Youth Take the Lead – and Faith Communities Should Endorse Them

Children pose for photos with the ecumenical group during the Climate Strike March in New York, 20 September 2019. Photo: Marcelo Schneider/WCC

When the UN general secretary, António Guterres, called for a Climate Summit during the opening days of the 2019 General Assembly, he placed extraordinary focus on youth. That was natural since the greenhouse gas emissions of today will be affecting the world of tomorrow. And the world of tomorrow is in the hands of the children of today.

If you have an ounce of compassion and some understanding of the science of climate change, you should be on your toes and ready to act. The urgency to act increases with every day of rising CO² emissions. Even after years of negotiations under the UN  climate change framework, we have not yet bent the emissions curves downward.

Over the decades that I have been involved in climate discussions, I have often lost faith in the processes that should help us to overcome the obstacles we face. At the same time, however, we cannot just give in and let it all go. The Paris Agreement was one beacon in our journey to bring carbon emissions down to acceptable levels and to make provisions for mitigation and development for those in need. But since 2015 and the Paris Agreement, which was a start and not the end of bringing the greenhouse gases down, things have actually gone backwards. I won’t mention any names of presidents who have abandoned the international climate agenda, but they are blocking action on climate change. They also leave the door open or open wider to the fossil-fuel and extractive industries, which have the greatest impact on the level of CO²  emissions.  And in the shadow of the more high-profile leaders, other leaders and countries decelerate their efforts to curb their climate impact.

All of this could be quite depressing if it weren’t for another narrative emerging in front of us now: leadership by the youth of today, who are speaking out on climate change. Loud and clear. They are acting like any grown-up should have been doing long ago, if we grownups hadn’t been so wedded to our own comforts and lifestyles. This is especially true of us living in affluent societies.

Around the world on 21 September, the streets were full of youth on the School Strike for Climate, demanding action and listening to the science. Their clear message: Stop being fooled by shortsighted economists and politicians.

In fact, the youth of today are pointing to a totally new way of being humanity on planet earth. And everybody should welcome this. It is a bold, urgent invitation to all of us to begin walking a new path that ensures climate justice for all. It means a just transition to a more peaceful and sustainable future. The kids are inviting all of us to come onboard a journey to our and, more poignantly, their future.

As faith communities, we follow Christ, who became incarnate as a child entrusting himself into the care of humans. We follow the one who pointed to little children as models of the kingdom of God (Mark 10:13-16; Matt. 19:13-14). So I believe that we need to recognize and endorse the movement of youth taking the lead in climate actions. This is a decisive spiritual moment in the existential challenge of climate change. Let’s walk this journey together, led by the children. It is a way of being true to our calling as faith communities.

About the author :

Rev. Henrik Grape is officer for sustainable development in the Church of Sweden, and coordinator of the WCC Working Group on Climate Change.
He also blogs in Swedish at


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.