The Role that Children and Youth Play in Climate Change Mitigation

We recently celebrated World Environment Day with the worldwide theme of #BeatAirPollution with diverse stakeholders ranging from social media influencers to children in the remote villages of India. In fact, our one such initiative of engaging multi-stakeholders involved commemorating World Environment Day 2019 with the Youth Development Society of Sikkim (YODESS) through awareness and plantation programme at the premises of the Chandaney Sangam Sangh Clubhouse situated at the Upper Dalapchand, East Sikkim, India. The programme was attended by various stakeholders ranging from local environmental organisations, self-help groups and students from nearby schools.  The program highlighted the significance of conservation practices at the grassroot level and of collective efforts for sustaining scarce natural resources. About 150 native tree saplings of the species like Dhuppidars, Chaap, Bouganbellia, Agellia, Guava, Plum, Rhododendron, Pankha Patey, etc. were planted to highlight how planting can reverse the impacts of air pollution. The primary contributors to this plantation drive were school children.

Usually, children have often been side-lined from the concerns relating to climate change actions. However, initiatives like these demonstrate how youth can proactively contribute their talents and efforts through combined efforts of external organizations for environmental protection. Every day large scale deforestation, dumping of chemicals in the rivers, soil erosion and other catastrophic events are taking place. What are we waiting for? Ever since climate change came into light, water sources have been polluted, forests have been wiped out, animal species have disappeared, and people’s health has been jeopardized because of the pollution we create.

Young people constitute the largest and most vulnerable bearers of climate change effects. Environmentally aware and empowered children and adolescents are potentially the greatest agents of change for the long-term protection and stewardship of the earth. More than 46 per cent of the world’s population is now younger than 25 years old – 3 billion individuals in all. The decisions they make can and will shape the future of our world. The coming years provide with an excellent window of opportunity. Young people’s knowledge of water, environment and health is a largely untapped resource. They are the next generation of resource users and environmental stewards in households and communities. The capacity of these young people to live in harmony with nature and to manage and maintain local water, air and land resources effectively is vital. The decisions taken by them will be majorly affecting the fortune of future generations. Being the backbone of the nation, they can change the future of society with their well-being, creative and effective decisions. As mentioned in the International Youth Declaration, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Conference of Parties 10, December 2004, Buenos Aires, youth carry out initiatives for sustainable development that not only enlarge our capacities to face environmental, social and economic challenges in the future, but also contribute today to the improvement of our communities.

One such young leader is Liliana, who reintroduced the diminishing flora and fauna in her country, Ecuador through new, cost-effective environmental solutions. She focused her research study by identifying and cataloguing native plant species that could simultaneously adapt to urban environments and be resilient to climate change. In the process, she reduced air pollution and vulnerability to natural disasters by encouraging greater use of native plants in the green rooftops of the densely urbanized city.

Educating the children and youth plays a major role in making an impact. Informing about environmental degradation, overuse of conventional sources of energy and prospects of renewable energy and its management should be encouraged from high school. We need to move forward with the multigenerational and multidisciplinary approach to handle climate change, working together with leaders, local communities and children can redesign the ecosystem conditions. Such steps are necessary so that youth and children are not only climate-change literate but are equipped with the tools to act. 

Community-based monitoring and private interventions have begun to create opportunities for young people to participate in actions that reduce the incidence of climate disasters while cleaning up degraded community environments and watershed areas to improve living conditions for themselves, their families and their future generations. Children’s participation in these activities has succeeded in raising awareness about their role as agents of change. But something that cannot change overnight is the opinion of adults as partners in a shared mission. Based on the premise that what children learn today will shape the world tomorrow, instilling environmental awareness at a young age is an effective way to protect the environment. Programmes that improve the availability and quality of environmental education are key interventions for long-term change. While schools – and especially primary schools – are ideal platforms for increasing children’s environmental knowledge, the most effective learning programmes go beyond schools and into local communities – like Sikkim Plantation Drive. 

Programmes that promote children’s participation in local environmental initiatives that strengthen children’s clubs and networks, and that provide a voice for children in local, national and global development processes are all ways to help realize the potential of children to shape their own world. To this end, initiatives like plantation drives will offer comprehensive solutions designed to empower children. Taking action to enhance environmental quality will also help to empower them for the long-term. In addition to this, avenues must exist for their knowledge to be translated into advocacy and action.

In fact, youth and children have already begun mobilizing their peers on social media or other online platforms to discuss, debate and formulate and initiate better environmental measures. Youth efforts range from local initiatives to international campaigns, some influential enough to reach policymakers and national leaders. As more youth connect they are also using virtual platforms to educate, raise awareness, expand outreach and share knowledge. Additionally, youth are taking advantage of the availability and accessibility of information and technology to engage in all levels of environmental governance, especially towards implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Likewise, youth are instrumental in advocating for the consideration of the SDGs in World Environment Day and beyond, like that of SDG 15, “Life on Land,” which resolves to restore and conserve the earth’s terrestrial ecosystems, forests, and biodiversity.

Enforcing such changes can bring a great impact on the social and environmental conditions of the most climate change vulnerable regions. Private interventions like planting trees seeks to inculcate the habit of planting trees for various important occasions in one’s life from very early stages. This behavioural shift cannot happen overnight and hence requires effort from each one of us. 

Do your bit by teaching your children to start planting trees with Grow-Trees –