Through the Colombia Forests and Wetlands Support Program, USAID/Colombia and the U.S. Forest Service are implementing the Colombia Youth Conservation Corps (CYCC). | Photo Credit: Linda Beatriz Reyes Vargas

The “Next Generation” is Leading Now: How USAID Supports Youth-Led Climate Action

By Hilary Hambrick Taft, Malina Brannen

Youth between the ages of 10 and 29 make up more than a quarter of the global population—with nine out of ten youth projected to live in Africa and South Asia by 2050—making them crucial partners in development efforts. At a time characterized by record-breaking temperatures, increasing frequency and intensity of natural hazards, and growing food insecurity, youth engagement in climate action is more important than ever before.

Climate change is expected to lead to lower agricultural yields, fewer safe working hours, and unreliable access to natural resources, thereby limiting educational and economic opportunities for youth. Young women and girls in particular will be disproportionately impacted. Due to their lower access to and control of shelter and resources such as food, they are the most vulnerable to natural hazards and face significantly higher mortality rates than young men and boys. While many youth have concerns about the world they are inheriting, they are taking action now as leading changemakers in their communities. 

Young people have maintained the drumbeat of climate action for years. They are raising awareness, running programs, and making lifestyle changes to invest in their future, and adult decision makers have a responsibility to support them.

What is USAID Doing to Facilitate Youth-led Climate Action?

USAID is working to reduce the impacts of climate change on youth communities and empower youth to lead climate action. Guided by the Youth in Development Policy and 2022-2030 Climate Strategy, USAID strives for three objectives: access, participation, and systems change. As USAID works to implement these objectives, there are notable examples across the Missions where the Agency invests in youth programming. These examples complement USAID’s work across sectors such as education, economic development, and agriculture that are working towards transitioning to greener economies for all, including creating economic opportunities for youth.

Objective 1: Access

USAID works to ensure youth are better able to access high-quality information, safe services–including employment, education, and health– and livelihood opportunities, and build the skills they need to lead healthy, productive, and engaged lives. USAID projects are integrating local, climate-relevant themes into teaching by developing learning materials to prepare teachers with the necessary training to integrate climate topics into education. Through classroom, after-school, and out-of-school training programs, USAID aims to build youth technical and soft “green skills” (e.g., STEM and leadership skills).

In Cambodia, the Greening Prey Lang and Cambodia Green Future activities collectively engaged over 50,000 youth aged 15-35 in forest patrols, community training, workshops, research, outreach, internships, and study tours to implementation sites. By providing educational information and access to youth on climate issues in their communities, USAID is steadily building up a cadre of youth climate champions in one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.

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A group of students pick up trash in a wooded area
Cambodian youth collect trash in Kirirom National Park.
Objective 2: Participation

Youth have the right to fully participate in decision making as key partners to contribute to individual, household, community, and national well-being. USAID strives to facilitate behavior change through communications campaigns that help increase acceptance of young people’s meaningful participation, civic engagement, and leadership on climate action and education.

Youth participation in climate action is still an area where USAID seeks to expand its efforts. One new model for meaningfully engaging youth comes out of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where USAID provided grants to youth-led organizations for climate action activities. As part of the Governance Integration for Stabilization and Resilience MENA Youth for Climate Action activity, from July 2022 to September 2023, grantees implemented localized activities in Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza. The interventions included civil society organizations educating and raising awareness about the impacts of climate change through green clubs, school gardens, and youth leadership. The organizations also advanced economic growth and adaptation efforts through green startup accelerators, sustainable transportation, and reducing and recycling waste.

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Five students plant a rooftop garden with a drip irrigation system
Gazan youth plant a rooftop garden.
Objective 3: Systems Change

Youth-led climate action is most impactful when young people have a stronger collective voice in, and are better served by, local and national systems through more coordinated and effective services, practices, and policies that embody the principles of positive youth development. USAID works to ensure that youth voices are not only heard, but also that their ideas are implemented by empowering youth conservation and agriculture organizations through financial and technical support.

In Colombia, USAID works with youth to address systemic issues of climate change through two different programs. First, the Amazon Alive Activity trained more than 100 local youth in natural resource management to become local leaders in deforestation prevention in the departments of Caqueta and Guaviare. Second, a partnership between USAID and the Colombian National Apprenticeship Service provided 21 female Wayuu Indigenous youth leaders the skills needed to work in renewable energy through a 12-month training program in which they were hired as paid interns at renewable energy companies. These examples of professional development will positively impact the workforce pipeline of forestry and energy industries in Colombia for years to come, especially for young women workers.

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Students from the CYCC participate in a hands-on class to learn about watershed management. With the support of Aguas y Aguas de Pereira, a CYCC partner organization, the youth learned how to measure water parameters by measuring flow velocity (number of liters of water passing through during one second), flow width, and flow depth.
Students from the Colombia Youth Conservation Corps participate in a hands-on class to learn about watershed management.

How Can We Further Youth-led Climate Action at USAID?

USAID will not be able to accomplish its goal of broadly integrating youth into climate programs if it works alone. It is critical that we identify youth engagement in climate as a key area of investment in our solicitations, and look to our implementing partners to propose innovative approaches for both youth-focused and youth-relevant programs. 

As youth-led organizations apply to partner with USAID, they are encouraged to share their ideas and examples of climate action. They can also share their ideas on social media by tagging @USAID and using the hashtag #youthandclimateusaid. 

For more information about USAID’s youth in climate programs, check out the Performance Plan and Report Brief from Fiscal Year 2022. Additionally, you can learn more about Climate and Education in this toolkit.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Integration, Mitigation
Topics
Climate, Gender and Social Inclusion, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, Youth
Region
Global

Hilary Hambrick Taft

Hilary Hambrick Taft is USAID’s Technical Specialist for Youth Issues in the Inclusive Development Hub. Hilary began her career in Guatemala as an educator at a community-led development center. Upon return to the U.S., Hilary worked with the Nashville, Tennessee Mayor’s office to launch the city’s first summer youth employment program. Prior to joining USAID, she worked at Ashoka supporting social entrepreneurs. She is currently the co-chair of the Youth in Development working group of SID-US. Hilary has an M.A. in International Development Studies from George Washington University and a B.A. in International Business from Belmont University.

Malina Brannen

Malina Brannen is a Climate and Environment Action Officer for USAID’s Center for Natural Environment. Malina has a background in environmental policy and research, and as a recent graduate is a strong advocate for the inclusion of youth perspectives in climate action.

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