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Youth participation in environmental sustainability: insights from the Lisbon participatory budget

Roberto Falanga (Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon, Lisboa, Portugal)

Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management

ISSN: 1096-3367

Article publication date: 22 May 2023

Issue publication date: 23 January 2024




This article poses the question on whether and how youth participation in environmental sustainability makes a difference within participatory budgets (PBs). This is a question worth asking because PBs have pursued, from the very beginning, goals of social sustainability through the inclusion of social groups that struggle to make their voices heard, as in the case of the youth. As young people show an increasing capacity to self-organise around environmental issues, a knowledge gap emerges as to the contribution that youth can give to environmental sustainability within PBs.


The 2021 edition of the Lisbon PB (2021PB) has been analysed through desk research – document analysis using the city council's website as the main source of information, and fieldwork – an organisation of one two-day workshop with 20 young students through a partnership between the local authority and the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon. Methods were applied to retrieve findings on youth participation in environmental sustainability in the 2021PB.


The youth show a relative increase of participation in the 2021PB and emerge as a key target group in funded proposals. Convergence with student proposals suggest shared awareness on the role of youth in the pursuit of social sustainability. The success of health-related proposals confirms ownership of (young) citizens over the concept of environmental sustainability, which further relies on the various scopes of funded proposals at both city and neighbourhood levels. In the workshop, students did not stick to specific themes and struggled to connect present criticalities and future imaginaries.

Research limitations/implications

Focus on one case study necessarily limits the generalisation of findings. Nevertheless, the 2021PB illuminates pathways of research on youth participation in environmental sustainability through participatory budgeting that are worth clearing in the future, such as the role of digital participation, dynamics induced by extreme events as the COVID-19 pandemic and PBs' capacity to intercept environmental activism.

Practical implications

Decision-makers and practitioners can take advantage of findings to acknowledge the potential of youth participation in PBs to reframe the take of environmental sustainability.

Social implications

The article provides new inputs for future developments in the operationalisation of social and environmental sustainability through participatory budgeting.


This article examines original data retrieved from the 2021PB. Data analysis is backed by the literature review of key democratic challenges in social and environmental sustainability within participatory budgeting.



The author would like to thank the colleagues involved in the organisation of the workshop with students and the Lisbon City Council for its partnership.

Funding: This study was funded by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia 2021.04064.CEECIND/CP1696/CT0001.


Falanga, R. (2024), "Youth participation in environmental sustainability: insights from the Lisbon participatory budget", Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 36 No. 1, pp. 20-39.



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