Without the youth climate strikes, Europe would not have the Green Deal today. It's time now to give youth a seat at the table, stresses the EESC

Young people have the right to have a say on matters that concern them. The climate emergency the world is facing today has mobilised millions of young people around the world, many of whom are profoundly affected by the threat it poses for their future. At the same time, it is the young people who have repeatedly demonstrated their energy, creativity and motivation to challenge current unsustainable models and push the decision-makers to adopt ambitious policies. Despite that, a wide gap remains between listening to young people, and actually acting upon their calls and demands.

In this opinion, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) seeks to narrow this gap, considering structured and formal involvement of youth to be crucial at all stages of EU decision-making processes, from the drafting of legislative proposals and initiatives through to implementation, monitoring and follow-up.

The implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through the European Green Deal requires a new intergenerational approach and a more inclusive multi-stakeholder governance model that puts young people at the heart of climate strategies.

Talking and dialogue is essential, but the real measure of the success of this proposal will be in reflecting back to civil society that the youth sector has been heard and that consequential action has been taken. Europe, and the world, needs ambition, leadership and action. Our systems are based on borrowing from the future, its time now to start investing in it. , stressed Cillian Lohan, rapporteur of the opinion.

This intergenerational connection can only work if it is a two-way relationship, where young people and decision-makers can find answers to the climate crisis through real interaction and mutual engagement.

The COVID-19 lessons

If this was true a few months ago, the SDGs' approach of balancing financial, societal and environmental needs is even more relevant following the COVID-19 outbreak. The COVID-19 pandemic has given us a practical example of what can happen when scientists and experts are ignored. It has also shown that creating policy based on accurate science is the only effective way to deal with a crisis of that kind.

This lesson must be applied to the climate crisis: we are very quickly running out of time to avert the worst consequences and to prepare for the rest. Instead of using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to weaken environmental protection and enforcement, governments should instead use the economic recovery plans as a transformative stimulus package, and, together with young people, put the climate emergency back at the top of EU priorities.

Practical implementation

In this context, the EESC proposes the establishment of Youth Climate and Sustainability Round Tables to be hosted by the EESC in collaboration with the European Commission and the European Parliament.

It also proposes the inclusion of a youth delegate in the official EU delegation to UNFCCC COP meetings. In addition, the EESC proposes including a youth delegate as an additional member of the EESC delegation, which holds observer status at such events.

The EESC will also endeavour to amplify the voices of young people and youth organisations through considered inclusion in EESC opinions relating to climate and sustainability, by proactively seeking input from youth representatives and ongoing invitations to them as speakers at EESC events. It will also request that the same opportunities to be heard are granted to youth representatives in the other EU institutions, for instance at the European Parliament.

The EU urgently needs youth's innovative and ambitious approach to designing our future. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redress systemic inequalities and transition towards a better future by design, to take the positive lessons learned and apply them as essential elements of the new normal.