Stockholm Forum: ‘Create space for youth activists rather than dictate the space’

What can peacebuilders learn from youth climate activists? This was the main question driving the lively debate at our session with Humanity United at this year’s Stockholm Forum for Peace and Development.  

The annual conference took place from 23 to 25 May under the theme: ‘From a Human Security Crisis Towards an Environment of Peace’. It is co-hosted by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Our session focused on the impact of youth climate advocacy movements, like the ‘Friday’s for Future’ movement founded by Greta Thunberg and what, specifically, we can learn from their success to galvanise peace work. The speakers also discussed opportunities and challenges to strengthen collaboration between climate and peace movements.  

The panel, comprising seven speakers from activist, policy and academic backgrounds, explored ways to increase support for youth movements at the intersection of climate change, conflict, peace and security. They agreed more needs to be done to create space for young people to take part in decision-making and facilitate opportunities for youth movements to exert more influence. 

Cindy Kobei, from the Ogiek indigenous community of the Mau Forest in Kenya, said it is vital to mobilise young people and inform them about challenges relating to peace, security and the planet, and link these issues to their lived realities. She spoke about the extensive knowledge and experience of indigenous communities and the importance of involving these communities in programmes and decision-making processes. 

“Indigenous communities are at the intersection of conflict and climate change and have tremendous knowledge on how to embrace these challenges, so they need to be involved in every step of the way,”  she said. 

According to Shady Khalil, Founder of Greenish, young people are mobilised and will act with urgency if they get the support they need. Greenish, an Egyptian social enterprise, focuses on informing communities to help them develop their own solutions to climate-related challenges.

“We raise awareness among people that there is a problem. We do not solve the problem but we create attention for the issue,” Shady said, referring to the work of his organisation. “We let people come up with solutions themselves.”

 “A culture of peace unites as we are all collectively preventing violence, violence against others and violence against the planet,” observed Iguehi Omole-Irabor, a peace researcher and practitioner focused on communities in the Lake Chad Basin Region and Nigeria. 

Iguehi referred to growing conflict among pastoralists in rural and remote communities as drought and desertification worsen and natural resources decline. She stressed the importance of involving local communities at the early stages of the design and implementation of programmes to address conflict and environmental degradation. 

From a donor and policymaker perspective, Mariko Peters highlighted the failure of   Institutions to tackle the climate and peace challenge even though both threats have been around for a long time. Revising dysfunctional institutions that are not responding to contemporary challenges will be crucial moving forward, she said. 

Opening up lobbying opportunities, going beyond tokenistic engagement and allowing youth activists to have more agency in decision-making spaces were points raised by Catarina Fabiansson; Senior Advisor in Human Security at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). 

Speaking on behalf of USAID as Director of the Democracy, Rights and Governance (DRG) Center, Rosarie Tucci discussed the risks and opportunities related to the role of technology in youth activism and movements. 

Rosarie highlighted USAID’s new, “ innovative” climate strategy, which, she said, empowers youth to lead climate action. A lot of opportunities will come out of this strategy, she pointed out, noting that climate change cuts through political apathy and brings people together in a way other issues do not. 

She also emphasised the importance of building “coalitions across divides” and that donors and policymakers need to play a facilitation role to “create space for youth activists rather than dictate the space”. 

Bringing climate issues and regional perspectives into global debates and supporting  young people to influence international processes were the focus of questions from the audience. Education, capacity building at the grassroots level and bringing local communities up to speed about what is going on at the global level were among the priorities suggested by the speakers.  

In terms of influencing international processes, the speakers talked about holding national representatives to account who attend critical meetings and setting demands for larger youth representation at global forums like the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP), and the Stockholm +50 international meeting. 

Concluding the session, Bryan Sims, Senior Manager of Peacebuilding at Humanity United, said it is well known that inclusive peacebuilding leads to more positive outcomes. Movements are rooted in communities, he noted, and can shift power and popularise new views. Climate change movements leverage innovative solutions to local and global climate and peace challenges, he said. 

You can read our Stockholm Forum blog here.

We extend our thanks to the speakers: 

Catarina Fabiansson; Senior Advisor in Human Security, CAAC and YPS; Sida. Catarina focuses mainly on Youth, Peace and Security and Children and Armed Conflict. 

Shady Khalil, co-founder of Greenish, a social enterprise focused on educating communities about the environment and empowering them to develop solutions. 

Cindy Kobei, Indigenous Peoples Rights Activist and Chair of Tirap Youth Trust. Tirap, which  means “safe haven”, is an indigenous youth-led organisation, focused on developing the capacities of the Ogiek community members through capacity building programs and advocacy in Kenya. 

Iguehi Omole-Irabor, Independent Consultant, focused on the intersection of conflict, food security and climate change in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin region

Mariko Peters, European External Action Service. Senior Peace and Conflict Advisor, Conflict Prevention and Mediation Support. Mariko is a Dutch diplomat by background and former green politician and human rights lawyer.

Bryan Sims, Senior Manager, Peacebuilding, Humanity United. Bryan leads Humanity United’s Nonviolent Action and Inclusive Peace Process strategy. 

Rosarie Tucci, Director of the Democracy, Rights and Governance (DRG) Center at USAID. Rosarie has worked in a variety of key positions supporting human rights and issues disproportionately affecting excluded populations.