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COP26: ‘Young people deserve to be listened to’

In this guest blog for COP26 Youth and Public Empowerment Day, Junior Ranger and Youth Committee member Catriona Manders has her say on climate change.

I think the first time I really heard of climate change was a debate we did in primary school called “Is climate change real?”

To be honest, I didn’t know much about the topic, none of us really did. It just fell into our cluster of debates on controversial topics like “Was the moon landing fake?” Just enough to keep us amused on a Thursday afternoon.

And on that Thursday, I was arguing that climate change was real. I remember a friend of mine saying that it didn’t matter if it was real because we’d be gone by the time it affected us anyway. I also remember disagreeing with him, because he was being selfish and it would affect our kids and grandkids. But we were both wrong – it will affect us.

I grew up, and am still growing up, in a tiny village in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by nature for my whole childhood and some of my favourite memories are of the hours spent den building with other village kids, the first time I cycled up the big hill out of the village and guddling about in burns, making dams and crying when I ultimately fell in.

I grew an appreciation for the natural world that surrounded me – to the point that I’ve become a bit of a city-phobe, but that’s a separate issue. I believe that’s one of the key things that National Parks and organisations around the world can do, just to try and spark that engagement with other young people. And older people too! I hope the world leaders coming to Glasgow this month take just five minutes to walk in our National Park because to me, it becomes blindingly obvious what we’re fighting for.

When I was in P6, doing that debate, I knew very little about climate change – other than that it was bad and the world was getting hotter. I know a bit more now, but still not much – there should be far better climate education in schools than there is.

Because when you look into it yourself, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by statistics and warnings and general doom and gloom. The so-called impending doom of the planet? It’s really scary. And you know what else is scary? The fact that many of the key decision makers have the same view as the boy in my P6 class – that it won’t affect them.

That’s why youth voice groups are so important, especially in places like National Parks – because it does affect us and it affects the places we live in and care about. In a survey recently, we, as the youth committee, identified climate change as the key priority for young people in the National Park – and now, it’s our role to try to act upon that in everything we do.

Young people deserve to be listened to in every room. We aren’t tokens or symbols of the future, we’re just slightly less aged adults and it would be great to be treated as such more often. When you look around at ‘youth engagement’ programmes, it often becomes hard to draw the line between meaningful conversation and tokenistic consultation.

The latter being the less ideal of the two because we have interest and passion and really quite a lot to say. I say ‘we’ very vaguely here, because I’m almost falling into the trap of generalising young people. ‘We’ are every school pupil in this world, every climate change protester and climate change denier – not exactly an easily defined group.

My point is that young people should be listened to, whatever we have to say – because, to use the horribly cliché term, we are the future. We’re inheriting this world, whatever is left of it so it’s only right that we have a say.

Catriona Manders

Junior Ranger and Youth Committee Member

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority

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