Climate & youth

Published October 17, 2021
The writer is director of intergovernmental affairs, United Nations Environment Programme.
The writer is director of intergovernmental affairs, United Nations Environment Programme.

IN one of the starkest warnings yet, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a ‘code red for humanity’ urging serious and fast action to avert a total collapse of the life support system of humanity on this planet. From its first Assessment Report in 1990 to its sixth this year, the IPCC has compiled a compendium of scientific evidence on what causes climate change and furnished a compelling case for action. Since 1990, the world’s population has swelled from 5.3 billion to 7.8bn today — an addition of 2.5bn people

Although the entire global population is affected, the future of young people has come under sharp focus as the triple planetary crisis of climate, nature loss and pollution has escalated to ominous proportions and shows no signs of abating. Environmental disasters are pummelling the planet, intensely and frequently. Damage and destruction of infrastructure carries far-reaching impact on economies running into billions of dollars, reversing development gains and upending the lives of millions of people.

Young people have helplessly witnessed how global average temperatures kept rising and intense heatwaves have reduced agricultural production leading to food insecurity and malnutrition. Heavy rains and floods have caused havoc and wildfires have left vast swaths of forests burnt to ashes causing huge ecological loss. The last decade was the hottest on record.

Younger generations must be heard in climate matters.

The youth will bear the brunt of the planetary crisis as they will live longer through the intensification of its already severe consequences and face the fallout of delayed actions and misplaced policies of the previous generations. Population growth in developing countries coupled with global warming makes for a lethal combination to put pressure on overexploited natural resources and endangered ecosystems. Today, 90 per cent of the world’s 1.8bn young people are living in developing countries. This huge youth bulge is faced with shrinking opportunities for decent work and increasing inequality. Disillusionment and anxiety are on the rise among youth as they confront the diminishing prospects of a better tomorrow.

Read: What are climate services and how can they be strengthened?

A global scientific study by Bath University revealed that many young people were deeply anxious about the effects of climate change on their future. The study surveyed 10,000 youth aged between 16 and 25, across 10 countries. About 60pc of young people “felt very worried or extremely worried” as “chronic stress over climate change was also increasing the risk of mental and physical problems”. The study found that “the young are confused by governments’ failure to act”.

Converting their despondency into motivation and harnessing their energy for climate action should be the main priority of all to meaningfully utilise this rich demographic dividend. Pakistan too has the largest youth constituency of its history as do many other developing nations.

Fortunately, a universal youth climate movement is dynamically supporting efforts and forcefully pleading for their future, a sustainable future. Individually too, several have led by example. Greta Thunberg and millions of young people around the world have shown the value of raising their voices for the planet. In Pakistan, young Emaan Danish, Aliza Ayaz and Fahad Rizwan are inspiring others through their environmental work and activism. Jude Walker, an 11-year-old British boy, recently walked 388 kilometres across England to raise awareness for the ‘zero carbon campaign’ and in support of levying a carbon tax on emissions.

In the attempt to empower youth for the designing and implementation of climate policies, the UN offers them convening space and a role in policymaking, so that they are ‘not just listened to but heard’. A few initiatives are worth mentioning. UNEP’s Youth Environment Assembly feeds youth’s perspective to the UN Environment Assembly. The UN secretary general’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate engages young people in an open dialogue and allows its members to bring the views and voices of youth into high-level decision-making. A youth office is being established to coordinate youth engagement across the UN system.

Youth are the backbone of society, a precious human resource. Engaging youth at the national and international level and amplifying their voices will reinforce climate action. Failure to do so will question our seriousness and sincerity in saving humanity from the scourge of global warming. We have risked their future; we must not compromise their chance to amend our mistakes. We have no choice but to engage and empower them.

The writer is director of intergovernmental affairs, United Nations Environment Programme.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2021

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