also about making sure that all voices are heard and form part of the decisions made, recognizing that climate change impacts us all, but not in the same way. There was some headway made on youth inclusion and while there is hope that in future COPs youth inclusion will be scaled up, a lot is to be done to get there.

The conclusions drawn from COP28 underscore the critical necessity for youth-led innovation and leadership in our global climate discourse. Specifically, the summit’s outcomes highlight a conspicuous gap in young voices and perspectives, reflecting limited progress on key environmental challenges. This absence is particularly concerning given the direct impact of these decisions on future generations. It’s imperative, therefore, to integrate youth-driven ideas and solutions more prominently in such forums, ensuring that their unique insights and urgency are heard and actively shape the outcomes and our collective response to climate change.

As we look towards the World Economic Forum in Davos, the decisions and discussions at COP28 are still fresh, highlighting the urgency of climate action and the significant role young people must play in this narrative. We understand the stakes because we are living them. Our futures are directly impacted by today’s decisions, giving us a unique and powerful perspective. It is essential, therefore, that our voices are not just included but are central to these discussions.

In my journey, I’ve witnessed how young voices can be powerful catalysts for change. Young people are using technology and innovation to drive change, from developing sustainability apps to leading grassroots campaigns against environmental injustice. For instance, Akufuna Muyunda from Zambia is developing a pioneering mobile application, NatureApp, to transform agricultural practices and enhance climate resilience in Zambia. Rahmina Paulette, a young environmentalist from Kenya, is creating eco-products such as bags and cards from recycled water hyacinth harvested from Lake Victoria.

That’s not to kick older people out of the room, but rather to say that governments, businesses, and decision-makers must embrace intergenerational collaboration. The experience of older generations, combined with the youthful spirit of innovation and urgency, can create groundbreaking solutions.

At Davos, we have a unique opportunity to integrate these young voices into the global dialogue. The significance of placing young people at the heart of decision-making processes is clear. Our perspectives are vital. Our experiences are informative. Our solutions are transformative. We are ready to lead, collaborate, and drive meaningful change. This platform, where leaders shape agendas, must prioritize young people’s inclusion in climate conversations. This is how we can do this; we must ensure that we support and empower young people to be present to give their perspectives, ensuring that their voices are not only heard but also form part of the decisions made. We must also invest in young people to bring their solutions to life and create opportunities for diverse young people to amplify their voices.

In an era where the world stands at a pivotal juncture, let us remember this: investing in young people and their innovative solutions is not just a choice; it’s the most promising path toward securing a sustainable, prosperous future for all. Let us seize this moment at Davos, and beyond, to usher in an era of transformative change led by the very generation that holds the key to our shared tomorrow.

Wathuti is an environmentalist, a young Kenyan climate leader, founder of the Green Generation Initiative and TIME100 Impact Award winner

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