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COLUMN: Canada’s first Youth Climate Corps gets to work

Fourteen young adults are working to advance local climate change mitigation
The Youth Climate Corps is seen here planting garlic at a permaculture farm while learning about food security. Photo: Submitted

By Ella Korth and Linn Murray

Youth Climate Corps

Since 2019, a global outpouring of youth activism has permanently changed the face of the movement to address climate change. It is now commonplace to hear politicians, scientists, and ordinary citizens offer “the youth” as their hope for the future. But for many young people, the climate crisis still looms overwhelmingly large with meaningful action seemingly out of reach. Now, a group of young people in rural British Columbia are building a novel solution that could empower youth to catalyze climate action across North America.

For the past four months, 14 young adults under the age of 30 have been paid and trained to advance local climate mitigation, adaptation, and engagement projects in the rural region surrounding Nelson. This is Canada’s first Youth Climate Corps crew. The program serves as a powerful tool for addressing the climate crisis and strengthening individual communities by focusing on their unique needs. Indeed, we believe that every community in Canada would benefit greatly if local leaders took initiative and gave youth a chance to build the green infrastructure of the future.

Today, our global village is facing an environmental and ecological crisis that is projected to worsen significantly over the coming decades. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that greenhouse gas emissions must fall globally by at least 45 per cent by 2030 if catastrophic climate disasters are to be mitigated. These effects will be felt from an individual to a global level, and many individuals feel at a loss of how to take action.

In truth, the climate crisis needs to be tackled in the most diverse and varied ways possible. One of the powerful tools that we as citizens have is local-led projects, with the goal of strengthening the health of the community and its people.

It has been a year since the outbreak of COVID 19, which has brought on economic uncertainty and illuminates the importance of community resilience in the face of an oncoming climate crisis.

The Youth Climate Corps is a new program, borne out of the pandemic, that aims to create economic stability and work experience for young people, while connecting them with local mentors and ecological projects in the West Kootenay. It is run by Wildsight, an organization that advances conservation, sustainability, and environmental education across southeast B.C.

The Youth Climate Corps is a four-month program that is funded by the Canadian government and local eco-contracting projects. The team has been tackling climate change resilience projects, including wetland restoration and wildfire-risk reduction of our city’s watershed. When not working on a physical project, these young adults receive mentorship from many local experts, including foresters, city hall representatives and job workshops from Kootenay Career Development Society.

By valuing youth employment and education in rapidly expanding fields of climate mitigation and adaptation, local leaders can change the social narrative about what’s important. This program has the potential to build community by empowering young people and connecting them with local mentors, community, and the land. Simply imagine a Youth Climate Corps in every community, rural or urban, providing the labour needed to address their unique climate needs while equipping the next generation with the necessary skills, tools, and training to build the green economy.

All across Canada communities are waking up to the urgent need to address the climate crisis and repair our wounded environmental and social systems. Seeing this time of change as an opportunity for new growth, untapped knowledge, and infinite potential is what a Youth Climate Corps can create. Young people want to work for a better future, and now is the time that every community in Canada should start paying youth to build a sustainable future for all.

Ella Korth (20) and Linn Murray (21) both grew up in Nelson and are crew-members of the inaugural Youth Climate Corps.