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Youth Voices, Unfiltered


Scroll through to see young people's take on the global climate emergency, and the work that they are doing to fight against climate change.
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How Civil Action for Climate Change Should Go Beyond Daily Practices by Beth and Kaitlyn

How Civil Action for Climate Change Should Go Beyond Daily Practices and into Governmental Action and Policy Change by Beth Eden and Kaitlyn McLay

"We are powerful."

Believe it or not, as civilians, we have the power to shift policies worldwide. Although humanity has begun to make progress on climate change, we have not done nearly enough yet. Civil action on governments can change that (Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, 2018). The Paris Agreement (also known as the Paris Climate Accord) is an international treaty under the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change that was signed by 197 countries in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to the climate crisis. However, many countries are not making tangible progress to prevent global temperatures from rising above 1.5°C, or even 2°C (when we will witness even more catastrophic effects of the climate crisis) (United Nations, n.d.). In particular, the richest countries in the world are failing us the most in the fight against climate change (The Sustainable Development Solutions Network, 2019). While we are all very powerful, all too often, the power of change lies in the hands of our governments. How do we hold them accountable?

Across the world, climate scientists, young people, environmentalists of all ages, and civilians are begging governments and large corporations to pull the emergency brake on climate change and keep to their agreements in the Paris Climate Accord (Volcovici & Green, 2019). As citizens, we must not give up our power. We must pressure our governments to make changes based on science. We can do this through policy changes that ensure that our tax money is not being used to support corporations that make significant contributions to climate change, to hold our governments accountable to their agreements in the Paris Climate Accord, and by continuing to drive civil action (United Nations, n.d.).

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we must globally reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 49% by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050 (meaning that 0 greenhouse gas emissions are emitted) to stay below the 1.5°C climate increase target (IPCC, n.d.). In a world where 71% of all global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by a handful of large corporations, why is it that wealthy governments across the world are paying corporations to create more emissions (Griffin, 2017)? Have you ever wondered why vegetables from halfway across the world cost less than vegetables from a nearby farm?

It’s because many governments are quite literally paying already-wealthy corporations with taxes (citizen money) and subsidies (government money) to sell products to us at a low price (Local Futures, n.d.). The only reason we pay more for local products is that large, extremely wealthy multinational corporations with ill-intentions are paid by our governments to sell their products to us in mass quantities (Local Futures, n.d.). As civilians, we must use our purchasing power and civil rights to put a stop to this. Why not urge our governments to move away from transnational trade agreements and invest in local economies? This would put civilians at the forefront of growing our economies and mitigating the climate crisis (Local Futures, n.d.).

As citizens, we are told that we are the problem – that if we do not change our light bulbs, or if we walk instead of driving, we will stop the climate crisis. Of course, in many ways this is true – As individuals, we do have power, but our power lies far beyond our ability to change a lightbulb. Our power extends to using our voices to create positive change. Using our voices along with changing our daily actions grants us more opportunity to influence governments and those around us. Our individual and collective actions do make a difference, however, our elected officials must also make morally sound choices that reflect the wants and needs of the planet and their citizens if we are to mitigate climate change. We need both citizens and governments to take a real stand on mitigating climate change, everywhere. Our actions as individuals cause 29% of all global emissions, which is significant. However, we need to pressure governments to make policy changes to reduce their nation’s contributions to climate change. For instance, you may be more likely to purchase an electric vehicle if it was available at a lower price than a gasoline vehicle. These consumer options can lie in policy changes.

If too little is done by 2030, humanity risks mass extinction (United Nations, n.d.).

Unfortunately, daily green actions are simply not enough - we need collective action and policy changes to create a revolution. So the question is: How do we get our governments to do more? The answer: Civil action. We must use our voices and our power to write petitions, send emails and letters, make phone calls, protest, and demand that our governments stop subsidizing large, corrupt corporations that cause 71% of climate change, and start subsidizing local, ethical businesses. Here are some key steps you can take to create this change in your nation:

  1. Research your government's policies and trade agreements on subsidizing and using taxes to pay off (already wealthy) large, climate change causing corporations.

  2. In any way that you are safely able to (this changes from country to country), use the information you have to call out your government to change these policies (this can be done by petitioning, protesting, contacting celebrity influencers, signing and sharing petitions that already exist, and by simply using your creativity to come up with a solution). Again, if it is safe for you, make sure to contact everyone you can in your local government. You can also call out governments in other countries to make a difference.

  3. Don’t give up. Make it your mission to save the world. We must be a part of the solution, and we must take down large multinational corporations if we have any chance of fighting climate change. Learn, Create, and Act. Together, we will save our planet.

What will your plea to your government be?


About the Authors

Beth Eden is the Project Lead for a pilot project with Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Youth initiative focused on communicating science and evidence-based recommendations for sustainable development and climate change to the general public. She was previously the National Youth Network Coordinator for SDSN Canada launching SDG alliances across universities and colleges in Canada. She recently graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Bachelor of Environmental Studies in Environment and Business and currently works as an international sustainability consultant focusing on youth, climate, and SDG related projects.

Kaitlyn McLay is the Research Coordinator for a pilot project with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Youth that intends to effectively communicate scientific research to the general public. Her love of the Earth and her passion for environmental healing guided her to study Community Development with Environmental and Sustainability Studies at Acadia University, where she recently volunteered with SDSN Youth as Acadia University’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Coordinator.


  1. Griffin, P. (2017, July). The carbon majors database: CDP carbon majors report 2017 [PDF].

  2. IPPC. (n.d.). Global Warming of 1.5°C.

  3. Local Futures. (n.d.). Learn about localization.

  4. Sustainable Development Solutions Network. (2019). Sustainable Development Report 2019: Transformations to achieve Sustainable Development Goals. (p. 24 - 25).


  6. Taylor, M. & Vaughan, A. (2018, October 8). Overwhelmed by climate change? Here’s what you can do. The Guardian.

  7. United Nations. (n.d.). Climate Change - United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

  8. United Nations Development Programme. (n.d.). Goal 13: climate action.

  9. Volcovici, V. & Green, M. (2019, September 23). ‘How dare you’: Greta Thunberg gives powerful, emotional speech to the UN.

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Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth supports all young people and their diversity in exercising their right to freedom of expression. Reach Not Preach platform serves as a safe space for all young people to share their take on the topic of climate change. The views expressed in the Reach Not Preach platform are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the United Nations Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth and the United Nations.

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