UNESCO General Conference: Young People’s Voices and Demands

Blog of Evelyne PARA, UN SI Representative at UNESCO

The 13th edition of the UNESCO Youth Forum organised by the Social and Human Sciences Sector on 14 and 15 November 2023, at the UNESCO General Conference, offered some 170 young actors from around 150 countries a space for very interesting discussion and debate.

A unique opportunity for young people to present not only their challenges, but also their ideas and demands to world leaders and policy makers of UNESCO Member States, during the General Conference, the highest decision-making body of UNESCO.

One of these debates focused on the social impact of climate change and the need to achieve a climate transition. With other NGOs, we were able to participate in an interactive dialogue meeting where young people expressed their claims for quality climate change education.

Why a Youth Forum?

The UNESCO Youth Forum, shaped by and for young people, is an essential component of the UNESCO Youth Programme. Every two years since 1999, it offers young people a space for dialogue among themselves and with UNESCO and allows them to share their enthusiasm and creativity.

Today’s young people have a voice, we just need to give them the space they need to express themselves in public debates and be heard. The UNESCO Youth Forum offers them this space: they have the opportunity to engage in discussions and debates, to share their experiences, their lived realities, ideas and innovative solutions, to learn from each other, to inspire each other and formulate proposals for action that reflect their needs and concerns.

UNESCO is committed to supporting them in the fight against inequalities, the contribution to sustainable development and the construction of peace.

Some key facts highlighted by Young People

This year’s theme 2023 comes at a critical time. Young people have been clear in recent years: climate change is putting their future at risk. The future of humanity, and in particular of young people, is threatened.  

In addition to ecological damage, the social impacts of climate change must be at the centre of the debate if we are to achieve a just climate transition. At this pivotal time for our planet, the lives of future generations are at stake.

It is undeniable that today’s young people will be most affected by climate change. Their voices, ideas and actions must inform and shape how the social impact of climate change is addressed regionally and globally. Young people are therefore key players in the innovation necessary for a just climate transition, and they are extremely motivated to do so. “It’s now or never”, they have repeated at UNESCO.

They also recalled certain notable facts:

  •       83% of young people think that humanity failed to take care of the planet;


  •       The 1.5°C warming threshold could be reached as early as 2030;


  •       70% of young people are very worried about climate change, and believe they are not prepared or trained to meet the challenges posed by climate change;


  •       68% of total emissions come from just 10 countries, while the 100 least emitting countries create only 3%;


  •       Up to 700 million people in Africa, especially women and children, may be displaced as a result of high water stress by 2030;


  •       50-75 trillion pieces of plastic and microplastic are floating in the ocean.


Their main demands 

>> The quality of climate change education currently provided is called into question: Most young people say they were informed about climate change at school; However, they believe that the lessons received have not prepared them for this change, and they are particularly concerned about the fact that climate change is only approached from a general angle, without being linked to concrete actions.

>> Young people are demanding education about climate change that helps them understand this phenomenon, respond better to it and become aware of human beings’ place in nature, using comprehensive school approaches.

>> Young people are demanding interdisciplinary teaching of the different aspects of climate change, by considering this change as an interconnected element, which cannot be reduced to an ecological question but which also takes into account social and economic dimensions.

>> Young people are demanding climate change education that takes into account complexity and interconnections. They are demanding more pragmatic learning, which helps them find concrete solutions, ranging from practical skills allowing them to adopt more climate-friendly lifestyles, to the development of entrepreneurship to learn how to make their concerns heard, participate in decision-making processes and engaging in responsible civic actions carried out with people from diverse backgrounds.

>> Young people are demanding learner-centred, experimental and reflective learning methods. They wish to participate in experimental activities, organised within the framework of projects, including outside the classroom, as well as in collaborations with experts and local organisations.

>> Young people are calling for teachers to be better supported and trained to teach about climate change, particularly through more teaching resources and collaboration with local experts.

>> Young people are demanding schools that are essential places for learning about climate change. They call for transforming school grounds into nature-rich environments, which can significantly improve mental and physical health, social and cognitive skills, creativity and academic performance.

>> Young people are demanding greater participation in decision-making relating to climate change within schools, concerning for example waste production or energy consumption.

>> Young people are demanding contextualised climate change education through the mobilisation of local populations. They want more partnership activities to be organised at the local level, such as events on climate change, joint projects with local organisations or with local stakeholders from civil society in particular.

>> Young people are demanding that geographic and demographic contexts be taken into account. For example, Girls say they are less confident than boys in their ability to address climate change using education at school.

>> Young people from small island developing states and least developed countries call for more climate change education.

At the conclusion of this Youth Forum organised as part of the 2023 General Conference, UNESCO and its partners are committing to translate the demands of young people into an educational guide with recommendations intended for Member States decision-makers  and educators.



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