Climate change is recognised by many to be the defining adaptive challenge of our time. Despite such recognition, the failure of many world leaders to comprehend the scale, scope (bringing a complex mix of environmental, economic and social dimensions) and urgency of this challenge has created a space which has been taken up by a number of young people. As such, these young people are not just protesting about climate change or signalling their potential to lead in the future, they are leading the climate change agenda in the present. Whilst they may be known for seeking to bring about change on a global scale and/or for their activities within their own local communities, the emergence of these young leaders is not easily explained with reference to traditional theories of leadership. In part, this is because traditional theories do not adequately differentiate between leadership and authority and regard the terms as almost, if not fully, synonymous. The creation of definitional distinction between leadership and authority provides the basis for a more systemic understanding of the complementary nature of leadership and authority which is better able to explain the emergence of young leaders focused on the more issue-based agendas associated with the wicked problems or adaptive challenges of complex systems. The proposal of a systems-based understanding of leadership provides the opportunity for the suggestion of how some approaches associated with this discipline can be put in the service of young leaders with the will to make a difference on a global and local scale.