At the Centre of Climate Action, Youth are Agents of Change

The population of the youth is projected to grow by 2030 even as climate change causes adverse effects. Solutions need to be inclusive of all populations including the youth. Photo: IOM/Muse Mohammed

Geneva – The past decades have seen a proliferation of climate- and environment-related events and disasters that have had an adverse effect on people and the planet.

The increased intensity of these occurrences has been felt across all continents in one form or another. Whether it is the current drought in the Horn of Africa, Madagascar and parts of the Middle East, flooding in Asia, wildfires and extreme temperatures in Europe, Pakistan, India, Australia, and the Americas. 

At the centre of this are lives and livelihoods that have been directly affected by others forced to flee their ancestral homes. 

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s (IDMC) Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID), in 2021 nearly 24 million people around the world were displaced internally by disasters, with a further 560 disasters predicted to take place annually by 2030, with children and youth accounting for more than 40 per cent of the displaced.

Today, the global population of young people aged 15 to 24 years stands at 1.2 billion and is expected to grow by 7 per cent by 2030. This puts this population at the centre of all efforts aimed at reducing the adverse impacts of climate change, since science predicts the same will be the generations that will face the peak of climate impacts even with a successful temperature cap at 1.5°C.

Africa for instance, a continent with the youngest population in the world and where 70 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 30, stands out disproportionately as the most vulnerable region in the world to the adverse impacts of climate change, environmental degradation and disasters despite contributing just about 2 to 3  per cent of global emissions. With most of their livelihood primarily linked to agriculture and natural resources, the already worsening climatic conditions pose a threat to these populations' capacity to stay and adapt. 

This makes the African youth one of the most significant non-state actors on the continent in terms of numbers: prioritizing their intrinsic abilities, creativity, skills, and talents to drive climate action while unlocking opportunities for them.


Engagement in decision-making

Sitting at the heart of achieving the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement are the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that represent the efforts countries need in order to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. 

With states and governments acknowledging the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting global warming to close to 1.5°C, the implementation of the current NDCs and the development of the next generation of the same must be inclusive of the youth – and, in particular, women and girls – and rightly so if we are to secure the livelihoods of the coming generations. 

By 2020, only 42 per cent of all NDCs contained direct reference to children or youth, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). 

There are countries like Viet Nam that included the youth through a dedicated section on their climate change vulnerabilities across various sectors. The 2020 NDC also includes a strong equity angle, recognizing children with disabilities, children in poor families, migrant children, and girls, while also highlighting disaster risk reduction within climate change adaptation, community-based models, and the need for communication and raising awareness. Others like Jamaica have similarly engaged the youth through consultations as it updated its 2020 NDC.  

Through key forums, the youth have been able to provide concrete contributions. For instance, the Pre-COP26 Summit saw the adoption of the first-ever Youth4Climate Manifesto, a bold plan for climate action with demands across four thematic areas. The recently concluded Kampala Conference is another forum that brought together youth advocates from across the East and Horn of Africa region. The outcome of the consultations was presented to the broader Regional Inter-Ministerial Conference on Migration, Environment and Climate Change.

These forums represent the voices and recommendations that need to be translated into actions at global, regional, and national levels. Policy frameworks that provide an enabling framework for youth, especially in vulnerable situations, remain key in not only upholding their rights but also enabling participation in decisions. The recently launched Guiding Principles for Children on the Move in the Context of Change provides a set of principles that address the unique and layered vulnerabilities of children on the move, both internally and across borders as a result of the adverse impacts of climate change. 

Although the guidance refers only to children under the age of 18, issues pertaining to youth are also considered. Youth experience similar vulnerabilities and risks to children, especially in situations of migration or displacement when they lose their social support networks. This looks at providing the first-ever global policy framework that will help protect, include, and empower children on the move in the context of climate change.


Mobilizing for action

Climate change, environmental degradation, and disasters are already shaping human mobility in different ways. Youth engagement in both climate change and migration debates should be part of the response to address the environmental crisis and ensure migration in this context remains a choice or, when necessary, is managed in a regular and safe way.  

The youth have almost exclusively led advocacy and awareness efforts around climate change, bringing the issue to the forefront of global discussions. With the effects of climate change being irreversible, adaptation and mitigation actions are well positioned to provide a cushion to further degradation even as efforts to address climate-induced loss and damage are put in place, especially in vulnerable countries and communities.

Youth contribution has not only highlighted the negative effects of climate change and the urgent need to address it but also presented innovative solutions including on renewable energy, conservation efforts, climate-smart agriculture, among others, that feed into the adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Tapping the expertise of young people and putting their views directly  on the negotiating table at global and local level will not only offer innovative solutions but also accelerate the attainment of the Paris Agreement objective and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

2030 remains significant in this context of climate change for two reasons. On one hand, this is the target date for achieving the SDGs, including climate action, and on the other hand, it is when disasters are projected to stand at an average of more than 1.5 disasters per day at current temperature increase forecasts. The rate of our success depends on several  factors but a critical one is the space and role given to youth in the years to come.  


Written by Kennedy Omondi, Communications Officer (Europe, Africa and the Middle East), IOM.

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