By Navam Niles
The most underrated phenomenon of our lifetimes is climate change, which is without precedent and affects every species on the planet in varying degrees. In its simplest form, according to the UNFCCC, climate change refers to a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity, that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and that is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods. According to the IPCCC, we are now 95% sure that man is responsible. The usual narrative is one of doom and gloom but there is an alternative narrative: one that is more optimistic and one that will definitely require the input of youth in their capacity as the future economic backbone of the global economy. There are three key issues: the impacts of climate change, the options available to limit such impact, and finally the role youth will need to assume in implementing climate friendly policies.
Climate change impacts are roughly grouped into three distinct categories. The first are those in which climate is the dominant influence, so that no human action other than stopping it changing will have an effect. Examples of such problems include the thermal expansion of water in the oceans. At current rates, the average sea level could go up by 20 inches, which would threaten 345 million people by 2050. A related issue is the increase in ocean acidification due to the absorption of CO2, this will fundamentally affect marine and organisms and eco systems. The second are those in which the climate’s influence is modest and where the news is not entirely bad. Examples of the second include human health; warmer summers could result in the spread of various tropical diseases like malaria. The third are the ways a changing climate alters which species (both natural and agricultural) thrive where—which from a human perspective can be both good and bad. For instance, concerning fishing yields, those in temperate latitudes could increase by 30-50% while tropical yields fall by 40-60%. In summary, not all climate change impacts are the same, and human influence varies depending on the set of problems.
Addressing climate change problems requires different strategies. Unfortunately, problems in the first category would require massive infrastructure and planning costs; it is just impossible to defend every low-lying city, especially in poor regions such as South Asia. Moreover, it is impossible to adapt to ocean acidification. The solution would be to address the source: i.e., cut carbon emissions. Problems in the second category, however, can be approached by improving basic health programmes and enhancing facilities for clean drinking water and appropriate sanitation facilities. The third set of problems would be slightly more difficult to address. The use of climate resistant crops and technology would help control that impact. However, there we might have to make a trade-off between yields and climate resistance. Therefore, it is clear that different problems do indeed have different solutions, which give us hope of mitigating the worst of climate change.
What can Youth do? Youth are already becoming part of the global economic backbone. As a generation, we will face the increasing costs of climate change and may see our livelihoods ruined if nothing is done today. Therefore, it is vital that we mobilise political will to influence public policy and generates public awareness of the impacts of climate change. We have a pressing interest in ensuring that our states make tough decisions in accordance with the UNFCCC framework to ensure that we inherit a world that continues to allow for human progress. Hence, youth have a powerful role to play in terms of mobilising political will towards climate change solutions.
In conclusion, the severity of climate problems depends on their unique categories. Not every problem is insolvable. In fact, human influence varies based on the category of the problem. Thus, we must mobilise our political will to seize an opportunity to address climate change before it irreversibly affects our future on this planet. This opportunity is not lost, but it is ours to lose.
Navam’s speech was an excerpt from his address at the World Conference on Youth 2014 held in Colombo, Sri Lanka last week.
Navam Niles works as a research analyst at SLYCAN, focusing on energy security and the politics concerning global environmental problems. His core research interests also include Public International Law, International Development, Foreign Policy Analysis, and International Security. In addition, he is a lecturer at the Royal Institute of Colombo, teaching subjects pertaining to Politics, International Relations and Development Studies.