The Power of Youth-led Action Research in Improving Climate Education and Action

JSI
3 min readDec 7, 2023

In 2022, 17,000 young people from 166 countries, questioned in the largest survey of its kind, called for comprehensive changes to education to better address the global climate and environmental emergency. This was echoed by youth at the Conference of Youth (COY16) in Glasgow, the pre-COP Youth4Climate (2021) in Milan, and again at the Youth declaration at the Transforming Education Summit (2022) in New York. With greater unison and urgency than ever before, youth are calling on governments to transform education to provide them with the right knowledge, skills, and values to adapt to and mitigate climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. [1]

Youth are demanding experiential climate change and environmental education that helps them understand and recognize the human place within nature and how to live within our planetary boundaries. This includes more contextualized environmental education that engages with and draws on their local communities. They are also claiming more say in decision-making on climate and environmental action in their schools and communities.

As a global non-profit organization working at the intersection of health, education and socioeconomic equity, JSI’s experience shows that youth-led research can help ignite some of these changes. Our recent youth-led research activities in Benin and Saint Lucia, which are led by JSI’s World Education division, encouraged schools, local authorities, and communities to center youth voices in decision-making around education, livelihoods, and the environment. Through these activities, youth identify issues that concern them, develop a research question to frame their inquiry, determine key informants, and design and use tools to collect and analyze data they have prioritized. They then present their findings back to key stakeholders with data-supported suggestions to implement the changes identified in the research.

Through this iterative process, youth develop the concrete research and transformative skills, like critical thinking, leadership, and confidence, needed for climate and environmental action. Local leaders and community members also benefit from the valuable youth perspective delivered through objective research findings.

We’ve found that when youth have the opportunity to present data to stakeholders, problem-solving shifts from top-down government, school, and community approaches to more youth-informed decision-making.

Representatives of the Government of Saint Lucia praised the approach and have actively planned to integrate youth-led research into their own strategies. The process also piqued the interest of the private sector in Saint Lucia as stakeholders noted the remarkable youth contributions.

In Benin, we have been working with youth to address their concerns around employability, especially in the Green Economy, through youth-led research. Youth researched which green life skills may make them more employable and used their findings to influence their communities around the changes needed. They identified employability solutions inspired by our school-based agroforestry project funded by the Darwin Initiative.

This youth-led action research process embodies the principles of positive youth development: youth drive the conception and implementation of activities designed to support them. The process also uses action-based pedagogies that, when applied to environmental and climate change education, promote climate and environmental action. As a result, the education sector’s role shifts from focusing on young people’s climate vulnerability to building their agency to be climate and environment leaders.

To share the valuable lessons we’ve learned using this approach, we are hosting a workshop at COP28. Taking place in the Greening Education Partnership’s Pavillion in the Green Zone, the workshop will simulate the youth-led action research process and give participants the opportunity to offer their own insights, lived experience, and other forms of expertise.

With COP28’s unprecedented emphasis on the role of education, as underlined by Article 6 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Article 12 of the Paris Agreement, we view COP28 with optimism. The recently-released Member States Declaration on the Common Agenda for Education and Climate Change at COP28 announces that member states “stand united in our commitment to listen to and respond to the demands of children and youth related to education and climate change.” Youth-led action research, and similar approaches, are vital to reaching this goal.

By Estelle Day and Ben Vorspan

  1. Greening Education Partnership background document at COP28.

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JSI

JSI is dedicated to improving people’s lives around the world through greater health, education, and socioeconomic equity for individuals and communities.