Amplifying ‘children’s voices for climate change’ through the capabilities approach

Teachers and researchers are working with primary and secondary age children and young people in Chile and Scotland to ensure their voices are heard by decision makers at this year’s COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow in November.

In the build-up to COP26, Children’s Neighborhoods Scotland (CNS) at the University of Glasgow is using the capabilities approach to facilitate workshops between schools in West Dunbartonshire (St Eunan’s Primary and St Peter the Apostle secondary) and at Colegio Luis Cruz Martinez, Chile.  

These workshops form a key part of an ongoing climate conversations between the schools, where pupils have been discussing climate action, local issues such as waste and litter, pollution, and extreme weather.

Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland is a place-based approach to addressing child poverty in Scotland. It focuses on enabling children and young people’s voices to be heard in the planning of activities, services and policies that concern them.

The Capabilities Approach

The capabilities approach to research in schools and community groups is a multidimensional approach to evaluating wellbeing. The approach works with children and young people to identify their top priorities for wellbeing (see fig. 1) in their neighbourhoods. Researchers at CNS have adapted this approach to address young people’s concerns around the climate crisis.

Figure 1 Capabilities domains

The capabilities approach empowers young people through enabling them to co-research and discuss the issues most pertinent to them, within their local community.

Responding to concerns on climate change

In response to growing youth concerns about climate change and the intergenerational nature of climate change, CNS is amplifying the voices of young people in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland and Luis Cruz Martinez, Chile through facilitating dialogue between pupils in the two countries.

The perspectives and understandings co-produced in the workshops will be presented to regional and national government in an event to highlight children’s voices in relation to climate change and COP26.

Young people across the world will bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change, from increasing severe weather events to reduced biodiversity and growing levels of pollution, locally and globally. The workshops have connected schoolchildren and teachers of Luis Cruz Martinez with those in West Dunbartonshire, allowing for shared understandings of climate change issues.

For teachers, workshops have facilitated knowledge exchange and pedagogical reflections about how to embed climate-related content into the classroom. For the students, the workshops provide a forum through which they can explore and voice their own climate concerns and situate local issues amidst a global context. Through interactive and participatory workshops, pupils increase their critical thinking and communication skills whilst building their understanding of climate change, locally and globally.

As well as teaching about the impacts of climate change, it is also important for educators to instil a sense of hope for young people amidst increasing youth anxieties. Senior pupils from Chile presented four inspirational climate action projects to pupils at St Peter the Apostle High School, highlighting how young people can take action, and that their voices are relevant in discussions around adaptation and mitigation.

Using the capabilities approach recognises these voices, and the hopes and fears young people have, whilst empowering their perspectives through shared dialogue. Conversations between young people from opposite sides of the world builds empathy and solidarity by connecting local and global issues. Through exploring capabilities and developing skills (see fig. 2), such international education opportunities offer a possible avenue through which youth-led and participatory climate education and research can happen.

The capabilities approach is a framework for understanding and measuring wellbeing, which prioritises the capabilities people need to live ‘a good life’. Using this approach enables children and young people to identify and create a framework about what is important to them which then provides direction to CNS and local and national partners in responding to these areas of action.

Research conducted by CNS further demonstrates that children and young people can and should be at the heart of setting their goals for wellbeing. The approach has been designed to work across different contexts and modes of delivery. With regards to climate change, it’s important to listen to, and understand, those who will be most affected by adaptation to, and the impacts of, climate change.

CNS research in West Dunbartonshire identified that mental health and wellbeing was a priority for local children and young people. In response to this, and with growing awareness of the crises emanating from climate breakdown like biodiversity loss, increasing poverty and disease circulation, it’s important that the capabilities approach is used in youth-focused climate research. Building on our learning from the development of CNS to date and drawing on the experiences and lessons learned from children’s initiatives nationally and internationally, CNS has developed a model of community- and place-based working tailored to the neighbourhoods CNS works with, and to the wider Scottish context.

Figure 2 Exploring capabilities

You can learn more about the event here, and stay up to date with the project by following CNS on social media.

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