3 things we’ve told the federal government about youth and adapting to climate change

Photo: Drew Dodington.

Photo: Drew Dodington.

Climate change is real and happening now. As a nation, we need to begin taking collective action as soon as possible towards solutions and adaptation.
— Participant from our latest community conversation

When I got the email from Environment and Climate Change Canada inviting me to their Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience, I felt humbled and honoured. It’s an astonishing feeling to know that you’re going to have a voice at a table that has a stake in shaping how we measure progress on climate change adaptation in Canada.

Our group of stakeholders and Indigenous peoples across Canada will be the team that provides the federal government the road blocks for measuring progress on climate change action. It’s a daunting task, and it’s one that needs representation from young people at the table, even when they’re not in the room.

In November and December of 2017, we engaged The Starfish Canada community to make sure we understand how you’d like us to proceed in these conversations. From coast to coast, we heard from you about what’s most important as we enter these negotiations.

Indigenous voices matter

Our First Nations, Inuit and Metis populations need to be represented in all decisions made by government.
— Participant from our latest community conversation

As a nonprofit that works to affect change in an inclusive manner, we knew it was essential to lift up the voices of those most vulnerable to climate change — namely, northern and Indigenous populations.

Our online conversation confirmed how important that is to Canada’s young people. We heard how the Truth and Reconciliation report and its 192 calls to action were important and how they necessarily need to be implemented in every facet of government. We also heard how we can serve a unique role of lifting up their voices in the conversation, and we have entered those conversations with that in mind.

Communities feel the effects of climate change

Often the most vulnerable live in areas that might be hardest hit by natural disasters and are disproportionately impacted in an emergency.
— Participant from our latest community conversation

When we received an outpour of thoughts and ideas that reflected municipal and regional needs, we saw a common thread — that communities come first.

When climate change impacts are felt, you feel them at home. You feel them in bus cancellations and road closures. You feel them in how kids gets to school, or if you’re able to play hockey on the local pond. You feel them in heat waves and floods and bomb cyclones and polar vortexes.

As you’ve told us, measuring progress on climate change adaptation has to come from where we live. Although the federal government generally has little jurisdiction in municipal matters, it can play a major role in supporting communities as they respond to the effects of climate change.

Young people could be inheriting climate change in a big way

We need to consider that our youthful voice is an advantage. From the housing crisis to health concerns from natural disasters such as wildfires, our youthful perspective can help inform decision-making.
— Participant from our latest community conversation

You might have heard that young people will be inheriting the effects of climate change from their elders. It’s true —climate change isn’t a problem that youth created, but they will need to find ways to be nimble and adapt in the face of climate change.

As the research has shown, it could become a big problem quickly. Rising temperatures mean melting ice caps and rising water levels, but it can also cause ecosystem shifts that have unanticipated consequences and species driven to extinction. The biggest problem might be in extreme weather events that are largely unpredicted, but can result in major cities and large communities suffering in big ways.

This panel didn’t directly identify youth as a vulnerable population, although they certainly could have been. They often don’t have the same experience and understanding as their adult colleagues, and traditionally, they’ve been left out of decision-making around climate change.

We’re working to determine how progress can be measured based on the inclusion of young people. Our voice, and the voices from this conversation, serve as a great starting point. Government leaders in 2050 might need to make rapidly-paced decisions based on the impacts of climate change. Let’s prepare those leaders now and bring their concerns and issues to the front of the conversation.

Kyle Empringham