Dialoue on Youth: How to Shift From Click-Activism to Real Action

dijalog kafe

This year, the world celebrated International Youth Day on 12th August in the atmosphere nobody could have foreseen in 2019. Yet, was this Covid-19 pandemic that engulfed our lives overnight entirely unexpected? If you’re asking climate change activists – not quite. The loss of natural habitats for a wide array of species has significantly contributed to climate change and it was proven to facilitate the development and spread of new diseases.

Coronavirus has robbed us of a year or two – but the absence of climate action may rob entire generations of their future. This was the focus of this year’s International Youth Day Dialogue Cafe in Serbia, framed as „Youth Engagement for Climate Action.“

Throughout the panelists’ discussion, the topics of the pandemic, climate action, and the future of our youth fused in a way that gave us a clearer perspective on the issues we face and the ways to solve them.

While this story (and this year) may have started with a grim tone, UN Resident Coordinator in Serbia, Francoise Jacob, decided to start a conversation on a more positive note.

“What we’ve seen with the Covid is that if we really want to change things, it’s feasible. Communities, people, everybody has changed their lifestyle – in 3-4 days we have changed our way of working and living. Of course, we don’t want such dramatic change to become the norm, but we have seen that if there’s strong enough incentive, we, as a community, as humanity, we can actually change the way we live,” Jacob said.

“For me, it’s actually one of the biggest lessons of Covid – a positive lesson, which means that if we put enough attention, pressure, and action into climate change, we can actually make change happen, I believe that. I am not a cynical person and this is why I like to work with young people because none of you are cynical and you still very much believe in action,” she concluded in her opening statement.

Jacob pointed out that young people’s awareness about the issues caused by climate change has increased significantly, noting that a growing number of citizens and youth movements in the past few years have developed independently and organically.

This phenomenon may be explained by the escalation of issues such as air pollution, a daily topic in Serbia for a couple of years now. The issue has been a great opportunity to bring attention to its underlying cause – an inefficient, obsolete energy production system. Similarly, the endangering of water sources caused by the accelerated construction of mini-hydropower plants in the protected natural areas mobilized and engaged citizens all over the country.

Coordinator of Young Researchers of Serbia’s ECO SYSTEM programme, Tijana Ljubenović, also noted this positive trend.

“Environment and climate change are topics that are more and more part of public conversation, and young people are more interested than before. How do I know that? Last year, Young Researchers of Serbia started giving grants to informal groups,” Ljubenović told the panelists. 

“Basically, if you have a good idea concerning environmental protection, climate change or any other environment-related topic, you can apply and get a certain amount of money to organize your activities. With these programs, we’re trying to motivate young people and show them that they can influence the environment and show them they can do something beneficial for themselves, including the fight against climate change.”

However, there’s another side to this story. While the digital era helped environmentalists raise greater awareness about climate change, it has also created “a kind of click-activism,” as Ljubenović called it.

“Sometimes young people feel it is enough to like something on social media or watch a video about a certain issue. They feel like it’s enough contribution from their side. On one hand, this is great, because this is how we raise awareness, but we need more action. I cannot tell you the exact solution. It is up to young people to tell us what motivates them and what is the thing that pushes them to become more active,” Ljubenović concluded.

Coordinator of Dialogue Café in Novi Pazar, Haris Imamović, pointed out that education is one of the ways to truly engage young people and equip them on a mission to fight climate change.

“I believe we should have ecology as a subject in school, from the lowest to the highest level. We need to speak and learn about that. We need grants and subsidies for recycling centers and projects, and good ideas and movements in general,” Imamović said. “We need improved legislation, especially in the area of sanctioning, because there are so many cases of polluters violating the law without suffering the consequences,” he added.

Tijana Ljubenović agreed and noted that Young Researchers’ programmes were built with these needs in mind. While programmes like “Šta nam teško” and “Snažno zeleno” are geared towards small-scale local projects, ECO SYSTEM is a much more ambitious, multi-pronged programme that seeks to tackle environmental issues on multiple levels. 

It includes a nation-wide environmental awareness campaign that seeks to present the benefits of environmental reforms and bring about the changes and actions Imamović mentioned. The programme will also include several online courses about volunteering in crisis situations, as well as waste, water, and chemicals management. These courses are a great way to equip young people for becoming more active in the sphere of environmental protection and climate action.

Through a system of grants, it will also strengthen the capacities of environmental organizations, allowing them to push for climate action more ambitiously and decisively.

Igor Jezdimirović from Environment Engineering Group warned that the time to act is now, reminding panelists that climate action is also a political issue.

“Our generation has lived in the times of theory and predictions, and right now, these predictions are coming true,” he said, advising young people to make the best of the global network by copying good ideas and adding their own twist to solutions to overcome the problems in their local community. 

“You have two ways to act: one is to set a good example in your local environment and the other is to push the decision-makers to stand for your interests, interests of young people, and all people. This interest should be your health and clean environment, not profit. Unfortunately, the overall society is often run by profit, and that is the thing I hope that this situation can change and that our youth will be the ones to lead this change.”

Francoise Jacob agreed that the issue of climate action is also the issue of a political shift requiring strong citizen movement, more awareness and less fear, as well as ensuring that all the partners are on board.

 „We need to build a better story, we need to be very diligent in working with data. There is data, a real picture showing implications of the old ways and new ways of doing business – costs, benefits, short, mid and long term,” she noted.

Just like it started, the conversation wrapped up with a positive note, despite the grim reality of the current Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Covid recovery is a great opportunity – because people are ready for change, expect change, want change, and it’s a good time to engage with the general public,” Jacob concluded.

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