In a move to promote climate innovation among the young and enable inclusivity and climate justice in vulnerable regions, Climate-KIC hosted its new "Young Innovators" programme in a Latin American country for the very first time. RESET writer Katie Cashman was there.
The youth of today are passionate about protecting the planet. Skipping school to raise awareness about climate change, and leading protests on global inaction, they seem to be taking the challenges of the future much more seriously than the people in charge. And while it's wrong for the weight of responsibility for the future of the planet to rest solely on the shoulders of the next generation, if we are to stand any chance of developing a resilient, sustainable and inclusive society, then we will need a future generation of professionals who are prepared to help lead the way.
Young Innovators is a new programme established by the EU-funded innovation hub EIT Climate-KIC with the mission to transform millions of teenagers living in Europe, and beyond, into pioneers of change - by bringing climate change education into schools and curriculums. And not a moment too soon. In just a short time, these young people will become the leaders of our societies, businesses and nations. This new programme is a huge opportunity to tackle climate change through learning and innovation from an early age.
What is a Young Climathon?
As part of Young Innovators, Climate-KIC is holding Young Climathons - hackathons bringing together young people aged 12 to 18 years old to collaborate on climate-positive changes for their city. While the majority of these Young Climathons are being rolled out across Europe, in November 2019, Linares, Chile became the first city to host one outside of the European Union, and in the Global South. Linares is a small city situated to the south of the capital Santiago. Co-organized by social change collective 2811, of which I am a member, we chose to host in Linares because it is a city deeply affected by the climate crisis and with few financial resources to take it on. The ecological crisis facing the world is also a social crisis of inequality. Bottom up initiatives addressing climate justice can make real change for local communities.
The challenge posed was to develop public green spaces to be more inclusive and sustainable. More than 100 student participants from 8 different schools were grouped into teams which developed a solution, a prototype and a pitch. The solutions were put to the vote and four winners were chosen.
Among the winning solutions was the idea of developing an abandoned factory into a public space with community gardens, planting a new park in an underserved neighbourhood - designed as a meeting point for all sectors of the community, including people with disabilities, elderly people and young children - and expanding local bike paths. The winning teams will continue to meet with local environmental organization Hualo Foundation in order to develop their solutions into implementable projects.
The skills needed in the classroom to take on climate change
The local organizers in Chile complemented the hackathon with a teacher workshop for more than 80 local teachers. The participants used maps of Linares to indicate the consequences of climate change in the territory, with teachers pointing out the visibility of climate change in public health, the agricultural economy and population migration patterns. Chile is ranked as highly vulnerable to climate change, with Linares facing high levels of air pollution, desertification and an agricultural crisis.
The teachers at the workshop made the solution to the climate crisis loud and clear: the classroom. They agreed that school curricula must connect all subjects, whether biology, maths, writing, art or business, to climate and the environment. Facilitators asked the participantes to name the emotion which comes to mind when they think of climate change. The results showed that angst, anxiety, sadness, fear, and anger dominate their climate change mindset - known by psychologists as “eco anxiety.” Noting how powerful these emotions are, especially for children, the teachers were challenged to introduce a new discourse on climate change that inspires wellbeing, activism, empathy and collaboration, rather than doom and gloom.
Advancing climate innovation & inclusivity in one of the most unequal countries in the world
While the Young Climathon was first planned to take place in Chile because it was originally set to be the host country of the COP25, the relevance of the location remained even after the climate talks were moved to Madrid at the last minute. The consequences of climate change are real and visible in Linares. The region is suffering from desertification, with falling water levels and longer periods of drought, which are aggravated by the prioritization of water for productive activities such as agriculture and energy.
Chile is one of the most unequal countries in the world, and the effects of climate change are also exacerbated by social inequality and poverty in the region. In Linares, for example, green areas are unequally distributed. Lower income areas have fewer green areas, meaning less water is retained in the soil, and changes in temperature happen and are felt more abruptly.
But (just like all cities) it is also rich in opportunities. Firstly, because it is very flat, Linares is a great place for bicycle use. Promoting a walkable and bikeable city could help reduce personal car use and fossil fuel emissions. Secondly, as a city surrounded by native forests, taking care of these and preventing deforestation can help the area be more resilient to changes in the climate and also store more water.
Talking to Carolina Torres, the environmental coordinator for the education department of the Linares municipality after the event, she was positive about the impact and opportunities offered by the Young Climathon. "I think we need this kind of event to demonstrate to us that when the objective is protecting the environment, then our young people are able to bridge all kinds of social, political and cultural differences and come together to work on solutions," she said. "If we are to protect our environment, we need a sense of unity, commitment and belonging - and that's what has been created here."