The first Youth-Led Climate Strike was organized in response to the world’s climate emergency on September 20, 2019. Following the climate strike the United Nations hosted the first Youth Climate Summit on September 23, 2019.
Problems and Purpose
The climate is altering faster than the human footprint can work to undo its damage. The United Nations hosts an annual conference to address climate change and environmentalism with countries who are a part of the United Nations, but usually these talks are only inclusive of adult world leaders and stakeholders. The Youth-Led Climate Strike was the world’s largest protest organized by youth climate activists in response to the world’s climate emergency. In 2019 they hosted the first Youth Climate Summit to bring younger generations to the decision-making process.
Background History and Context
For the past 25 years, the United Nations has been hosting a Climate Change conference. The purpose of this annual conference is for 190 + countries to gather and discuss solutions to climate change. However, in more recent years the rate of climate change has sped up significantly . As a result, the objectives of the annual conference have shifted to include targets for climate change solutions. The process of agreement among countries and then the implementation of the reached consensus can be very slow due to its bureaucratic nature. With the rise of temperatures, increased flooding and brushfires, and other types of natural disasters all over the globe many people have begun to take matters into their own hands. The reality of this problem is that the generations who will reap the consequences of these devastating events will be our youth . In response to the devastating events of climate change, a young woman by the name of Greta Thunberg started protesting the lack of international response by camping outside of the Swedish embassy. This protest lasted several months before she gained the attention of United Nations members and the rest of the world. Ms. Thunberg was invited to speak to the United Nations about climate change. This invitation was what started the Youth Climate Summit. This was the first time that the United Nations held a youth summit. As Thunberg gained political prominence, she began to organize with other young activists to educate the public on the realities of climate change. Alongside other activists, Thunberg organized the world’s largest climate strike for September 21, 2020, a day before the Youth-Led Climate Summit. This strike took place in major cities all over the world and drew international attention.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres made the decision to invite youth activists from all over the world to a seat at the negotiating table for the first time in United Nations history . Members of the United Nations, entrepreneurs, representatives of corporations, and activists gathered at this summit to begin discussion on our world’s climate change emergency. In addition to the summit, the activists organized Climate Strikes in major cities across the world and marched for action to be taken on climate change .
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Youth-Led Climate strike was organized by activists all over the world in response to the climate change emergency: the activists used voluntary self-selection as the participation method. As previously mentioned, the strike took place in major cities across the globe and included anyone who wanted to participate . The Youth Summit for Climate Change was hosted by the United Nations used targeted recruitment. The participants were selected by the United Nations office of the Secretary General and invited to participate in the summit. In addition to the youth activists, the United Nations also invited C-Suite executives, world leaders, and entrepreneurs to join the discussion . The members of the United Nations were there to facilitate conversations led by activists and record the proposed action items in order to discuss them at the COP25 in Madrid. The activists focused on conversations over reducing plastic consumption, carbon emissions, and rising sea levels . Lastly, the C-Suite executives were there to participate in roundtable discussions on carbon emissions and renewable energy.
Methods and Tools Used
The following methods were used at the Youth Climate Summit: participatory budgeting, idea collections and citizens proposal. Participatory budgeting was utilized by activists proposing new financial targets for climate change solutions. Another component of participatory budgeting was the conversations activists held with business executives on the costs of reducing carbon emissions. The activists also provided business models or technological solutions to address carbon emission reduction. In addition to participatory budgeting, the summit used the idea collections methods. The summit held townhall meetings, workshops, and panels to promote the exchange of solutions. Lastly, the participants used the citizens proposal method. They provided research to support their proposed solutions. Activists led panels and speeches that addressed different components of the climate crisis and laid out frameworks rooted in sustainability and equity to address our climate emergency. The Youth-Led Climate Strike used idea collections, protests, demonstrations, and citizens proposals as the primary methods. Protests were used by activists to demonstrate dissatisfaction with the inaction over climate change by governments and businesses. Demonstrations were utilized by activists to signify the collective opposition to the inaction and denial of climate change. The strike was led by climate change activists all over the world and encouraged open dialogue on the issues plaguing our planet. By having open dialogues, the activists were able to gain information on solutions that people were passionate about.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Youth-Led Climate Strike was organized by activists all over the world and led by Greta Thunberg to protest government and business inaction on climate change. It is important to note that the younger participants were part of a massive coordinated movement to skip school and participate in the strike. Alongside activists, Thunberg organized over 2,500 events in over 150 countries . The activists and participants marched to demand that businesses and governments commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 . With the high volume of participants from all over the world, these events also focused on local issues that their communities were facing. After the Youth-Led Climate Strike, youth activists from all over the world were invited to the first United Nations Youth Climate Summit. While this was not an open exchange of ideas due to the political and bureaucratic nature of the United Nations, the participants were given a platform to express concerns and provide input on solutions. Every step of the way, the activists were well prepared to discuss the problems that are a threat to our existence as well as propose the sustainable solutions. This was the first time that the United Nations allowed younger generations a seat at the table. Due to it being the first time, it is important to note that there was no real consensus on the problems and solutions proposed at the Youth Summit. To have gained international support and consensus on a politically polarizing issue is an accomplishment in and of itself. The activists organized, led, and came to the table with the solutions that would change the trajectory of the world. However, the decisions did not lie with them. The United Nations did not provide a formal voting process for this summit like they provide for their annual Climate Change conference or Paris Accords. Due to the age of technology that we find ourselves in, the general public was aware of the summit's results. Some parts of the Summit were posted to the internet such as the keynote speech Greta Thunberg gave. There was media coverage on the events of the Strike and Summit that is included in the references portion of this case study.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The Youth-Led Climate Strike was one of the largest environmental strikes in the history of the world and the first to be organized and led by youth activists. As previously mentioned, this strike hosted 2,500 events in over 150 countries . It brought together diverse coalitions of people who are committed to fighting for our everybody’s future. The Climate Strike left the world inspired with the courage to fight for a clean planet. On the other hand, the Climate Strike made it clear that those with the power to make decisions that ensure the future of our world are ignoring their responsibilities to serve future generations and are complicit in the climate emergency we find ourselves in.
In addition to the Youth-Led Climate Strike, the summit had outcomes of its own. The results of the summit aligned with the purpose of the initiative; the youth were brought to the decision-making table. While there was no consensus, it is important to note that this is the first time that the United Nations committed to having dialogue with an inclusive community that was not just comprised of world leaders and business executives. When more people are engaged in decision making processes, there is more collective buy-in, which yields inclusive results. This summit positively impacted the social fabric of the community, individual attributes, non-governmental institutions, and businesses. Despite the lack of formal action, this event started an inclusive conversation on the future of the world. It is also important to note that the Summit gave activists who had never had a platform an opportunity to speak about their underrepresented communities and how climate change has impacted them. Activists discussed the intersectionality of poverty, race, and gender with climate change. This began the conversation on inclusive and constructive social change that centers the needs of communities who have reaped the most severe impacts of climate change. Individual attributes were impacted by the summit because every participant who attended this event was confronted with the urgency of our climate crisis and the responsibility we each have in addressing it. It is clear that those who are assuming responsibility for our climate emergency are the people with the most limited resources and the generations who will be most impacted by the inaction of our governments. Due to this imbalance of responsibility, this summit impacted the institutions by confronting them with the responsibility they have in fixing the climate emergency. While it is important that everyone does what they can to positively contribute to the world we wish to live in, it is necessary that institutions commit to policies that drastically change the trajectory of this crisis as they are the ones with the most power and resources to enact social change.
At the end of this summit, the United Nations invited some of the youth activists to participate in the COP25 as speakers and attendees. The major outcomes of the summit were several conclusions on which summit participants reached consensus: we cannot treat climate crisis like an issue that needs debate, climate and environmental justice are matters of human rights, 71% of greenhouse gas emissions today are caused by 100 companies, women and girls are disproportionately affected by this crisis, the power balance between youth activists and donors is unfair and swings in the favor of donors, there is need for climate education, there is urgent need for politicians to distance themselves from the fossil fuel industry, young people need a seat at the table, and climate change is intersectional.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
It can be argued that this summit was unlike anything the world has seen for a couple of reasons. One, the youth world climate strike was the largest youth-led climate change strike in the world . Two, this was orchestrated by young activists . Three, these activists were given a platform to plead their case. The participants came prepared with detailed initiatives to present before major decisions were made in the COP25 conference. For the future, it would be beneficial for the United Nations to invite the activists to attend its annual conference. This is an issue that requires all hands-on deck and the world will not find the urgency it needs without the youth activists.
 IISD. (2019, September 22). First Youth Climate Summit Elevates Youth Demands for Action. http://sdg.iisd.org/news/first-youth-climate-summit-elevates-youth-demands-for-action/
 Irfan, U. (2019, December 11). “We are desperate for any sign of hope,” Greta Thunberg tells UN climate negotiators. Vox. https://www.vox.com/2019/12/11/21010673/cop25-greta-thunberg-climate-change-un-meeting-madrid
 Irfan, U. (2019a, September 20). Greta Thunberg is leading kids and adults from 150 countries in a massive Friday climate strike. Vox. https://www.vox.com/2019/9/17/20864740/greta-thunberg-youth-climate-strike-fridays-future
 Moran, G. (2019, September 24). At the United Nations, youth leaders call for true climate action. Science News for Students. https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/united-nations-youth-leaders-climate-change-greta-thunberg
 New York Times. (n.d.). A crash course on climate change, 50 years after the first Earth Day. Retrieved December 9, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/19/climate/climate-crash-course-1.html
 PBS. (2019, September 23). WATCH: Greta Thunberg’s full speech to world leaders at UN Climate Action Summit [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAJsdgTPJpU
 United Nations. (2020, September 20). UN Youth Climate Summit, 21 September 2019. Un.Org. https://www.un.org/development/desa/youth/news/2019/09/youth-climate-summit/
 United Nations. (2019, September 23). 11 Key Takeaways from United Nations Youth Climate Summit! Https://Www.Un.Org/Youthenvoy/2019/09/11key-Takeaways-from-United-Nations-Youth-Climate-Summit/.
The first version of this case entry was written by María Calderon, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and then edited. The views expressed in the entry are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.