People marching for climate action in Winnipeg

Canadian Youth Look to Move Mountains for the Climate Crisis

As extreme weather events become more common, young people throughout Canada are looking at how they can influence climate policy and inspire change.

By Emily Kroft on November 24, 2021

Young people in Canada have set their sights on revolutionizing climate action. The new generation of activists is going beyond the traditional avenues of protest and is now engaging directly with policy and power structures. There is much we can learn from the efforts of young climate activists, both in Canada and abroad.

Over the last couple of months, I have had the privilege of meeting with some of Canada’s dedicated young climate activists to hear about their goals and tactics. I have heard from young people who are striking from school, communicating directly with policy-makers, rallying to change the legal voting age, and even going directly into damaged ecosystems to begin restoration work themselves.

Katia Bannister: Combining advocacy and ecological restoration

One of these activists is British Columbia’s Katia Bannister, a teenager who has already dedicated most of her life to nature and the environment. Katia became involved with nature from a young age, thanks to her ethnobotanist mother. “There are photos of me as a one- and two-year old strapped into a baby backpack accompanying my mom as she did fieldwork,” reminisced Katia as we spoke to her. 

As Katia grew older and became more aware of the climate crisis, her love of nature spurred her to action. Over the last several years, Katia has participated and been a leader in some very high-profile advocacy, including the Friday strikes from school (initiated by Greta Thunberg) and the Vote16 movement, which aims to lower British Columbia’s legal voting age to 16. Katia is also the current co-leader of the Cowichan Valley Earth Guardians Crew, which works to create inter-generational change on environmental issues. 

At the moment, Katia’s biggest project is engaging directly with ecological restoration work, going out into damaged ecosystems to pull invasive weeds and propagate native plants. “Ecological restoration is tangible, place-based, and rewarding. It helps to contextualize our personal and collective relationships with the Earth,” explained Katia as she recounted her experience restoring an abandoned railroad site. “I planted riparian plants to strengthen the banks of the estuary, a place that had endured decades of degradation. It was exciting, tangible, and interesting.” 

“Ecological restoration is tangible, place-based, and rewarding. It helps to contextualize our personal and collective relationships with the Earth."

Katia Bannister

After hearing Katia describe her own experiences, I asked her what other Canadians of all ages could do to get involved and make a difference. She told us, “Research potential opportunities to do restoration work in your community. Connect with local conservation organizations. Get out there and get your hands dirty.” 

Sara Campbell: Blending justice issues with climate action

Across Manitoba, Sara Campbell has been involved in environmental and social justice issues since childhood. “I was involved in social justice activism work from a young age with the support of my family,” she explained. Sara is now the Outreach and Education Assistant at the University of Winnipeg’s Campus Sustainability Office. She has been a leader on multiple different sustainability-based projects throughout her life, but Sara’s intersectional activism targets climate justice by centring issues of poverty and injustice as key to reducing our carbon footprint. “Housing is a main determinant in stability and health,” Sara said. “Buildings are also a large opportunity to reduce our emissions to prepare for the pre-existing and upcoming climate realities ahead.” According to Sara, climate justice cannot be achieved in isolation. The various other socio-economic issues that plague our society are inherently intertwined with the climate crisis.

“Buildings are also a large opportunity to reduce our emissions to prepare for the pre-existing and upcoming climate realities ahead.”

Sara Campbell

Sara’s activism goes well beyond traditional methods of protesting. Sara engages directly with policy-makers and has even made policy recommendations at the provincial level of government to former Manitoba premier Brian Pallister. Her proposed policy outlines a method for implementing a basic income program in Manitoba that she believes to be feasible and necessary. “Basic income would substantially improve quality of life to allow people the chance to get out of ‘survival mode’ and to move forward,” Sara told us. 

I concluded our interview by asking Sara: if she could send one message to her fellow activists, what would it be? Her response was simple and clear: “To my fellow activists: We need you. Life is not a game. Be a good ally. Listen. Amplify voices. Step back. Stand up. Keep going. Let’s do this.”

Time to give youth a real say

It is becoming increasingly clear that young people in Canada are done with waiting for older generations to make changes for them. In a recent global survey, 65% of youth respondents said that governments were failing them when it comes to climate action, and three quarters said they thought the future was frightening. This reality has become especially apparent since COP 26 in Glasgow this year, where youth from around the world made their presence known, by protesting portions of the agreement they felt were insufficient, proposing their own ideas, and pressuring negotiators not to lose steam. 

There is a strong appetite from young people to be included in major climate decisions, but there is still more to be done to include youth in decision making. In Canada, we have yet to see meaningful inclusion of youth in federal- and provincial-level decision making, and those reluctant to engage young people in these processes often cite immaturity or lack of life experience as their reason. However, it is clear by the words and actions of the youth who attended COP 26 this year, as well as the youth I have had the privilege of working with myself, that their contributions can help transform climate ambition into concrete climate action. 

We have just achieved an important milestone with the culmination of COP 26, but it is by no means an endpoint. As much as Canada has work to do, there are other countries where youth engagement is just as much, if not more of an issue. The dedicated activists we have in Canada provide us with an opportunity, which the wider policy community needs to help translate into action. If Canada takes youth voices seriously, we could become a role model for countries worldwide in youth engagement for climate action, perhaps even working with other nations to ensure youth voices are heard. We have mountains ahead of us that need to be moved, and if we want this planet to stand a chance in the face of climate change, it is time to give youth a real say.