In light of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, said Sven Lehmann, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Family Ministry, international dialogue has never been more important. At this turning point in history, the younger generation has a key role to play in shaping the future, he continued. For Lehmann, Youth7 is part of the German Federal Government’s measures to promote youth participation, along with the Structured Dialogue at the European level, support for participatory networks at the local level, and the lowering of the voting age to 16. “Germany’s G7 Presidency needs strong, visible youth participation. You, the young people of the G7 states, are using this mutual dialogue as an opportunity to communicate your shared demands for the future to the G7 leaders. This is your expression of commitment to amicable international cooperation in these turbulent times,” he said to the participants.
An expression of solidarity with Ukraine
The Y7 delegates will spend the coming months working hard to develop policy recommendations in four thematic priority areas:
- Sustainable & Green Planet
- Economic Transformation for Shared Progress
- Resilience of Democracies
- Global Health & Solidarity
In light of Russia’s war in Ukraine, a fifth priority area has been added: Youth, Peace & Security. Inspired by the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Youth, Peace and Security, the delegates will explore the important and positive role played by young people when it comes to securing peace and resolving conflicts.
During the discussion, which was attended by Dr Ulrich Oberndorfer, Sous-Sherpa and Co-Head of the G7/G20 Sherpa Office at the Federal Chancellery, it became evident how the war against Ukraine has been colouring all themes of the youth participation process. Participants inquired about the integrity of information, the relationship between values and political necessities, and also the role of Russia in the G20. An exceedingly strong sign of solidarity came from the hosting co-chairs: Benjamin Günther, Co-Chair Y7 2022, announced that the National Youth Council of Ukraine (NYCU) would attend the Y7 Summit as a guest.
Participants also had an opportunity to get to know their fellow delegates in their respective thematic tracks and to receive scientific input for their work.
Strong impulses from the research community
Dirk Notz, professor of meteorology at the Institute of Oceanography at the University of Hamburg, researches the development of the Arctic ice cap. To him, the research findings are clear: climate change poses an unequivocal threat to the planet. He illustrated this by quoting from his own research, which has found that the ice cap has declined by a dramatic 50% over the last three decades. He was unsurprised, he continued, that young people are increasingly pessimistic about the future – 59% believe that in 100 years’ time, Earth will no longer be inhabitable. That said, Notz also gave reason for hope. While the experts agree that climate change poses a clear and present danger, he said that the fact that the problem is man-made means that the solution can be, too. “If humans are the cause of climate change, we are the ones who can counter it,” he said, but warned that this requires that our CO2 emissions are brought down to zero as quickly as possible.
Pessimism is not a good counsellor, said Professor Maren Urner from the Department of Psychology at the University of Applied Sciences for Media, Communication and Management in Cologne. Her research focuses on the human brain - our “Stone Age brain”, as she called it. It tends to assess the world more negatively than is necessary. Why is that? Faced with danger, she explained, our brain tries to predict what course of action is most likely to ensure survival. Fear and uncertainty can then lead to bad decisions. Human beings also tend to fall back on established habits, responding to challenges with solutions that are tried and tested instead of getting creative. Negative information causes us to feel helpless and unable to change the situation. This is why, she continued, solutions need to be communicated positively because this can also bring about behavioural change. So what exactly should we do? “We need to overcome tribalism and redefine our social groups,” Urner said. “This requires us to recognise in others what we have in common, rather than focus on what divides us. With that mindset, we can find creative solutions.” She closed with a fitting quote by psychotherapist and writer Steve de Shazer: “Problem talk creates problems, solution talk creates solutions.”
The discussion that followed also centred on the question of what civil society groups and bodies have to work together in order to curb climate change. Does the primary responsibility lie with governments? Or should society be the main driver of climate efforts? “We need both sides,” said Professor Notz, “and we need to be led by how wonderful the world could be, rather than by what we don’t want.” Professor Urner paraphrased this by asking, “What world do we want to live in?” - which is precisely the question that delegates will seek to answer when they meet from 16 to 20 May 2022 in Berlin.