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Young people in Europe wish for quick action to prevent climate change and improve education

Published on 17.4.2024
Tampere University
Tyttö kävelee vehreässä metsässä sininen reppu selässään. Hän kantaa suurta kasvin lehteä sateenvarjon tavoin päänsä päällä.
Photo: Jonne Renvall / Tampereen yliopisto
According to an international study conducted by the CCC-CATAPULT research project, European adolescents agree that something needs to be done quickly to tackle climate change. In addition, the project also shows that young people feel that education on climate issues is very repetitive. Teachers are also aware of this problem. Schools would need a more practical approach to climate change, including communication skills training, and the ability to offer young people a more hopeful vision of the future.

The CCC-CATAPULT (Challenging the Climate Crisis: Children’s Agency to Tackle Policy Underpinned by Learning for Transformation) is a multidisciplinary research project with 15-18-year-old participants from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, and Finland. The Finnish sub-project was carried out at Tampere University’s Faculty of Education and Culture and funded by the Research Council of Finland. The project studied young people’s thoughts and experiences of climate change and climate education. The research was conducted together with youth action groups.

The outcomes show that European adolescents regard climate change a significant problem and that urgent action is required. The results are based on large survey data, focus groups and narrative workshops.

“Our research results show that young people think that adults do not do enough to prevent climate change or understand the severity of the problem as well as young people,” says Inkeri Rissanen, the principal investigator of the Finnish sub-project.

The project found that young people feel responsible for solving the climate crisis even though they have inherited the problem from previous generations. This responsibility seems to frustrate many. Adolescents also feel that, unlike adults, they do not have the agency and opportunities to act on their own. Young people hope that society would enable a more ecological lifestyle and that the solutions would not depend on individual choices.

Climate education repeats itself

The study found differences in young people’s attitudes to climate change in different countries. In Finland, the participants came from the Tampere region. The Finns did not find climate change a major problem or express such a keen interest in climate action as young people in the other project countries. Despite this, the Finnish participants thought that they had enough knowledge and felt that they did not need more information.

According to Rissanen, the adolescents’ experience of not needing much information was seen as being associated with their feeling that school education recycles the same information year after year. Dissatisfaction with climate education was found in all project countries. Teaching was perceived as boring, repetitive, and problem-oriented. Young people also felt that teachers do not know enough about climate change and may be uninterested in the topic. The project showed that young people should be taught more about the solutions to the climate crisis and themes that are close to their heart.

“For example, students at vocational colleges would be interested to learn more about the climate actions in their own field,” researcher Essi Aarnio-Linnavuori says.

The young people hoped for an open atmosphere to discuss climate education. Many find climate crisis-related questions of worldviews and philosophy interesting, and they are also interested in learning diverse influencing skills.

Teachers need support to meet young people’s needs

The project found that teachers also find climate education problematic. They shared the experience of needing more training on climate change phenomena. Teachers also want clarity on the division of labour between school subjects in climate education and support to address the value laden issues associated with climate change. They also brought up young people’s different emotions when climate issues are taught, and more support and skills would be needed to encounter them constructively.

According to researcher Anette Mansikka-aho, developing comprehensive and multi-faceted climate education is also important because of the wide differences between young people.

“For example, some young people experience severe climate anxiety while others feel that the media feasts on the catastrophic nature of the climate crisis,” Mansikka-aho points out.

The study shows that ways to offer hope and bring climate change closer to the everyday life of young people from different backgrounds are needed. Climate action can be as diverse as there are young people and it is important to identify and support this diversity in climate education.

Find out more about the project and its results on the CCC-catapult website

Author: Marianna Urkko