Climate change is here. As its impact intensifies over time, it is the children and young people of today who will face the worst effects.
But far from being passive victims, young people all over the world have begun to fight back on a scale never seen before. Take Greta Thunberg. In 2018, the 15-year-old from Sweden sparked a global movement of school-age students demanding greater action from governments to fight climate change. Now millions are marching to demonstrate their support.
Whether through education, technology, science or law ─ young people far and wide are tapping into their skills to speak up for climate action.
We are the last generation that can end climate change. We can and we will.
Raising youth voices on the climate crisis
As stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, every person under the age of 18 has the right to participate in the decision-making processes that impact them. This includes a public forum to express their views, and support for them to do it.
To help fulfill this right, UNICEF has created Voices of Youth, a dedicated platform for young advocates to offer inspiring and original insights on issues that matter to them.
The sea is swallowing villages, eating away at shorelines, withering crops. Relocation of people ... cries over loved ones, dying of hunger and thirst. It's catastrophic. It's sad ... but it's real.
From time to time, we also hand over our social media channels to young climate activists, giving them access to our 20+ million of followers. This happened with Alexandria Villaseñor, a 14-year-old activist based in New York who is part of #FridaysForFuture – the global movement of young people striking from school to call for climate action.
We also work with youth to spread the message offline, through initiatives like UNICEF’s first-ever Climate Comic Contest.
Sathviga ‘Sona’ Sridhar, a 21-year-old artist from Chennai, India, was the winner of the contest in 2017. Sridhar was inspired to take action on climate change after her community was hit by devastating floods in 2015. Her winning character ‘Light’ – a half tree-half human who uses special powers to save nature from a warming planet ─ was ultimately turned into an educational comic book.
Advocacy is instrumental to build a better, stronger future for children and young people. UNICEF supports youth to advocate with their governments in their national contexts. In Mongolia for example, air pollution is a source of health problems for many. Here, young people have been trained to monitor air quality, and use the data they collect to call on their government to take action. Empowering youth to monitor air quality is a first, and often powerful, step in providing them with the information that they need to advocate for their rights.
Increasing youth participation to address climate change
One of the most important ways in which UNICEF helps young people participate in climate action is by giving them the opportunity to engage with leaders at events like the 2019 United Nations Youth Climate Summit in New York City.
This year, our delegation of ten young participants ─ coming from as far afield as Kenya and Bangladesh ─ featured Kherann Yao, UNICEF Youth Advocate from Côte d'Ivoire. Kherann discussed how schools can be made entirely out of recycled plastic bricks, a project supported by UNICEF in a partnership with innovative Colombian social enterprise Conceptos Plasticos.
The project will see the creation of Africa’s first-of-its-kind brick factory in Côte d'Ivoire, which will convert plastic waste into modular bricks to build much needed classrooms in the West African country. This will not only help fight pollution, but also improve education and increase employment through creating a market for recyclables.
You might think that we are too young to know about the risks and realities of climate change. But we see its effects in our daily lives.