The youth movement for climate continues to grow despite the pandemic – CIDSE

The youth movement for climate continues to grow despite the pandemic

On the occasion of Earth Day, celebrated every year on 22 April, we publish an interview with youth climate activist Adélaïde Charlier from Belgium. 

Photo: Adélaïde Charlier.

Every year, we celebrate Earth Day by rethinking the way we live on this planet and hopefully begin to be aware and active in the defense of our common home. This day marks a special opportunity to inspire ourselves and continue to call for the systemic change needed to pursue a radical ecological transition. While President Biden is convening a Climate leader’s summit, we want to stress the crucial role of multilateralism and cooperation to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals, to truly address the main challenges of our times; may this summit be the opportunity for governments to take seriously their commitment and leadership and move from words to actions and with a deep attention to protect human rights and environmental degradation in the most vulnerable regions of the globe. 

A deep vision of transformation and of renewed relationship with nature is something that is already becoming more familiar to younger generations over the years. In 2018 and as an act of rebellion, Greta Thunberg stopped going to school to demand climate action from her leaders in the streets of Sweden. Almost three years later, the same vision that empowered Greta continues to inspire other students to begin expressing their concerns and demands through activism. 

Youth for Climate is one of the movements that emerged to consolidate this call to action, with a clear and direct message, as they explain: “The current climate policies are not ambitious enough, not on a local level nor a national level nor an international level. Youth for Climate wants to send a clear apolitical signal that concrete measures have to be taken now”. Adélaïde Charlier, born in Belgium, is one of its Co-Founders.  

After a mandatory hiatus due to the pandemic restrictions, Youth for Climate resumed some of their activities and are preparing much more for the future. CIDSE spoke with her about her activism, the importance of social inclusion within the climate movement, and her expectations for the near future. 

What triggered you to become an activist? 

For me it happened at COP 24, when Belgium was not one of the most ambitious countries and it should have been, as one of the most comfortable countries in the world. Two days before that COP, we were hundreds of thousands in the streets in Brussels, including myself and some of my friends. At that moment I realized a huge gap between what was being demanded by citizens and by experts, and what was actually happening on a political level. That’s when I realized we could take the next step. And so, I started doing civil disobedience, which means skipping school and which I’ve never considered to do before, I thought “we have to go further”, and I was able to do it only because I felt I was not the only one who wanted to do it.   

How do you spread this spirit? 

I think the first thing is to talk about it. Talk about it in your family group, in your friends’ group or even at school, because these are also places where –before citizens movement- it was not common to talk about, but now it’s like a real topic that you can approach. If it starts with you, it’s going to spread around. I don’t go having in mind “Oh I’m going to convince everyone”, because not everyone is going to be an activist, but there are so many ways to be included in the transition, to be included in that movement without having to be in the streets. There are so many ways to be active. 

How did it go for the movement during the pandemic? 

In Belgium, we can really see that there is actually a youth “depression” that is rising, which is a real problem, but why is it? it’s because youth are not engaged in school. But we are here, ready to engage ourselves. We want to be part of the discussions; we want to be part of what’s happening in society. We were always told that we were a generation behind our laptops, that we just wanted to watch movies and chill, but actually now it shows that it’s been a year since youth did that (School Strikes for the Climate) and are really tired, they just want to get out there and engage themselves.  

How do you perceive the inclusiveness of the youth climate movement for Belgium from your global experience? 

“Inclusiveness” is a key word for a movement. It’s something that we are still struggling with because it’s not easy, but it’s something that our movement is taking really at heart and it’s the centre of our attention right now. We strongly believe that if we want this change to happen in the world, we also have to make it in our movement. We are trying to learn a lot, and we are trying to be as inclusive as possible at the international level and we are learning so much. 

What do you expect from 2021? How do you feel about the decade to come? 

It’s hard to expect things since Corona happened. What I would expect from this decade is a stronger mobilisation of citizens, and by mobilisation, I don’t mean only NGOs and movements. I really hope to see a political system that really opens itself to a more participative democracy, where we can see citizens being involved in the decisions that are being taken, where we don’t only call on citizens every 4, 5 o 6 years when they have to vote, but where they can actually be present when decisions are being made. 

And for 2021, I can only hope for strong actions from citizens and mobilisations. We cannot wait for Corona to go away. At first, I thought we would, but today, if we keep on waiting, we are going to fall asleep, so we have to start now, we have to find different ways. Some people would accept to break the rules; others won’t, and that’s totally fine, but we have to stay awake, and we also have to hold accountable the media for spreading news around other thematic than corona. 

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