Climate Futures and Just Transformations: Young People’s Narratives and Political Imaginaries
The burden of accumulated scientific evidence unequivocally shows that climate change has profound and multifarious implications for human societies, as well as for biophysical systems, which will be aggravated in the coming decades. Its impacts, and the mitigation and adaptation measures to contain them, will especially affect people that are presently young. In Portugal and around the world, the future of young people and of other age groups will also be shaped by other sustainability-related challenges, as the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2018) and numerous analysts have highlighted the need for ‘transformative systemic change’ in order to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement and Agenda 2030’s Sustainable Development Goals. Several perspectives and proposals have emerged to address the need to foster social, economic and environmental sustainability transformations, as well as support their agents and drivers (Linner & Wibeck, 2019).
Research has shown that techno-managerial discourses are dominant in the media and other public spaces, complemented by discourses focusing on individual change (Carvalho et al., 2018). However, transformations towards sustainability are eminently political, with power, justice and redistributive issues at their core. Pluralism and contestation are critical to overcome a post-political ambiance and to re-politicize the Anthropocene, namely by exposing and debating divergent visions of socio-ecological futures (Lövbrand et al., 2015).
Recent mobilisations around climate change have clearly indicated that young people are or want to be involved in climate change debates and futures. The JustFutures project will contribute to understanding young people’s agency and political imaginaries. It will do so by mapping existing collective action groups, analysing narratives and media(ted) discourses of climate futures and examining, through extensive field work, young people’s imaginaries of climate futures. JustFutures aims to analyse how young people envision their roles in the transformations towards sustainability that need to be implemented over the next few decades. Understanding young people’s imaginaries of the future and conceptions of agency for shaping it is at the core of the research plan to be carried out. Looking at citizenship as a ‘communicative achievement’ (Hausendorf & Bora, 2006), the project also has an action-oriented dimension as it intends to contribute to youth groups’ abilities for reflecting on and expanding their civic and political engagement with climate change and sustainability. By doing so, it will help to create opportunities for young people to envision, plan and build just futures.
Against a background of systemic problems that are producing various forms of unsustainability and at a time when democracies are being tested by different forms of nationalism, populism and xenophobia along growing socio-economic inequalities, and are facing the system-shaking crisis generated by COVID-19, there is a pressing need to reflect on the politics of sustainability transformations, and to leverage existing, emerging and yet-to-be imagined opportunities for fundamental alterations in social and economic systems in ways that are democratic and just. Addressing recommendations from several scholars (e.g. Fazey et al., 2018; West & Worliczek, 2019), JustFutures mobilizes social sciences research to further understanding and facilitate democratic change towards climate-safe, just and resilient societies. It will do so by opening up spaces of dialogue and co-production between the scientific community and a critical stakeholder in sustainability transformations: young people.
This project is funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology through national funds.