By: April Khaing and Hayley Cook
One of the key characteristics of the World Wide Views on Climate and Energy deliberations was the diversity of the participants, contributing to varied and layered discussions. This diversity represents subpopulations of the American public, and now allows for the highlighting of specific voices in the climate discussions.
One such subpopulation is that of participants aged 18 to 24, representing America’s youth. Combining all four WWViews sites — Boston, St. Paul, Ft. Collins and Phoenix, a total of 121 applicants were in that age bracket, 97 of whom were selected based on demographic criteria and 50 eventually participated, representing 18% of the total, in the June 5th deliberations.
The opinions of this group often matched those of their peers around the world in developed, developing, and least developed countries alike. Majority of U.S. and worldwide youth participants are ‘very concerned’ about the impacts of climate change and see measures to fight climate change as mostly an opportunity to improve their quality of life, not threaten it. This age group globally also believes that the world should decide in Paris to do whatever it takes to limit temperatures to two degrees Celsius. And they universally agree that their individual countries should take measures to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, even if other countries do not, with 90% of U.S. youth participants agreeing. This can be interpreted as though America’s younger generation wants to see the United States as a leader in tackling climate change, regardless of the actions of other countries.
While the importance of taking climate action is globally recognized, there are still some differences in responses between U.S. participants of this age group and their peers around the world, with most divergences appearing with respect to questions of responsibility.
When asked what types of solutions (global, national, or local) will be most effective for dealing with climate change, U.S. and worldwide youth participants had differing opinions:
This finding shows that American youth participants have a different perspective regarding where climate change solutions should originate, believing solutions should emanate from the local level, compared to the their peers around the world, who view global solutions as being more effective. But when asked who should be primarily responsible for enacting those solutions, both U.S. and worldwide youth participants answered similarly:
So while U.S. youth participants are in agreement with the rest of the world that there needs to be a global responsibility for taking climate action, they were more likely than their global counterparts to prefer that that action be enacted via local levels, and often emanate from citizens themselves.
There was also a divergence between U.S. and global youth participants’ answers regarding financial responsibility. When asked, ‘After 2020, should high-income countries pay more than already agreed on for mitigation and adaption in low-income countries ($100 billion in 2020)?’, the majority (77%) of worldwide youth participants answered ‘Yes’. The response from U.S. youth participants were more varied. Only 49% answered ‘Yes’, with 28% answering ‘No’, and 23% answering ‘Don’t know / Do not wish to answer’ (the highest of that response for any question), showing that U.S. youth participants are not as sure about commitment to increasing the financial responsibility of high-income countries, which includes their own country.
Another key difference comes in response to how the participant believed his/her country is dealing with climate change. To 85% of U.S. youth participants, ‘climate change is not a national priority but it should be’, compared to only 46% of their global counterparts who answered similarly.
But when it comes to what participants want to see happen during and after Paris, the majority of U.S. and worldwide youth participants are in concordance. They believe that the Paris agreement should include a global long-term goal for zero emissions at the end of this century, as well as legally-binding, national short-term goals, showing that they are ready to see national and international leaders take measurable steps for tackling climate change.
At the end of the deliberations, the majority of participants, both U.S. and worldwide, believed that the World Wide Views results would be used in a meaningful way for political decision-making in relation to COP21. The citizens have spoken through this deliberative process and now want their representatives, policymakers, and leaders to hear their voices. Globally, citizens of a younger generation collectively see climate change as an issue of importance, and now they are hopeful that Paris will present an opportunity to not only include the voices of the public in an international agreement, but also to make some progress towards finding solutions.