At the Sharm el-Sheikh Climate Change Conference (COP27) on 9 November 2022, UNU-IAS and UNESCO organised an official side event that explored how engaging citizens in science and empowering youth could contribute to climate action.
In welcoming remarks, Abou Amani (Director, Water Sciences Division, UNESCO) underlined the need for evidence-based decision making to advance climate action on all fronts, and called for climate science to be accessible to all. Shen Xiaomeng (Vice-Rector in Europe, UNU and Director, UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security) noted that including citizens in social dialogue would make science more robust, and that co-creating knowledge with youth was essential to design a desirable future for all.
Hiroshi Ono (Vice-Minister for Global Environmental Affairs, Ministry of the Environment, Japan) emphasised that citizens needed accessible and understandable scientific knowledge in order to contribute to climate action, through their own lifestyle choices and through the democratic process.
Delivering the keynote speech, Taikan Oki (Special Advisor to the President and Professor, Graduate School of Engineering, University of Tokyo) stressed that science and technology were essential to reducing emissions, and that scientific knowledge must be accessible to every citizen in an understandable form. He noted that global partnerships were needed for exchange of knowledge, and called for an open-science mechanism for resilience and sustainability in water.
A panel discussion was moderated by Anil Mishra (Chief of Section, UNESCO). Koen Verbist (Programme Specialist, UNESCO) explained how climate observatories in Southern Africa had helped to identify communities that were at risk, illustrating how working with local communities can generate adaptive solutions for climate change. Introducing the Regional Centres of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (RCEs), Shinobu Yume Yamaguchi (Director, UNU-IAS) highlighted climate education projects implemented by RCEs in Nigeria, Uganda, and the United States. These innovative approaches for empowering youth at the local level have great potential for transformative impact.
Ann Van Griensven (UNESCO Chair on Open Water Science and Education, Vrije Universiteit Brussels) presented on open science in water management, explaining how citizen science was expanding in agriculture and ecosystem services. Focusing on gender and youth empowerment, Awa Niang Fall (Department of Geography, University of Dakar) highlighted that young people were becoming more aware of climate change hazards as well as how sustainable development could be a solution to the problem.
Philip Osano (Centre Director, Stockholm Environment Institute Africa and Chair, UNU-IAS Advisory Board) introduced a partnership on sports that uses education as a mechanism for climate action. The initiative, whose activities include installing air quality sensors in sports facilities and high schools, mobilises young people and sports organisations in climate monitoring projects. A presentation by Melissa Brown Goodall (Senior Director, Environmental Innovations Initiative, University of Pennsylvania and UNU-IAS Board member) shared the Environmental Innovations Initiative of the University of Pennsylvania, which is addressing sustainable development challenges through elevating trans-disciplinary research and fostering collaboration. She introduced the Global University Climate Forum, which engages students to implement local projects on climate change, and underlined the need to provide youth with tools to enact their ideas.
Summarising the key messages, Philip Vaughter (Consultant, UNU-IAS) observed that the examples illustrated how citizens could engage in actioning climate solutions through informed decision making and action with science. He highlighted that climate change affected people in different ways — some are more vulnerable than others, and have different levels of resources and agency. These factors must be accounted for in developing tools and initiatives for empowerment. Dr Vaughter also underlined the theme of action, noting that citizens across the world were interested in applying the knowledge they had gained to take practical action, and were invested in actioning solutions in their own lives.