The seven members of the global Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change met with Secretary-General António Guterres for a spirited discussion on climate action priorities for 2021. They raised concerns related to green jobs, debt burdens, inadequate funding for youth movements and indigenous land rights, among others.

In opening the meeting, the Secretary-General referred to 2021 as a make or break year in reconciling human activities with climate and nature, with major international climate talks slated for November at COP26. He highlighted the critical need for a global coalition that is committed to net-zero emissions in 2050, and that takes immediate actions to reach this goal, including stronger national climate plans. He also emphasized how developed countries must do much more to support adaptation for developing countries, and commit half of their climate funding to building resilience.

“A lot of things are needed for an environment of trust and meaningful results,” he said. “Pressure is needed on those who make decisions, and young people are leading that.”

Archana Soreng kicked off comments by Youth Advisory Group members, reporting on recent talks among young climate activists that affirmed mounting concern about the future of employment. She underscored the imperative to invest in green jobs and develop international standards to avoid “green-washing”. Pointing to widespread anger among youth about money still spent on fossil fuels, she suggested that instead of bailing out polluting industries, more could be done to help workers in them reskill for green jobs as integral to a just transition to a green economy.

She also called for COVID-19 recovery to prioritize the health and land rights of indigenous and local people, many of whom have been disproportionately affected by the crisis. Further pressures have come from recent increases in extractive industries.

Vladislav Kaim noted the $250 billion spent on fossil fuel in 2020 in questioning why such a sum could not be invested in green jobs for youth. An additional concern is that an International Monetary Fund moratorium on public debt for developing countries expires in June. For many nations, this will further constrain already tight public budgets.

“We need a more sustainable solution,” he argued. “Without at least a partial conversion of debt, the NDCs (national action plans for climate change) exist only on paper.” He proposed a climate debt swap, where countries could use savings from debt relief to invest in climate action. He also called for mobilizing behind a guarantee for green jobs for youth.

Nisreen Elsaim described the need to support developing countries to reduce fossil fuel use and transition to clean energy, given the importance of energy access for development. She reinforced that national climate plans are only effective if they can be put into practice. “We want implementable NDCs with enough finance,” she said.

In an emotional moment sharpened by personal experience, Paloma Costa told the story of a climate activist friend whose income is not enough to provide medicine for family members ill with COVID-19. “We have to think about what is really happening,” she said. “How can we support climate ambition in our countries and regions?” She described recent events as “tearing at our spirit”, and urged much more investment and visibility for youth initiatives to make a difference in their localities and articulate demands to national leadership.

Similar sentiments came from Sophia Kianni, who pressed the Secretary-General to create opportunities for youth to engage with top national leaders, and suggested finding more avenues for two-way engagement with youth. She urged more use of social media platforms where young people are most active.

Nathan Metenier spoke of young people as drivers of not just climate action, but the achievement of a fair transition to a greener world. “We have a great multiplier effect,” he said, referring to climate youth movements and their legions of volunteers, but reiterating that much depends on sufficient funding. He urged the empowerment of young people particularly in developing countries and marginalized communities of developed countries so that they can galvanize further momentum.

Climate, human rights and violence against women have a common theme – poor governance, which allows them to persist, said Ernest Gibson. He pointed to supporting governance structures so they are better placed to take climate action and meet people’s needs. Another core element is to engage people at the start of all development processes. “The ways we engage communities, youth, women, disabilities, is quite unfair,” he said. “It does not take account of their time appropriately or allow real stories to influence how money is spent.”

In concluding remarks, the Secretary-General stated that challenges related to COVID-19 recovery, climate change, climate adaptation and debt relief call for actions on many fronts, but core among them is adequate financial support. For NDCs to be implementable, in particular, a a fair and equitable balance between emissions mitigation, adaption and finance must be found, because little progress will be made in achieving net-zero emissions if the other pieces are not in place.

The seven members of the Youth Advisory Group come from all regions of the world and diverse backgrounds as climate leaders, activists, lawyers, researchers and economists. Their role is to inject the perspectives of young people into high-level climate decision-making and to advise the Secretary-General. Meet members here.