By Bhagya Wickramsinghe
“Let us acknowledge and celebrate what youth can do to build a safer, more just world. Let us strengthen our efforts to include young people in policies, programmes and decision-making processes that benefit their futures and ours.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
International Youth Day, 12 August 2010
Climate change is one of the key challenges that has united the countries around the globe. With impacts that affect everyone in the world, it is not a question for one group of society, but all living on the planet. According to the World Youth Report: Youth and Climate Change, addressing and adjusting to the changes of climate change is one of the “defining features of the future of today’s youth”.
It is undeniable that climate patters are changing rapidly, and there is a need to address the various issues that arise as a result of the changing patterns of natural variability. As a result of the changing climate there is an adverse impact on the ecosystems and livelihoods. These changes are felt at a more intense level by the developing countries, mainly due to the lack institutional, technological, social and financial capacity to implement adaptation and mitigation techniques.
Youth: A formal constituency
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has established broad goals and rules to address climate change with the objective of reducing GHG emissions to a level that would no longer affect the climate system adversely. The conference of Parties, which consists of all the Parties to the Convention meet annually to evaluate the status quo and the effectiveness of the Convention. At the 15th session of the Conference of Parties, youth were officially recognised as a formal constituency. Thereupon their status as a stakeholder in climate change was legitimized.
Along with these developments, youth and youth organisations have a significant role in gathering the political will and the momentum to ensure the GHG reduction. The UN Report indicates that youth can contribute towards new mechanisms, technologies and financial resources. Youth also have a main role to play in ensuring scientific initiatives.
Agenda 21 sets out a comprehensive programme of action which included youth-focused objectives such as :
Youth: A stakeholder, vulnerable, agents of change
While being one of the main stakeholders of policies relating to climate change, youth are also a vulnerable group affected by the adverse effects of the climate change. Climate change has already created an impact on health and food security, which underlay the broader prospects of human development. Presently hunger and malnutrition have become one of the main threats to healthy lives, while young females are affected due to more gender-specific vulnerabilities across the regions. Apart from these challenges, climate change also poses the threat of unemployment. While the rate of unemployment is generally higher among youth than adults, in areas where the young generation depends on natural resources for employment, there is an added threat.
While there are many challenges ahead for youth, the initiatives by various global, regional and country-specific youth organisations poses an inspiration to the climate change dialogues. The youth is active in many areas including education, advocacy and activism on issues pertaining to climate change. They also ensure that they contribute towards the global and regional policy dialogue.
International youth day
On the international youth day celebrated on the 12th of August 2015, under the theme of “Youth Civic Engagement,” there were many conferences, activities and campaigns organised and broadcasted through traditional and social media, reminding and encouraging the youth power and the changes youth have made in the climate change discourse. This included the #youthpower social media campaign organised by Action 2015 to “make their voice heard, reminding world leaders not to back down on their promise to deliver the global goals”. UNESCO also had organised a number of thematic discussions and information campaigns.
The UN Secretary General’s statement issued in celebration of the youth day also reflects the important role of youth as a key stakeholder in the climate change negotiation process, to wit he noted “in this landmark year, as leaders prepare to adopt a bold new vision for sustainable development, the engagement of youth is more valuable than ever. At this critical moment in history, I call on young people to demand and foster the dramatic progress so urgently needed in our world.”
About the Author:
Bhagya Wickramasinghe is the Co-ordinator for Sri Lanka Youth Climate Action Network and leads the restructuring of the network to ensure a participatory and active youth network in Sri Lanka. She is an Attorney-at-Law and a Lecturer in Law. She has an LLB and LLM from University of Colombo.