Written by Isaac, 20, UNICEF Canada Youth Advocacy Program Participant, Mihir, 15, UNICEF Canada Youth Advocate, Olivia, 16, UNICEF Canada Youth Advocate, and  Teerka, 17, UNICEF Canada U-Report Ambassador

Across Canada, climate change is far from being an equalizer; instead, it amplifies existing social injustices, placing a heavier burden on marginalized youth. As the effects of climate change become increasingly evident, it is imperative that we acknowledge that it is no longer just a matter of rising temperatures and extreme weather events; it has become a catalyst that magnifies social injustices, heaping its weight disproportionately upon the shoulders of the most vulnerable—marginalized youth.

Research confirms the harsh reality: low-income, Indigenous, Black, and racialized neighbourhoods bear the brunt of environmental harm, from lack of clean water to increased chances of disease. This environmental inequity has deep roots in Canada’s history and is a manifestation of the systemic racism and colonialism that have shaped our nation. In fact, Canada ranks 28th out of 39 wealthy countries in overall environmental well-being of children and youth.

Why we need a social justice approach to climate change

As youth, we rise to expose and dismantle these roots. We stand at a critical juncture, where the power of youth-led climate activism can redefine our future. We implore climate leaders and organizations to adopt the following four suggestions to shift toward a more equitable movement. 

Our voices echo in unison. 

First, we urge a thorough examination of youth representation in climate activism spaces and a critical analysis of the reasons certain marginalized groups are underrepresented. It is time for leaders and organizations to recognize that true representation means breaking down barriers that hinder marginalized youth from engaging fully in this battle for our planet. Their contributions must be valued sincerely, without tokenism. Climate activism and the amplification of youth voices may take different forms in various communities, ranging from formal programs like UNICEF’s U-Report to conversations in schools. 

Second, we want to see comprehensive and accessible climate education for all youth. Climate literacy can be a powerful tool in empowering youth to take informed action to protect their communities and themselves. It is critical that climate change education includes the historical context and stories of how marginalized groups are disproportionately affected. It is equally important that all youth feel their experiences are reflected and seen in this education. We call for inclusive education that transcends barriers, meeting the needs of all youth. Youth will inevitably have to face and deal with climate change; having foundational education will help equip us for the fight. 

Third, we need to recognize the importance of and uplift climate action through grassroots and community-based organizations and initiatives. The communities that are most hard-hit by the climate crisis are oftentimes marginalized from policy creation and climate action when they possess the first-hand knowledge critical to addressing these challenges. Specifically, youth-led community organizations are doing incredible work in meeting the overlooked needs of youth in their communities. We need to invest in these organizations through funding and support so they can continue the fundamental work they do.

Fourth, we want policy action. We need laws that recognize environmental racism and environmental justice to truly ensure climate change is addressed equitably. One example is Bill C-266, which entails the development of a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice. Bill C-226, should it become law, will be a tool to address environmental racism in Indigenous, Black, and other racialized communities from coast to coast. You can advocate for this right now by emailing your MPs to support this bill. 

As youth, we need to work to make sure our voice is heard. One way is through UNICEF Canada’s Youth Engagement Programs such as being a U-Report Ambassador or a Youth Advocate. Moreover, we can utilize available resources to better understand climate change, particularly from a social justice lens, informing our advocacy and future endeavors.

We are in unison.

We don’t want to repeat history. 

We want equitable climate solutions. 

We want equitable opportunities for all youth. 

We want it now.