07 April 2024

Youth led activities for environmental sustainability | EFIVOS Articles

Author: Roșca Diana

Climate change is one of the most pressing problems our world is facing today, along with pollution and the loss of biodiversity. It refers to long-term modifications in average weather patterns due to anthropogenic activities, such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and various industrial and agricultural practices. It may translate to various phenomena: heatwaves, hurricanes, floods, and droughts, but also climate migration, poverty, and even mental health disorders.

The European Union is set to become the first of seven climate-neutral continents by 2050 by committing to the European Green Deal, a set of policies that encourage and implement environment-friendly practices for reaching climate neutrality by 2050 and averting certain catastrophes. Climate change is a progressive process, which means it can not be utterly halted, but it surely can be slowed down by embracing a sustainable economy based on renewable energy resources, electrification and energy efficiency, eco-farming, etc.

It is no secret that the key to a sustainable and green future directly implicates young people, for they are going to be affected most by environmental and climate decisions. Robert Swan, climate advocate and founder of the 2041 foundation once affirmed that ”the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”. Through the years, young people have demonstrated ambition, innovative thinking, and daring action in the fight for a greener and healthier world.

This article aims to explain what sustainability means, why youth is an important component in building a safer future and to showcase examples of sustainable practices led by youth across Europe.

What is sustainability?

In simple terms, sustainability refers to the ability of something to be sustained for a prolonged period of time without exhausting natural resources or compromising the welfare of the generations to come. It coarsely regards three elements: people, economy, and nature. Some suggestive examples of sustainable practices include switching from commuting by car to traveling by bus or train, using recyclable packaging when possible, or opting to power your own house with the help of photovoltaic panels.

Why is youth key to a sustainable future?

According to the Economic Times magazine, around 52% of the global population is under 30 years old. In 6 years, when the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) are supposed to be fully completed, they will be victims or beneficiaries of the actions of today. 
So far, they have exerted impressive interest and ingenuity in finding solutions, advocating for climate-resilient policies like the Fridays for Future or the Sunrise movements, launching green start-ups, and adopting more responsible lifestyle choices. 
This age group is more susceptible to collaborating across physical borders, and cultural, religious, or ethnic backgrounds to handle challenges in a collective fashion. 
Another notable factor is comprised of their openness and willingness to understand these challenges in a holistic manner, as they have greater access to information than previous generations.

Positive examples and impact

For Bucharest, the heart and soul of Romania, 2013 was an important year, although a seemingly usual one at first. It was the year when a bunch of passionate young people, with the aid of The Technical University of Constructions in Bucharest and ” the Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Urbanism collaborated and placed the pillars of what was later to become EFdeN.  
EFdeN is an NGO that designed, projected, and managed to build sustainable houses by using climate-friendly solutions revolving around nature. After being rewarded in two Solar Decathlon competitions, one in 2014 in Versailles and the other in 2018 in Dubai, it gained plenty of notoriety both in and outside of Romania. It is currently considered the most important non-governmental organization targeting sustainability in this country. At the present moment, this NGO makes use of its past projects: not one, but two solar houses, charging stations for electric vehicles, photovoltaic trees, and their VATRA prototype of sustainable housing to educate students and the general public. But it does more than this. It is a hub where passionate individuals can get first-hand, practical experience and learn from people who share the same interests, as opposed to learning in class or from books. EFdeN gives an impeccable example of sustainability that influences companies and other organizations.

Another positive example in this regard can be tracked all the way to Portugal where citizens decided that they had just about enough food waste. Led by youth and organized in local communities, REFOOD aims to rescue food and get it to the people in need, promoting a sustainable approach to food consumption, all the while strengthening the community and increasing the duty of social and environmental responsibility. So far, over 6800 people were fed and around 1000 tons of biological waste was avoided, which otherwise would have caused an incredible amount of emissions and pollution.

One last example of sustainability by youth can be found in Spain. Plant-for-the-Planet is a movement led by young people that intends to restore forest ecosystems and tackle the loss or threat of biodiversity. They empower people to take action in their hometowns, to become activists, and provide multiple educational learning resources. So far, 314.031 trees have been planted Their immediate focus is establishing a green belt around Granada, the 4th most polluted city in Spain, as well as reforesting Doñana Natural Park, an important natural area in Europe because it serves as a place of transition between Africa and Europe for migratory birds and plenty of endangered species.

Climate change is not something that can be stopped altogether, but its effects can be mitigated by implementing green, sustainable practices, as well as adopting a circular economy. To reach the SDGs, young people have been advocating for policies, developing greenhouses, and planting trees and have been the heart of change all across Europe.

We, the youth, are both the future and the present of climate. You too can become part of the change even by applying small changes in your routine such as traveling by bus or train more frequently or choosing to collect your garbage selectively. Remember that a step ahead, be it small or big, still gets you further than doing  nothing.

Lynas, Houlton and Perry- Greater than 99% consensus on human caused climate change in the peer-reviewed scientific literature
Hayes et al. - Climate change and mental health: risks, impacts and priority actions
It's World Population Day: Key facts you should know 

This article is published under the framework of the EFIVOS project. EFIVOS is an initiative aimed at increasing knowledge and awareness of EU institutions, policies, and democratic procedures. This podcast has been funded through project 101081482 — EFIVOS in Europe — CERV-2022-CITIZENS-CIV.

​​The European Commission support for the production of this article does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflect the view only of the authors, and the Commission can not be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.