The youth consultation meeting held as part of Serbia’s national consultations for Stockholm+50 showed there is strong interest among young people in their role in environmental protection and climate action. The discussions highlighted that young people, the group most vulnerable to climate change, can be the creators of solutions to support the green transition.
The youth consultation meeting was organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Serbian Ministry of Environmental Protection, and with support from the Government of Sweden. The consultations are part of Serbia’s preparations for the conference Stockholm+50: a healthy planet for the prosperity of all – our responsibility, our opportunity.
The conference is organized by the Government of Sweden on June 2 and 3 to mark 50 years from the first-ever UN Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972, and to define a new joint global vision for sustainable development.
Providing an opportunity for young people to act
Opening the meeting in Belgrade, Sandra Dokić, Assistant Minister of Environmental Protection, said that young people’s energy should lead the planet forward. She added that environmental protection is a wide area where many young people can find a way to act.
According to her, the ministry has noticed that Serbia lacks experts in the field of environmental law.
Dokić: Serbia needs a model to support young people in giving a visible contribution to environmental protection
Dokić noted that Serbia needs experts such as “green engineers” and “green managers” to help implement international standards. In that context, it is necessary to develop a model of cooperation that would involve the state supporting young people in giving a visible contribution to environmental protection, according to her.
Miroslav Tadić, Program Analyst at the UNDP, believes that young people are those who can create solutions for the green transition. To achieve this, it is vital to educate young people on how to deal with environmental issues, according to Tadić.
Tadić: it is vital to educate young people on how to deal with environmental issues
The UNDP is implementing a number of initiatives to help improve informal education among young people, including on climate change, through the so-called Climate Box available at www.klimatskepromene.rs, and on health, through an awareness campaign on hazardous chemicals, he recalled.
Young people are vulnerable to climate change
Yosi Echeverry Burckhardt, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Serbia, talked about the process of adopting Serbia’s new energy strategy.
Defining the future of energy in Serbia, according to her, is an issue where young people should make a major contribution given that this future belongs to them.
Echeverry Burckhardt believes that cooperation between young people and experts is of crucial importance when it comes to developing strategies and plans for the future. She recalled that according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), young people should be included in decision-making on issues that concern them.
Echeverry Burckhardt: young people are the group most vulnerable to climate change, but they can also become drivers of a change for the better
Young people are the group most vulnerable to climate change, but it is also true that they can become key drivers of a change for the better, according to Echeverry Burckhardt. She added that it is very important that young people act locally and, like their peers in other countries, become the drivers of social change in the field of ecology.
Much is expected from young people, but they need support
At a panel on environmental protection, sustainable development, and Chapter 27 of EU membership talks, young people were given guidelines for Stockhom+50 consultations.
Sara Pavkov, adviser to the Minister of Environmental Protection, said the panel’s key topic is something that worries all young people, but also calls for social responsibility.
She presented a pilot project of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, which saw 17,000 elementary school students in 29 cities and municipalities educated on the basics of sustainable development.
Professor Petar Uskoković, dean of the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy of Belgrade University, noted that all documents on environmental protection and sustainable development put people at the heart of the process.
Much is expected from young people, and acting locally is of key importance
Much is expected from young people, but society must equip them for change – through formal and informal education, participation in international and regional gatherings, as well as project financing for improving the environment, according to Uskoković.
Local action is key for an active role of young people
Emilja Panić from the Ministry of Youth and Sports said that young people must be included in the planning, development, and realization of all important projects and decisions in society. For an active role of young people, acting locally is key, she said.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports supports opening youth offices in all local governments in Serbia to serve as a liaison between young people and decision makers.
Vučković: children are particularly vulnerable to environmental pollution
Stanislava Vučković, Head of the Program for the adolescent and youth development at UNICEF in Serbia, warned that children are the most vulnerable group when it comes to environmental pollution since they are the most susceptible to harmful effects of infectious diseases and climate change impacts.
Young people contemplate the challenges maturely, and they want to be heard
The youth consultation meeting included three workshops, providing young people with the opportunity to take part in strategic planning and voice their views on sustainable development, climate change, and environmental protection.
“Young people contemplate the various climate change challenges independently, and they are more than determined to act, not only in Serbia but at the European and the global level as well,” said Marjana Brkić, international cooperation adviser at the Center for the Promotion of Science (CPN), who facilitated one of the workshops.
Young people are resolved to tackle the challenges of climate change, not only in Serbia but also in Europe and around the world
The consultations also touched on changes brought about by COVID-19, as well as the question of whether or not things should get back to where they were before the pandemic.
The system was forced to digitize education, but university and high school students think of it as a good thing. Students liked the opportunity to attend classes online and they saw it as a contribution to sustainable development due to reduced consumption of natural resources, according to Brkić.
Students liked the opportunity to attend classes online
At one of the workshops, young people also contemplated ways to help heal the planet. “The impression is that they think about the environment a lot and in the right way, and that their thinking is astonishingly mature,” said Nataša Đokić, an environment expert and workshop facilitator.
She also noted that young people don’t feel equal as members of society despite the guaranteed equality under the law.
There is a feeling among Serbian youth of their inequality at the global level, due to “brutal capitalism”
“Equality depends on financial circumstances, and Serbia is no exception here,” she said. “There is a feeling among Serbian youth of their inequality at the global level as well, due to brutal capitalism,” she said, noting that she was quoting their own words.
The impression from the workshop on Sustainable Development Goals is that young people are willing to actively participate in solving the problems, and that they should be supported more and enabled to act.
Young people understand that they will bear the brunt of the consequences of today’s decisions
Darinka Radojević from the government’s Public Policy Secretariat said that young people understand that they will bear the brunt of the consequences of today’s decisions, which makes them very motivated and eager to present their ideas and be heard.
Young people chose green and sustainable solutions for the future
Participants in all three working groups at the youth meeting presented their conclusions, which will be considered when drafting Serbia’s national report for the Stockhilm+50 conference.
They highlighted the importance of ecology in the education system, but also general education on environmental issues for all age groups. One of the participants, 16-year-old Petar Aničić from the UNICEF Youth Board, believes it would be good if each school subject dealt in part with ecology, or if there was a separate subject dedicated to ecology.
The young people who took part in the consultations believe that the circular economy, local action, inclusion of marginalized groups, and investment in education and science can help to establish a healthy relationship with nature, recover from the pandemic in a sustainable and inclusive way, and organize the economy in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. They also highlighted green urbanism, ecotourism, and green roofs as positive examples of local action.