Audacity of Imagination: The Power of Education and Youth Participation at the Climate Justice Camp

In the lead up to the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), 400 young activists from over 60 countries gathered in Nabuel, Tunisia at the Climate Justice Camp (CJC). The camp provided a space for climate activists to gather, connect and learn from each other with the goal of finding equitable and sustainable ways to address the climate crisis. COP27 will be held from November 6th-18th in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. While many were excited by the upcoming meeting, it was evident that many climate activists felt a growing sense of frustration with the lack of progress towards the high level ambitions from state parties in the lead up to the meeting. Many activists also expressed that they felt a sense of responsibility to push for systemic, grassroots solutions to the climate crisis, with respect for the principles of equity and human rights. Joining the camp as a human rights educator was an invaluable experience to listen and learn and to share knowledge on how the climate crisis is impacting human rights.

“At the Climate Justice Camp, I joined youth and climate activists from some of the world’s most affected regions to engage in collective learning, storytelling, artivism and capacity building. Learning about the personal stories of young people on the frontlines of the climate crisis and their struggles for justice, was both sobering and inspiring, and emphasized the need for the voices of those most impacted to be heard and listened to in forums where climate policy is shaped. Particularly in the African region, renewable energy development is accelerating to meet the demands of the transition, but also risks harming local communities and reproducing or deepening inequalities, if the way such projects are designed, implemented, and, most importantly, financed, adopts our current profit-based model. As both activists and academics highlighted, for the energy transition to be just, we need to move away from the extractive, inequality-accelerating economic structures that are in place to an economy which prioritizes human rights over profit, and works for both people and the planet. The solidarity built across movements and geographies during the Climate Justice Camp makes me hopeful that the collective power of our connected struggles will bring about the systemic change needed to combat this crisis.”

–        Manny Zhang, Research Fellow, Center for Economic and Social Rights

The camp featured over 90 workshops on a wide range of topics related to the climate crisis, including: Fighting Climate Disinformation, Organizer Burnout and Resilience, and Just Transitions to a Low Carbon Resilient Economy. The delegation from Amnesty International facilitated workshops on Climate Change and Human Rights, Strengthening Digital Organizing for Climate Justice, Research on Online Harassment of Climate Justice Activists, and Effective Communications in Climate Change. The CJC created a space that centered the importance of developing inclusive, comprehensive, and intersectional climate curricula that reflect how the climate crisis has direct impacts on the ability to enjoy human rights such as the rights to education, sanitation and housing. Activist Edrieënna Brandao reflected on the power of education when confronting the climate crisis, and found that the role of education is critically important.

“So much of the work we do requires the audacity of imagination. It requires an audit of the inheritance we received as a species and methodically removing (unlearning) colonial ideologies about ourselves, others, and the natural world. It also requires reimagining our language, laws, and practices in such a way that critical thinking, active citizenship, and a respect for pluralism becomes our norm.

The camp reminded me that protecting human rights is a practice that we as a species must continue to explore and refine together. The future of human rights education should focus on empowering learners to use evidence-based & trauma-informed tools and best practices to contribute to healthy social and natural ecosystems. Learning outcomes should be drawn from the rich stories about ally-ship, resilience, self-advocacy, indigenous knowledge, holistic health, and solidarity. Education is the one thing that cannot be taken away from us, especially when learners use it to build their dream reality”

-Edrieënna Brandao, Educator, Instructional Design & Social Equity

The CJC also highlighted the importance of bringing youth to the table to discuss equitable and sustainable solutions for transitioning to a green, renewable economy. Youth were provided opportunities to take on leadership roles, facilitate workshops, develop sustainable solutions, share their life experiences, and have their voices be elevated and heard by their peers. Climate activist and Amnesty International Youth Delegate to COP27, Natalie Gwatirisa, reflects:

“The climate justice camp, a mini–COP, I guess, with hundreds of young climate activists gathered sharing one common goal to fight for climate justice. One of the most memorable experiences during the camp was hosting a session on the effectiveness of climate change communication where people of different professions with different targeted audiences in communicating climate change were present. This was my first international platform to host a physical session with different nationalities which turned out so well.  One of the main objectives of the CJC was to gather youth voices towards COP27, and the COP27 sessions were held throughout the week which also helped me to get to understand some of the issues concerning climate finance. Least I forget the interactions I had with other influencing climate activists, sharing their journey and how they conduct their work in their communities and ideas as well.”

-Natalie Gwatirisa, Climate Advocate, Amnesty International Zimbabwe

The climate crisis impacts the human rights of all people. But for some, the impacts of the crisis are felt more adversely and permeate every aspect of their life. One important learning from the CJC was the importance of creating and facilitating spaces for individuals to come together and safely share how the climate crisis impacts their well-being. There was an incredible amount of resilience displayed by activists throughout the week and it was obvious that this resilience was held up by the collective support activists provided to each other. Facilitators at the camp took great care to ensure that participants came together throughout the day and discussed their motivations, fears, frustrations and hopes. The work of climate activists and environmental human rights defenders is difficult and, for many, dangerous. The creation of spaces for activists to discuss strategies for ensuring their own safety and well-being was deeply important. Climate activist, maria jaya reflects:

“Seeing everyone together, especially my fellow young climate activists from the most affected areas on Earth, was so powerful. I felt such immense joy to see all of us in solidarity with each other’s causes in that space, all while we’re fighting for our people, for our water, for our forests, and for our lands back home. I learned so much from the daily workshops and the sessions, and I’m now more motivated than ever to keep resisting against extractive and exploitative institutions threatening our Home, especially in the Philippines, which is the most vulnerable to the climate crisis.”

–        -maria jaya (she/her), Youth Climate Activist from Negros Occidental, Philippines and Amnesty International Youth Delegate to COP27

The CJC’s focus on the role of youth is an important counterweight to the established state-led decision making bodies like COP27. The most devastating effects of climate change will be felt most acutely by those who are still young enough to be alive in the second half of the century. Unless we change course and move towards a sustainable trajectory, life on a warming planet will become more and more challenging, threatening the very survival of both humans and the ecosystems on which we depend. Youth need to be at the forefront of these discussions and human rights education is critical to ensuring involvement and change.

To tackle the climate crisis, we all need to act.

Find out how you can fight for climate justice by enrolling in Amnesty’s free online course on climate change and human rights