Brazilian activist Paloma Costa is creating a new generation of youth engaged in climate activism. At the age of 27, she led Brazil's delegation to the Youth Climate Summit in 2019, and coordinated the climate working group at Engajamundo, which invited youth to participate in "Fridays for the future" and climate strikes. The organization was born following the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio + 20. During the event, which took place almost 10 years ago, many young people felt that their views had not been adequately represented by world leaders and UN agencies.
For Paloma, today's youth are working on the frontlines of the response to the climate crisis. In her view, decisionmakers, as well as all the actors and sectors that make up the socioenvironmental dynamic, must learn, connect and help create change in line with the creative ideas that youth are proposing. "We are the catalysts for action, this is the desire of our generation," she said.
The climate crisis is a priority in the post-COVID-19 world, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “The revitalization of economies is our opportunity to redesign our future”, he said. This was why he created a Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, in which Paloma participates.
“As with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis,” warned Paloma. "We must understand that we are the Earth's cure and, therefore, we must work collectively to address the cumulative challenges faced across the planet," said the activist, in step with the United Nations belief that only together countries will be able to overcome them.
“Young people are putting pressure on their elders to do what is right. This is a moment of truth for people and the planet. COVID-19 and the climate took us to a threshold”, said Secretary-General Guterres, defending a “cleaner, greener and more sustainable” path.
Brazilian Paloma Costa and Swede Greta Thunberg are leading youth climate activism. Photo courtesy Paloma Costa
Paloma praised the initiative of the UN chief. "I think it really says a lot that the United Nations Secretary-General has built his own group of youth advisers and I appreciate the support of the UN staff and agencies that always help us with all the activities we want to implement," she said.
However, she still believes that much more can be done. For the activist, the future she wants to build will be more democratic, with greater participation of young people and more information and education on climate issues. “After all, to participate effectively, it is necessary to have access to information, research and quality education that is capable of generating a broader understanding of these vital issues”, she explained, recalling that her generation will suffer from the impact of climate change and its resulting effects on the job market.
Paloma said that she herself did not have an education focused on climate change and that her understanding, and consequent engagement with the topic only happened later, when she was studying at college. “While doing an internship at the Socioenviromental Institute, where I still work, I started to learn about the climate emergency and the role of indigenous and traditional communities in Brazil," Paloma explained. She is now a qualified lawyer.
"We need to create formal spaces inside the structures of each state that include young voices in a deliberate and binding way - not just as an adviser or advisory council," she said. “For now, we can recommend and give our opinions and the Secretary-General is interested in listening and getting involved with the things we do. But I feel that if we don't have a formal seat at the table, it's just us and the Secretary-General. And we need everyone on board to make this happen to create change,” she concluded.