Canada needs a national Youth Climate Corps – we’ve proven it works

Recent years have been immensely disruptive, between climate change and extreme weather, a global pandemic, systemic racism and economic turmoil. We need big, interdisciplinary solutions to address these big, interdisciplinary problems.

As we move past this uninspiring election, we need to move forward with unifying and inspiring action on the climate crisis and the many intertwined challenges we face.

Canadian policy analyst Seth Klein has written a “case for the Youth Climate Corps in Canada.” South of the border, U.S. President Biden and other elected officials are pushing for the creation of a “Civilian Climate Corps” with billions of dollars in potential start-up funding. Whether it’s called the YCC, the CCC, or something else, this is the big, interdisciplinary solution we need.

Young people need opportunities and Canada needs young people’s energy to meet the climate change challenge. In southeast B.C., we’ve shown it works through a homegrown proof-of-concept. Now, we need the federal government – whatever political party takes the reins – to scale up.

Last summer, as the pandemic extinguished jobs, a grassroots group of community members around Nelson, B.C. envisioned a climate-focused youth employment program. In September 2020, we launched a pilot version of the Youth Climate Corps hosted by Wildsight, a local non-governmental organization with deep regional roots. Fourteen crewmembers under 30 spent four months protecting the city’s water pipeline from wildfire, boosting local food security, restoring riparian ecosystems, enhancing energy efficiency and engaging community members and local leaders.

Ben Simoni | Photo courtesy of QUOI Media

At the end of our first season, the City of Nelson awarded us its annual Sustainability Leadership Award. According to Mayor John Dooley, “the Youth Climate Corps is a promising model for empowering youth in communities to take action for our global future.”

One year since our launch, we’ve added a second crew in the nearby Kimberley-Cranbrook area – and many other communities have expressed interest. We have a successful proof-of-concept, but our limited scale and speed of growth is far too small for the challenge we are facing.

There is a tremendous amount of work needed to prepare Canadian communities for climate resilient futures and stop climate change as quickly as possible. Today’s young people need meaningful jobs where they can earn living wages and gain skills, connections and experience while making a difference. To bridge these needs, Canada must launch a national Youth Climate Corps.

Now that the election is over, there is a need and expectation that the minority Liberal government works with the other parties to move forward on bold climate programs.

Currently, the federal suite of programs offered through the Canada Service Corps are almost exclusively volunteer-based, which is simply not something that most youth can afford beyond the very short term. The existing wage subsidy programs for students or early career professionals are valuable. But these programs leave it up to companies and non-profits who have the capacity to navigate sometimes complex funding applications for short term piecemeal projects. They are not anywhere near the crisis level response that the climate emergency demands of us.

Melissa Lavery | Photo courtesy of QUOI Media

Imagine teams of young people based in every Canadian community completing climate positive projects grounded in the needs of local communities.

Amongst endless policy targets and vague funding allocations, a national Youth Climate Corps would demonstrate that work is actually getting done. Such a corps need not displace other jobs or drive down wages through a supply of young labour. To the contrary, the YCC has helped our crewmembers identify and launch climate-relevant careers they never would have considered otherwise.

As the government moves to determine its post-election priorities, we must not loose sight that this is a “code red for humanity” moment. We stand ready to offer lessons learned from our climate corps experiment. Now is our time to empower young Canadians to build a more sustainable Canada.

Ben Simoni and Melissa Lavery are Masters students at Royal Roads University and coordinate the Youth Climate Corps based out of Nelson, B.C. Together, they have two decades of experience leading youth programs across Canada and internationally.

Courtesy of QUOI Media Group