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Talk about a consensus: 90 percent of young people around the world think global leaders should do “whatever it takes” to tackle climate change, according to a new United Nations Environment Program survey.

The survey questioned 12-to-18 year-old’s in five countries (Brazil, India, Russia, South Africa, and the United States), all key players in upcoming international climate negotiations. Concern about global warming is highest in Brazil (96 percent) and South Africa (91 percent), followed by India (85 percent) and the U.S. (82 percent). Fewer youth in frigid Russia (70 percent) seem to be concerned, but they still constitute a clear majority.

Youth are also clearly connecting the dots between climate change and failed political leadership.

In South Africa, the U.S., and Brazil, the vast majority of youth say global leaders aren’t doing enough to take on the crisis (South Africa, 82 percent; the U.S., 79 percent; Brazil, 73 percent). Curiously, in India young people are more likely to say world leaders are doing “too much” or “enough;” just 19 percent say they are not doing enough–but those 19 percent are increasingly organized.

So where do we go from here?

The next 14 months are crucial when it comes to stopping global warming. Not only do scientists say we’re running out of time, but the United Nations is tasked with passing a new global climate treaty by December 2009 at the UN Climate Meetings in Copenhagen, Denmark.

It’s a herculean task, made all the more complicated by the current economic crisis. Global warming is the most interconnected of issues, spanning development, poverty, food, human rights, national sovereignty, trade, the environment, and more. Currently, the United Nations negotiations are stumbling forward toward Copenhagen, bogged down in bureaucracy and argument. The meetings desperately need a breath of fresh air.



Youth are well equipped to breathe new life into the negotiations. While they don’t have an official seat at the table, young people have had an active presence at the UN Climate Meetings in the past few years.

In 2005, hundreds of North American youth descended on Montreal, Canada for the December meetings. I attended with two busloads of students from Middlebury College (the offer of a free weekend in party-capital Montreal was an added bonus for students stuck in Vermont for the winter). We held workshops, marched around the meetings in togas to attract attention, and heckled the U.S. delegation when it was blocking progress.

The Montreal meetings sparked a new youth interest in the meetings. Last year, for the Bali Climate Meetings, nearly a hundred youth from around the world came to the Pacific island to organize creative actions to push the meetings along. This year, around 500 youth are scheduled to attend the meetings in Poznan, Poland. Plans for large-scale actions, creative lobbying, digital communications, and more are underway.

According to today’s UNEP report, more and more youth feel that they have the power to change their government’s policies on global warming. Here in the United States, Power Vote is hard at work registering hundreds of thousands of youth clean energy voters. And around the world, new youth coalitions are springing up to fight global warming.

Good to know the United Nations is beginning to get the message.

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