‘Big power’: New UN climate adviser says young people are key to the renewable energy transition
Beniamin Strzelecki is intimidatingly well-informed for a 23-year-old.
He has coordinated a global network of youth-led energy organisations, working together with intergovernmental entities like the International Renewable Energy Agency. He’s been a part of Fridays for Future in Poland and has earned a scholarship to study engineering at New York University, Abu Dhabi.
As if that wasn’t enough, Beniamin has just been chosen to be one of the seven new members of the UN Youth Advisory Group on climate change.
How does he feel about his new role? “It's an exciting opportunity,” he says. One that comes with the chance to feed directly into UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ work.
This board of young activists will advise the United Nations on climate action and policies - underlining the role of young people in tackling the climate crisis head-on.
Strzelecki’s fellow advisers include Indigenous land defenders, educators, activists and advocates from all over the world.
Guterres says the organisation he leads will be “working side by side” with youth climate movements, experts and leaders around the world. He announced the new Youth Advisory Group last month as the IPCC finalised its landmark Synthesis Report and emphasised the importance of young people in keeping climate goals alive.
“Climate change is the fight of our lives – and young people have been on the frontlines leading the charge for climate justice,” Guterres added.
“The unrelenting conviction of young people is central to keeping climate goals within reach, kicking the world’s addiction to fossil fuels, and delivering climate justice.”
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Energy security is on everyone’s agenda
Strzelecki is from Poland and hopes that he can bring some of the issues Eastern Europe is facing to the table.
“I think talking about the energy transition is as timely as never before in our part of the world,” he explains.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought the question of energy security back on everyone’s agenda.”
He says that had we invested in renewables 10 or 15 years ago, we wouldn’t be so reliant on fossil fuels. Embargoes on Russian gas, coal or oil wouldn’t be a problem if we were wiser in our investment decisions.
“The choice of many European governments, including Poland, including Germany, to continue their investment into energy partnerships with Russia, is one of the key drivers of the crisis that we are facing today.”
Becoming part of the Youth Advisory Group and speaking to the Secretary-General, Strzelecki hopes to reinforce the importance of renewables for energy security.
“No part of the world would want to be in this kind of energy security situation that we are facing right now. So that's a perspective from our part of the world that we definitely want to bring.”
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What is the UN looking for from these young advisers?
It’s opinions like this that the Secretary-General says he is looking for from the group of young people.
Beniamin describes Guterres as “one of, if not the most prominent climate advocate in the world.”
“He invited us to join him because he is looking for advice,” he says. Advice that spans everything from how to create jobs for young people in the energy transition to ensuring global access to clean fuels.
“Being in this group is an important opportunity to bring in a young voice, to give young voices that recognition.”
Beniamin says that young people have already shown that their advocacy has “big power”. Many policy proposals including the European Green Deal and the Fit For 55 package have already included ideas championed by youth.
But many of these climate policies still have shortcomings, ones that he hopes he and his fellow youth advisers can help fix.
“We committed to represent ourselves as individuals, but we are all standing on the shoulders of giants and we all come from fantastic networks and organisations,” Beniamin adds.
“I hope that me being in this group will be a welcoming message to all activists in Poland, in Eastern Europe, in Europe, anywhere in the world.
“I hope all the young people involved in the energy transition connect with us and bring to us directly the points that they would like us to share with the Secretary-General.”