Dayo Awosola is an accomplished technology entrepreneur from climate-vulnerable Lagos in Nigeria. He joined more than 6000 people in Paris for the 11th annual Conference of Youth (COY11) to help gather and present the youth voice just before the official COP21 climate summit. While chatting with Dayo we quickly discovered that his lifetime is a measure of my lifetime effort with climate and sustainability issues. His birth 27 years ago coincided with the start of my work on these challenges. Dayo’s generation was meeting to seek solutions to the same problems that my generation has failed to solve.

Luckily the COY11 Science Committee hadn’t brought me over for an inquest. They wanted to know how to end the cycle of failure and to start an effective response to climate change. I was honoured to be highlighted in the ‘inspiration’ strand of the event programme and to speak to a huge hall packed with young people from around the world. The power of youth to break free of old climate responses was evident in a very welcome stream of perceptive questions that kept going for an hour afterwards and that pursued me all through the following day. At the end it was me who was inspired – by everyone’s brilliant commitment and an organising capability that exceeds professionally-run events.


James Greyson and Dayo Awosola at the COY11 youth conference before COP21

Youth have power to lead effective strategy, by adding ‘climate rescue’ at the top of the conventional mitigate-then-adapt response. The vital strategy of climate rescue aims to reverse instability by cutting atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, not just emissions. Youth have power to push climate rescue policy including ‘circular economics’ to harness the power of markets to stop products (such as fuels) becoming wastes in ecosystems (such as the atmosphere). Youth have power to lead climate rescue practice including use of biochar to store carbon from biomass as charcoal in replenished soils.

Climate rescue is not inherently difficult. However it is beyond the existing public and policy debate. If the input from youth simply draws upon the conventional framing of the issues and then reflects back the same messages as it has in the past, then the power of youth will remain untapped. If youth instead identify that their unique contribution is to operate from an imaginative space that is not yet diminished by the self-imposed limits of most older folk, then the power of youth will be unlimited. Then we need not wait another 27 years for another generation to do what we could do today.

James Greyson is a 2050 Kids advisor and Head of BlindSpot Think Tank based at Climate Rescue Centre. Comments and questions are welcome, on his presentation at COY11. Follow us on twitter @2050KidsOrg, @blindspotting and @climate_rescue.