Young climate activists at the steering wheel!

By young people, for young people.

By Natalie Esmail, Youth engagement and water scarcity officer
Young climate activists at the steering wheel!
19 April 2022

The climate crisis is a child’s rights crisis. Climate change poses serious threats to the health, nutrition, education, survival, and very future of children, adolescents and youth, who are the most vulnerable to extreme weather events and are more susceptible to toxic chemicals, temperature changes and diseases. Climate change has the potential to damage livelihoods, exacerbate displacement, migration, and conflict, and severely limit the options available to children and young people.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is one of the world's most climate-vulnerable regions. The region is expected to see rising temperatures, water scarcity and stress, drought, and occurrences of extreme weather events. The MENA region is designated as the world's most water-scarce region, with often unsustainable water systems, rising water demand, and unfavourable climate change implications on drinking water services.

In preparation for COP 27 and to understand the current and possible future solutions to address the impacts of climate change in the MENA Region, the first-ever Middle East and North Africa Regional Climate Week which was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on 28-31 March 2022. The event aimed to accelerate collaboration and integrate climate action into global pandemic recovery. Almost 4,000 people attended the event, which featured over 200 in-person sessions and many online sessions. Around 500 speakers from 147 nations attended MENA Climate Week to offer their perspectives on the region's sustainable future.

UNICEF MENA Regional Office attended and held two side events during the week. In addition, UNICEF invited three youth representatives to amplify and raise the challenges faced by young people in the MENA region, and to reflect on the importance to include and engaging them, as the current and future leaders for our planet.

The first side event, organised by UNICEF WASH and the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), focused on strengthening the enabling environment to tackle water scarcity in the context of climate change. The session started with a framing presentation on a regional analysis of the upstream policy environment for the MENA region which was followed by a round table discussion with sector experts, including a youth representative.

The youth lead the way for a modern change! They have to be seen not only as the future leaders as they are often described but also as the action takers that are currently and vitally active today to build further stability in the climate and water sector. To keep the youth’s momentum thriving, they need to be offered a supported structure of inclusion: it's not enough to have the voice itself, but what is more important is for them to be heard.

Rewa Assi, a 24- year-old Lebanese youth representative

Young people need to be actors and not observers in the climate change arena

Read more by Rewa Assi

The second side event, which was organised by the UNICEF Health section and UNFPA, focused on how climate-resilient and gender-sensitive primary health care can make a difference. Concrete examples were presented, demonstrating evidence of the importance of incorporating a strong gender-sensitive and climate-resilient health component in countries’ national climate plans (NDC, NAP, etc.). The session concluded with a panellist discussion including regional experts and a youth representative from Jordan.

This experience has deepened my commitment to making a real difference in my community. One of the most important things this experience taught me is that I can make a difference no matter what. I am excited to continue carrying these lessons with me as I grow up and pursue my passions for climate change, adaptation, and mitigation.

Rand Al Khasman, a 24-year-old Jordanian youth representative KHASMAN

A Young Climate Advocate's Experience at MENA Climate Week

Read more by Rand Al Khasman

Another key event for UNICEF was the “soft-launch” of the new MENA Young Climate Activist Toolkit during the UNDP session on Integrating Approaches for Climate-Resilient Development.  The toolkit was developed with UNDP and was presented by the UNICEF Tunisian youth climate activist, Kholoud Hamrouni. The joint publication   will be available in May 2022 on UNICEF MENA and UNDP Arab States official websites.

I noticed that most of the panels mentioned the role that young people play in the climate change sector, especially in the phases of mitigation and adaptation and the participation of several young people encouraged me and made me more and more enthusiastic to think more about climate resilience.

Kholoud, a 22-year-old Tunisian youth representative

The MENA Climate Week showcased national and regional solutions and programmes that are currently addressing the effects of climate change, in addition to presenting some specific regional knowledge gaps, which are critical first steps for scaling up adaptation actions - and a critical pillar of the Paris Agreement. In addition, the meeting emphasised the importance of continuing the empowerment and engagement of young people in climate actions. They need to continue playing a key role in taking forward the climate solutions for a better future, especially those who are among the most vulnerable to displacement, war, conflict, disasters, climate disruption, and environmental degradation.

UNICEF is currently supporting and empowering young people to play an active role in addressing climate change. This support includes accelerating and building youth capacity and knowledge as well as offering them opportunities to voice their challenges and advocate for the issues that most impact them.

UNICEF will continue to invest in the knowledge and momentum generated by MENA Climate Week to ensure that adolescents and youth have access to inclusive platforms, where they can engage in climate advocacy and action, share their knowledge and expertise, and mobilize other young people to join the fight against climate change.