In a time when societal challenges continuously arise, young people engage in public discourse to represent the interests of their generation. To gain insight into their experiences, motivations, and methods, Public Matters interviews several young lobbyists. In the second part of the interview series “Young and Lobbyist: a new generation of decision-makers” and following the conversation with National Youth Council (NJR), colleagues Valérie Mendes de León and Jesse van der Genugten speak with Laura de Vries and Sander Brouwers, respectively, former board member of Government & Politics (until July 1, 2023) and chair of the Public Affairs working group of the Youth Climate Movement NL (JKB).
The Youth Climate Movement NL
The JKB is an umbrella organization representing more than 55 diverse youth organizations, united through the signing of the Youth Climate Agenda. This agenda outlines a vision for a more sustainable Netherlands by 2040. In its early days, the movement mainly focused on setting the agenda. “We were even able to include certain matters in the coalition agreement, such as the generational test and the climate authority,” says Sander. “Now, we have established good contacts, which allow us to actively participate in policy processes. The status quo now is that we both set the agenda and participate,” he states.
Intergenerational Climate Justice
Climate policy and sustainability are topics widely discussed both in politics and society. An increasing number of organizations join the debates around these issues. “For the Youth Climate Movement, it’s mainly about intergenerational climate justice. The generational test is crucial for us as it directly relates to future generations,” says Sander. This test, jointly submitted with the SER-Youth Platform, is an instrument that assesses ambitious policy documents on their generational sustainability and is included in the current coalition agreement. Next to focusing on the intergenerational aspect of climate change, the movement sets itself apart through its way of working, as emphasized by the chair of the Public Affairs working group. “By participating actively, not just setting the agenda, we often engage in more constructive collaboration than many other youth interest groups.”
Engaging in Dialogue with Everyone
Climate policy is a polarized theme, and political and societal discussions can be intense. For the Youth Climate Movement, it’s crucial to maintain dialogue with all parties. “We are a politically neutral organization. Climate is not a political issue; it concerns the well-being of all parties. That’s why we are a conversation partner for parties from left to right. We bring up our positions with everyone, and there is a broad willingness to tackle the topic of climate. Of course, there is debate about how to approach it,” says Laura.
At the International Level
The JKB is also active on the international stage. The organization, for instance, participated in COP27, the United Nations climate conference. “We are playing an increasingly significant role internationally. There is a lot of international and European policy on sustainability and climate, and we want to be active there too,” says Laura. She is positively surprised by the space the YCM receives internationally. “Our participation is highly desired, particularly because there are still too few youth organizations participating at the European and international levels. This gives us a lot of room to make an impact.”
Engaging Youth in Climate Plans as a Company?
More and more organizations are developing climate strategies and sustainability plans. To involve young people in these efforts, Laura and Sander offer some tips. “First and foremost, ensure that young people within your organization are involved in the plans and that they genuinely have a role to play. Young people can contribute to creating and implementing sustainability policies, even at the executive level. Often, they are considered ‘too young,’ and this misconception needs to be dispelled, allowing young people to genuinely influence future policies within organizations.”
The Future: Toward a More Professional Organization
To meet the growing demand for youth participation, scaling up is necessary. “We want to make the voices of young people heard, but this is challenging due to capacity issues,” says Laura. Sander and Laura observe an increasing demand for youth participation in climate policy, where more and more calls for substantive expertise are made. While they welcome this development, they acknowledge the limitations of being a volunteer organization. “We remain primarily a volunteer organization, but we need a stronger, paid foundation within the organization.” The call for more professionalization stems from their own success and is a challenge that other volunteer youth organizations will also face. It’s a necessary step to make their voices even more effective and influential. In a business and governmental landscape that encourages such voices, the next outreach is an essential next move.