Climate change leads as one of the most important issues facing the world, according to a major new survey of young people published by Amnesty International today to mark Human Rights Day.
With the findings published as governments meet in Spain for the UN Climate Change Conference, the organization warns that world leaders’ failure to address the climate change crisis has left them out of step with young people.
“In this year when young people mobilized in huge numbers for the climate, it can be no surprise that many of those surveyed saw it as one of the most important issues facing the world,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “For young people the climate crisis is one of the defining challenges of their age. This is a wake-up call to world leaders that they must take far more decisive action to tackle the climate emergency or risk betraying younger generations further.”
“The climate crisis is actively undermining our rights to life, health, food, water, housing and livelihoods, with a disproportionate impact on people already facing discrimination and marginalization,” said Zeke Johnson, the Senior Director of Programs at Amnesty International USA. “Now is the time for leadership on climate action, not withdrawal from international collaboration on this fundamental human rights threat.”
Ipsos MORI, on behalf of Amnesty International, questioned more than 10,000 people aged 18-25-year olds—also known as Generation Z—in 22 countries for the “Future of humanity” survey.
They were asked for their opinions on the current state of human rights in their country and the world, which issues they feel are most important and who they feel is responsible for addressing human rights abuses.
Respondents were asked to pick up to five issues from a list of 23 major issues facing the world. In total, 41% of respondents said climate change was one of the most important issues facing the world, making it the most commonly cited, followed by 36% who chose pollution and 31% who selected terrorism.
Global warming was also most commonly cited as one of the most important environmental issues facing the world (57%), out of 10 environmental issues such as ocean pollution, air pollution and deforestation.
“As we mark Human Rights Day, we need to recognize that the climate crisis will arguably be the defining issue for younger generations. The right to a healthy environment, including a safe climate, is essential for the enjoyment of so many other rights. It is a right that young people today have been forced to take the lead in asserting,” said Kumi Naidoo.
Generation Z “living inside a failed system”
However, the survey’s findings extend well beyond the climate crisis, reflecting the everyday struggles and concerns facing Generation Z in their own countries.
Across the 22 countries at a national level corruption was most commonly cited as one of the most important issues (36%), followed by economic instability (26%), pollution (26%), income inequality (25%), climate change (22%) and violence against women (21%).
“This generation lives in a world of widening inequality, economic instability and austerity where vast numbers of people have been left behind,” said Kumi Naidoo.
“Faced with all this, the message from young people is clear. We are living inside a failed system. The climate crisis, pollution, corruption and poor living standards are all windows on an alarming truth about how the powerful have exploited their power for selfish and often short- term gain.”
In the United States, young people mentioned the issue of violent crime the most when asked about top issues facing the country, undoubtedly reflecting concerns over the lack of action by political leaders in the country to address the human rights crisis.
The survey’s findings come at a time of widespread mass protests around the world, from Algeria to Chile, Hong Kong, Iran, Lebanon, and Sudan. Many of these movements have been largely led by young people and students, who have angrily called out corruption, inequality, and abuse of power and faced violent repression for doing so.
“Amnesty International believes that young people want to see systemic transformations. They want a reckoning with the climate emergency, with the abuse of power. They want to see a completely different future blossoming instead of the wreckage that we are heading towards,” said Kumi Naidoo.
Call for system change built on human rights
Alongside climate change, a clear majority of young people value human rights in general and want to see their governments take most responsibility to protect them, according to the findings of the “Future of humanity” survey.
The majority of survey respondents agreed that:
- the protection of human rights is fundamental to the future of the countries tested (73% agree vs 11% disagree);
- governments should take the wellbeing of their citizens more seriously than economic growth (63% agree vs 13% disagree); and
- human rights must be protected, even if it has a negative impact on the economy (60% agree vs 15% disagree).
The findings also revealed an unequivocal belief among many young people across every country surveyed that governments should take most responsibility for ensuring human rights are upheld, with 73% of respondents in total picking governments over individuals (15%), businesses (6%) and charities (4%).
Coupled with the results that show that most young people believe voting in elections is an effective method for initiating human rights change, over and above going on strike or attending a protest, the results were not all bad news for leaders who are “willing to listen.”
“If the leaders of the world are willing to listen carefully, they will notice that Generation Z are not asking for small tweaks. Young people are looking for fundamental changes in the way the world works. If leaders fail to take that seriously, they risk betraying a generation,” said Kumi Naidoo.
“If the events of 2019 teach us anything, it is that younger generations deserve a seat at the table when it comes to decisions about them. Unless the voices of those on the frontlines are part of the discussion on how we tackle the challenges facing humanity, the crises we are witnessing in the world will only get worse.
“Above all, governments must begin the new decade with meaningful action to address the climate emergency, reduce inequality and put in place genuine reforms to end abuses of power. We need systemic changes, built on human-rights, to the economic and political systems that have brought us to the brink.”
In September 2019 Amnesty commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct an online poll of young people aged 18-25 in 22 countries about their opinions on human rights and the state of the world. Fieldwork took place September 6 to October 2, 2019.
The countries covered span all six inhabited continents: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Hungary, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tunisia, UK, Ukraine and USA.
Interviewing was done online using panels owned by Ipsos MORI and other panel providers. In most countries, c.500 respondents were interviewed, apart from Tunisia (395). Quotas were applied on gender and age [SW3] and where panel size allowed, region to ensure a spread of interviews. No quotas were imposed in Tunisia. Data was post weighted by age, gender and region to known offline proportions. Region was excluded from Nigeria weights. Online samples in Argentina, Brazil, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Tunisia, Ukraine are more urban, more educated and/or more affluent than the general population and the results should be viewed as reflecting the views of a more “connected” population. Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole percentage.
Media contact: Mariya Parodi, [email protected]