Youth leading the charge against climate change

28 octubre 2021

A team of young Italian activists led by Daniele Guadagnolo have positioned themselves as advocates of sustainability, determined to meet the climate crisis at humanity’s doorstep.

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Daniele Guadagnolo leads a team of young Italian activists who believe the youth can help build a climate-conscious society. Photo: Courtesy of Mr. Guadagnolo. 

In the face of relentless climate change, 60% of young people surveyed in 10 countries say they are worried about the future. Their fear is compounded by what they perceive as government inaction to address climate-related disruptions.

It’s time to move from superficial engagement with young people to a more meaningful collaboration to take climate action, says Daniele Guadagnolo, the coordinator of the UNCTAD-supported Youth Action Hub Italy and co-founder of Change For Planet.

“Our hope is to create a more sustainable environment for everyone, not worrying about the future,” he says.

A lunch break that changed it all

Mr. Guadagnolo’s journey to help forge a greener future started at the second UNCTAD Youth Forum held in 2018 in Geneva. He submitted his application over a lunch break, not anticipating how it was about to affect the trajectory of his life.

“Being there with 250 other young people from all across the world, yet united in a common idea of how the world should be, set the course for my future,” he said.

Recent years have seen increased extreme weather events, ranging from prolonged droughts, heavy storms, floods and wildfires. These natural hazards are wreaking havoc on people’s livelihoods and exacerbating social unrest, displacing more than 20 million people each year, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

Mr. Guadagnolo and his colleagues at Youth Action Hub Italy draft climate policy recommendations and speak at international events. During the ECOSOC Youth Forum 2019, he raised the issue of climate refugees and migration towards the European borders.

He says he understood the role the youth play in halting global warming and leading the mindset shift towards a more sustainable way of living after he attended UN climate conference (COP24) in Katowice, Poland in 2018.

To educate more young people from rural communities on climate issues, in 2019 he co-organized the first conference on climate change for local youth, gathering over 180 people in Florence.

For three days, the participants attended lessons on agriculture, the circular economy and the green transition across industries. At the end of the event, the youth drafted 73 concrete proposals to complement existing climate policies for key institutions tackling climate change.

Promoting the climate agenda through creative storytelling

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, research shows that the public’s concern towards the climate has gone up, with most people calling for wide-ranging policy responses.

The increased public concern led Mr. Guadagnolo to co-found Change For Planet, a youth-led NGO aimed at raising awareness on sustainability and environmental action.

He says talking about ecological degradation, greenhouse gas emissions or temperature rise can sometimes be too abstract. His organization therefore uses art and music to convey messages on sustainability and climate action.

 “We are trying to reach more people with creative approaches, such as organizing climate concerts where artists play instruments made from sustainable materials and perform songs on climate action,” he says.

During pandemic-induced lockdowns in Italy, Change for Planet organized exhibitions of climate-related paintings to raise climate literacy among the Italian youth.

Building a climate-conscious society

Mr. Guadagnolo believes young people in every part of the world can help build a climate-conscious society if they actively support public institutions involved in climate discourses. “We want to get the message out there with the help of the media and involve more youth in the political processes,” he says.

In September, he took part in the Youth4Climate Summit held in Milan, a pre-event of the upcoming UN climate conference (COP26) to be held in Glasgow, Scotland. He advocated for better funding for green businesses, with particular attention to the private sector in developing countries.

Touching on the widely talked-about green recovery for the post-COVID-19 world, Mr. Guadagnolo says: “Youth nowadays feel disempowered because things never seem to change.” 

Even though trust in public institutions remains low among young people, he believes that in a world of increasing instability, the role of strong institutions and trusted leadership are vital to drive the climate agenda for the good of humanity and the planet.

Mr. Guadagnolo was also one of the speakers at the UNCTAD15 Youth Forum held from 16 to 18 September.

Looking forward to his attendance of COP26, his outlook is optimistic: “We should have a common vision for the future, not worrying about what the world will look like in 20 years. But we must start now.”

Created in 2018, the Youth Action Hubs initiative empowers young people to think globally and express their views on matters within UNCTAD’s mandate. It enables them to act locally as game changers in their communities by setting up projects related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Currently, there are 46 Youth Action Hubs worldwide.