Lobbying to have your voice heard works. That was a key message from the President of the Youth Climate Council of Poland, Kasia Smetek, during a session at the World Urban Forum in Katowice on how city leaders and youth are making climate neutrality a reality. In COP24, there were no young people, noted Smetek; by COP26, the number of youth delegates was eight. This change was the result of discussions with national ministers bringing together youth representatives from schools, those working in the climate-related sectors, and city officials. Now we’re seeing Youth Climate Councils being implemented in countries across the world, from Ghana to Ukraine (though this has been put on hold, in the case of the latter).
Smetek’s message of action was echoed by Emily Clancy, Deputy Mayor of Bologna, a city which last year saw the declaration of a climate and ecological emergency and the announcement of a Citizens Assembly thanks to a hunger strike by Extinction Rebellion activists. Activists called for politicans to join them in their hunger strike, noted Benedetta Bressan, herself an activist from the Extinction Rebellion group in Bologna, building a campaign of solidarity between young people and politicans strengthening the call for action. The structure of the Citizens Assembly is still being developed but is expected to bring together around 100 participants from across the city to collectively develop proposals for the city’s Climate Contract.
"Thanks to the activism of Extinction Rebellion, the city declared a climate and ecological emergency and has committed to developing a Citizens Assembly with the aim of gathering proposals for a Climate Contract"
Emily Clancy, Deputy Mayor of Bologna
The Assembly will ensure an equal representation in terms of gender balance, geographical (neighbourhood) balance, and representation from university students, most of whom live outside of the city boundaries but for whom city decisions have a large impact. Crucial to supporting just inclusion in this Assembly is the payment factor Bologna is preparing; all participants will be paid for their contribution to the Citizens Assembly, breaking down barriers to involvement from those less financially well-off. An independent board of experts will assess the Assembly’s inputs and publicly announce either their adoption or a justification for why they are not to be adopted. Bressan called on all cities to implement such as citizen’s assembly in their cities.
Many cities are experimenting with different ways of working with young people to co-create solutions for the climate transition. But cities don’t always get it right, as explained Ville Taajamaa from the city of Espoo, even a city that’s had a youth council for more than 30 years! Just this year, five highly experienced Espoo colleagues from various departments worked hard on developing a script for, and producing, a video to encourage young people to get involved in the city’s climate work. But when young people saw the video, they immediately commented that the language and style was ‘off’; it didn’t represent the way young people speak or think.
“We realised we had been working for young people, not with them”
Ville Taajamma, SDG Project Manager, city of Espoo.
Together, the city officials and young people re-wrote the script and re-produced the video taking an important step towards transparency and building a truly collaborative relationship between the city and young people.
Espoo continues to reflect and evolve its way of working with young people. The launch of the Future Mentors Programme, inspired by the European Year of Youth, is the latest evidence of this. Through this programme, young people aged 18-25 have been ‘coaching’ city leaders, sharing their hopes and dreams for the future of the city in a move to build a Europe-wide dialogue between city decision-makers and young people. The Programme saw 26 city leaders mentored and culminated in 6 recommendations from the Future Mentors, gathered at the Eurocities Annual Conference in Espoo:
1. Young people must be meaningfully engaged in decisions that affect them in a non-tokenistic way
2. Cities must give feedback after any consultation with young people
3. City leaders, officials and mayors should have regular contact with young people with meetings at least twice a year to keep an open line of communication
4. Any engagement with young people should be inclusive and accessible
5. Have an allocated budget for youth-centred organisations to be developed across European cities
6. Establish a Eurocities Youth Department
These six recommendations were presented to over 400 city representatives at the Eurocities Annual Conference in Espoo in June this year. City leaders left the Conference discussing various new structures that could be implemented to fulfil these recommendations.
Networking with the cities of Formigine and Romanicu Valcea and Turku’s youth leaders
Continuing discussions, participants broke out into circles to focus on three examples of city and youth engagement for the climate transition.
In Ramnicu Valcea, Romania, citizens can propose projects to be developed using a specific participatory budget. The newly established participatory tool will see projects voted on by a jury for their feasibility and contribution to the city with the best rated being implemented using funds from the local budget. Deputy Mayor Andrei Gheorghiu shared further the city’s ambitions to better understand young people’s dreams for the city by asking ‘What would you do if you were Mayor of the city?’; most responses referred to increasing support for the energy and climate transition.
Similarly, in Turku, Finland, young people can gain grants from the city’s ‘Youth Council Project Fund’; the Fund aims to activate young people and help them realise functional projects that as many young people as possible can take part in, such as events and theme days. The project must be planned, realised, and evaluated (in a report form) by the young people themselves, explained Mette Hameenaho and Aisha Abudu, former and current chairpeople of Turku’s Youth Council. The Project fund has an overall budget of 10,000 per year, with a maximum funding of 2,000 per project, with applications voted and decided upon by the Youth Council themselves.
Engaging young people in the Municipality of Formigine, Italy, has most recently taken place through a training course on sustainable development. The course, led by a professor of the local university, brought together municipal employees, companies, citizens, and associations, explained Guilia Bosi, Councillor at the Municipality of Formigine. Young people expressed a desire to do something concrete to achieve the sustainable development goals, so the municipality brought in other young people from surrounding areas for further discussion focused this time on events and pollution. Together, these youngsters drafted guidelines for holding sustainable events ensuring as much as possible zero impact on the environment.
"I would recommend cities to ask youngsters and activists that don’t want to engage why they feel this way? What do they expect from a potential collaboration with the city? What role would they like the city to take?"
Kasia Smetek, President of the Youth Climate Council of Poland
Bridges between young people and city authorities are strengthening in many cities, but what if young people are reluctant to engage with their city? Benedetta Bressan reminded participants that we’re all facing some level of vulnerability to climate change and communicating this openly is key. In Poland, youth engagement and working with activists can still be a problem, noted Kasia Smetek, as the Youth Council is perceived as a ‘proxy’ for the national government. But they’re working on it! The young President calls on cities to ask youngsters and activists that don’t want to engage why they feel this way? What do they expect from a potential collaboration with the city? What role would they like the city to take? Whether your city has been working with young people for over 30 years, as in the case of Espoo, or you’re just starting to build cooperation, two-way dialogue is key, at any stage of collaboration.