Photo of Democracy Day
Photo credit: UN Partnerships/Daniel Getachew
15 September 2023

Empowering the next generation: Democracy for climate justice

A special event marking the International Day of Democracy

The first event at the SDG Pavilion marked the International Day of Democracy. The session focused on the need for the values of democracy to accelerate the SDGs, particularly for climate action, and highlighted the role of youth in protecting and promoting civic space and moving climate action forward.  

The session was opened by Annemarie Hou, the Executive Director of the UN Office for Partnerships, who declared that, without the values of democracy, there can be no climate justice, at a time when the urgent need to address climate change has never been clearer.

Ms. Hou praised youth for taking centre stage on this issue and referred to the UN Secretary-General’s message for the Day: that it is not enough to listen to children and young people; they must have meaningful participation in decision-making at all levels. 

In his powerful remarks, climate activist Saad Amer, the CEO and Founder of Justice Environment, described the systemic challenges faced by youth looking to drive change and influence response to the climate crisis, and how to overcome them. 

“If we’re going to solve the climate crisis, we have to envision a new future,” said Mr. Amer. “If we want our democratic institutions to remain and thrive, it’s up to us to go from moment to movement, movement to momentum, vote to policy, to a fundamental change of what we believe is possible”.

Mr. Amer’s talk was followed by a panel discussion moderated by the UN Democracy Fund. It featured Ayisha Siddiqa, one of the Youth Climate Advisors to the UN Secretary-General; Juliana Uribe, the CEO and Founder of Movilizatorio, a Colombian Civil Society Organization working to build peace and engage citizens in democratic processes; Jamil Ahmad, the Director of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) New York office; and Sarah Lister, the Head of Governance at the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Ms. Lister described the recent recognition of the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment as a breakthrough. Young people, she said, increasingly see climate change issues as human rights issues, and can now pursue legal avenues for address. UNDP, continued Ms. Lister, focuses on the intersection between legislation, people’s capacity to meaningfully engage, and the ability of institutions to implement.

UNEP, said Mr. Ahmad, is instrumental in bringing together governments, youth, women leaders, indigenous peoples and other stakeholders, creating a collective voice that is translating into a youth and environmental movement.

For developing countries, he added, a big challenge is access to affordable, sustainable, and predictable financing: “without access to financial resources, we can’t dream of a day when we can overcome climate change”.

As the representative of youth on the panel, Ayisha Siddiqa shared a story from 200 years ago, when Native American tribal laws changed to incorporate the viewpoint of children. “Although we are experiencing a crisis which is limiting our resources, we are expanding as a society,” she noted. “We need to take a long-term view, and take children into account.”

The fourth member of the panel, Ms. Uribe, said that, when her organization first engaged young Colombians in 2016, and asked them what peacebuilding means to them, they put education, climate justice, equality, and employment at the top of their list.

Today, she added, Colombia is the deadliest country for climate activists in the world, and called on her government for more support. Technology, continued Ms. Uribe, also contains dangers, particularly when it comes to misinformation, and its effect on democracy, and climate action.

Watch the session again [HERE

See more photos [HERE]

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