Youth for mountain sustainability: making their voice heard in decision-making processes

by | Aug 11, 2022 | European stakeholders

Authors: Erika Leone and Alexandra Vázquez Mera (Interreg POCTEFA)

Editor: Miranda García Lera (AEIDL)

What does being young mean? Some might say it means “having lived or existed for only a short time”, but is that all it is? Is that all we are? Young people who lack experience and power, since we haven’t lived long enough to accumulate it? The things we can do, the things we are, are so much more.

It has been very encouraging to see more youth activism in recent years, but particularly in this one. 2022 will be remembered as the European Year of Youth, a year to shine a light on the importance of European youth to build a better future – greener, more inclusive, and digital.

We are slowly showing the world that the future will not wait for us to change, the change has to happen now. So now the question is how can we make our voices heard, how can we change and make an impact on society as a whole? Well, there is no right answer for that. As young people, we have been struggling to find  our path in life. It is only recently we have become involved in very interesting projects and initiatives.

The Interreg Volunteer Youth programme allows young people from 18 to 30 years old to get involved in cross-border, transnational or interregional programmes or related projects. One can become either an Interreg Reporter or an Interreg Project Partner.

Interreg Reporters help disseminate information on the benefits of territorial integration by reporting on successful Interreg projects in a particular region. Project Partners, meanwhile, play an important role in implementing an Interreg project, helping to address particular aspects or complexities in fields such as solidarity, people-to-people, health, community, and projects that focus on the social dimension of Interreg cooperation.

A few months ago, we started working in Interreg POCTEFA, in Jaca, Spain. We have learned a lot since then, but more importantly, we found out we share several things in common: we are two young people who wish to make a change in society, who know and understand how hard it is for young people to make their voices heard, to not be underestimated because of their young age. It is our desire to create a safe space for young people which brought us together, and finally, we decided to create a Citizen Engagement Activity with the support of AEBR (Association of European Border Regions).

Since both of us live in a mountainous area because of our jobs, we decided to use the landscape as the basis for our project. Furthermore, we both care about environmental issues. It was then no surprise that within a short time, we realised mountain sustainability was an issue we had to address. This is how the idea of creating a webinar on “The future of mountain areas: challenges and opportunities” was born. In addition, we took advantage of the fact that it is the International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development to celebrate it.

In this webinar, we wanted to give young people the control through a Q&A, in which they could ask anything they wished. Thankfully, the regional actors from Europe’s main mountain areas (e.g. Pyrenees, Alps, Scandinavian Mountains, Carpathians) we contacted agreed to our idea, which became reality on July 28th. The event gathered 5 regional authorities and over 30 participants from 12 European countries.

The conclusions we drew from the webinar helped us create a clearer image of the situation of young people in mountain areas, their challenges, and motivations. Mountain ranges create natural boundaries between countries with different languages and cultures. Still, we realised that there exists a shared mountain identity in Europe that goes beyond national borders.

Before the webinar, through an online questionnaire, we gave young participants the chance to express their expectations and concerns. They all identified the same issues. They wish for more involvement in decision-making, an improvement in their employment prospects in the region, and more sustainable management of tourism and natural resources. They were all concerned about the future of mountain areas. They wanted to make their homes more attractive for young people like them.

These concerns are not only found among the youth in upland regions, but they also affect those youngsters living in peripheral regions or belonging to minorities. All of them, at some point, might have felt underrepresented in decision-making. In that sense, the European Year of Youth has been exciting in many ways. The France-Italy Interreg programme created the ALCOTRA Youth Council and the Working Community of the Pyrenees, through the Transpyrenean Youth Forum, is building a stronger dialogue between young people and regional political representatives.

Cross-border cooperation programmes are bringing decision-making processes closer to young citizens and their realities. Young people are inheriting a more unpredictable and hotter climate, and they need to be sure that the policy that affects them has been designed considering their challenges and concerns.

Find all the resources gathered during the webinar here.