The Asia-Pacific region has the world’s highest estimated number of children and youth (ages 24 or younger), counting over 1.7 billion in 2020. This represents 1.7 billion distinct lives and, importantly, 1.7 billion shared futures. Children and youth are not only one of the most numerically significant stakeholder groups in the region but are also the inheritors and the guardians of the future: futures that are uniquely threatened by climate change as young people stand to lose the most.
For example, people aged 10 or under will experience a four-fold increase in extreme weather events under 1.5°C of warming and a five-fold increase under 3°C by 2100. It is not only future effects that impact young people, but the negative consequences of climate change today also impact their education, employment opportunities and socio-economic well-being.
Nevertheless, as acknowledged in the recent United Nations Secretary-General policy brief on Meaningful Youth Engagement in Policy and Decision-making Processes, youth remain almost invisible in policy and decision-making and, despite their clear stake in climate change, the concerns of young people are often not taken seriously.
Why engage youth in climate action?
Youth are wells of energy and innovation to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. They are also more likely than any other group in the Asia-Pacific region to recognize climate change as a global emergency, having to experience its increasing impacts. At the same time, youth as agents of change “are key to identifying new solutions that will secure the breakthroughs that our world urgently needs,” according to the policy brief.
Moreover, in the words of Fithriyyah, a Youth Voices for Climate Action advocate from Indonesia, “young people experience climate impacts directly in their community and can provide more relevant and evidence-based solutions.”
Avenues for youth engagement
One framework that recommends several avenues for youth engagement is Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE), a term adopted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to denote work under Article 6 of the Convention and Article 12 of the Paris Agreement.
The Six Elements of ACE
(Source: 2022 Review of Climate Ambition in Asia and the Pacific: Raising NDC targets with enhanced nature-based solutions; ESCAP, UNEP, and UNICEF)
At the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP), the 10-year Glasgow work programme was adopted to further strengthen the implementation of ACE and encouraged building the capacity of youth to lead ACE implementation and participate in climate action processes. Building further on the point of engagement, the UN SG’s policy brief makes several key recommendations that include strengthening youth participation in decision-making at all levels (including national), making meaningful youth engagement a requirement in all United Nations decision-making processes (ex. youth climate negotiators and youth members of national delegations, as happened at COP27), and establishing a standing United Nations Youth Townhall.
How are youth engaging in climate action?
While youth still require support for full engagement (such as through the Youth Empowerment in Climate Action Platform), they are far from passive. Young activists have increasingly demanded that policymakers account for their unique realities and that they be involved in decisions that determine their future.
Youth have also been at the helm of various ACE-related actions. For example, they are excellent awareness raisers and campaigners (with adept use of social media) and have led trainings, webinars, and climate strikes.
Youth have also played an important part in the climate justice movement and in climate litigation, such as the Hawai’i Youth Climate Coalition and the case in Australia of taking a fund to court over lack of information about climate change risk. Meanwhile, youth solutions have emerged strongly through social entrepreneurship across the region, changing the sustainability of private sector practices while capitalizing on climate action solutions. In fact, the majority of surveyed youth social entrepreneurs were concerned about climate change’s impacts on their organizations.
Meanwhile, existing gender inequalities also amplify climate change’s effects on young women who are “the future backbone of families, communities, and societies and should be empowered in tackling the climate crisis,” according to the Youth Voices for Climate Action activists. Nevertheless, climate action is an arena where young women shine in the Asia-Pacific. For example, young women have led the first climate strikes in Thailand and the Philippines and are also active social entrepreneurs.
This year, ESCAP will leap into engaging young climate negotiators as members of their national delegations at the 79th Commission Session to be held from 15 to 19 May 2023, which focuses on “Accelerating climate action in Asia and the Pacific for sustainable development.”
(The finished mural at the COP27 Youth Pavilion)
Youth for the future they want
Youth must have more agency over their own futures, which are uniquely threatened by climate change. Building off the growing involvement of youth in climate action, more support from older demographics, governments, and other institutions is still needed for them to fully participate in ACE and, especially, in policy and decision-making processes, including at the highest levels.
Let’s guarantee a seat at the table for youth; their energy and solutions are invaluable in the design, development, and implementation of climate actions to ensure a sustainable future for the Asia-Pacific. Young people are crucial stakeholders, and they must be treated as such. When the invisible veil is removed, the vibrancy of youth has the capacity to change our collective futures.