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Youth social movements responding to climate change: a case study of South Africa and Germany.

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Climate change has been a long-standing issue for every human being who inhabits this planet. Although we have been faced with climate change for decades, there has been a significant increase in its effects within the twenty-first century. Billions of tons of carbon dioxide get released into the earth’s atmosphere every year which is a direct cause of human impacts such as the burning of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas production. No one on earth is excluded from the devastating effects that climate change brings with it, from rising temperatures, extreme weather, droughts, floods, water insecurity, a decline in agriculture, to social inequalities. Although these impacts affect everyone, we see a particular concern being raised within the past few years, which is that the youth of the planet are becoming increasingly concerned about the effects of climate change and their futures. Young people’s fears and anxieties about this global crisis have transformed into something we know today as youth social movements who respond to climate change. The rapid rise in youth social movements responding to climate change since 2018 was unprecedented and caught global attention very quickly. Their messages have been clear in their activism, that they intend to hold decision-makers, government, and institutions accountable for their lack of action. They passionately believe older generations have failed them and that they will be the ones to pay the price. They have become knowledgeable about climate change and the challenges faced by youth globally. The power of these movements demonstrates how adamant they are to refuse to let the effects of climate change ruin their futures or that of future generations. It is on this basis that this study explores and discusses the phenomenon of youth social movements responding to climate change. The dissertation analyses factors, challenges, and contributions these young people are making to the climate change debate. It uses two countries, a developing one namely South Africa and a developed one namely Germany, to make a cross-country comparison of youth social movements responding to climate change in different regions of the globe. A qualitative desk-top study was used together with thematic analysis in order for the researcher to make a comparative study of South Africa and Germany’s youth responses to climate change. This study is composed of reliable secondary data which will be further explored chapter four. The research brought to light cultural differences, resource availability, political opportunity, support structures and contributions and success made by youth social groups in the two countries that were being studied. Each country’s climatology was looked at and considered the effects climate change has had in South Africa and Germany. Here, further investigation was done on when the youth social movements were born and why. This study has uncovered how and why these social movements form and the impacts they have on local and international societies. It has also revealed the differences in youth activism in developing countries like South Africa in comparison with developed countries like Germany which will be further explored in chapter six. The youth in the climate change debate need more acknowledgement to fully understand their movements and the motives behind them. The social movements theory was used to guide this research.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.