The Swedish 16-year old climate change activist, Greta Thunberg, has stated, “Some say I should be in school. But why should any young person be made to study for a future when no one is doing enough to save that future? What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts given by the finest scientists are ignored by our politicians?”
Climate change is a significant and urgent challenge for young people. Yet, when describing the situation facing young people, who currently comprise one-fourth of the global population, one aspect continues to be largely overlooked: the incredible potential of mobilizing and supporting the active contribution of young people.
UNICEF works with young people to elevate their voices on climate change through creative platforms, advocacy and participation at summits. Children and young people can also play a key role in addressing climate-related risks by promoting environmentally sustainable lifestyles and setting an example for their communities.
Bringing children’s voice on climate change and using this spur action among individuals, communities and duty bearers is even more important during an emergency, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different. On 20 August 2020, UNICEF, UNEP, UNDP, Yuwaah, U- Report, Nine is Mine and Youth Ki Awaz held a workshop with over 60 young people to get ideas and solutions for community-led climate action from young people and hear from them on how they can spearhead the movement on climate change in India and how they expect communities and decision-makers to support them.
The workshop was facilitated by Ridhima Pandey, Aditya Mukarji, and Bodhisatva Ganesh Khanderao, young climate activists who have already created an impact in this space. Sidharth Hande, Archana Soreng and Heeta Lakhani, young climate activists, were also present to guide the participants.
Facilitators and participants alike agreed that creating avenues for peer-learning gives a fillip to the astounding work that young climate activists are leading in their own domain and that online sessions can (and do!) facilitate idea generation, cross-fertilization of ideas strategic thinking, creative teamwork and problem-solving, resulting in a pool of ideas and strategies that young people can employ to lead the movement.
One key observation from the workshop is that young people are invested in making change, creating avenues for cross-fertilization strengthens the movement. Each participant demonstrated absolute commitment and passion for change, leaving everyone with the following critical learnings:
- Accountability starts with oneself. It’s important to keep reminding duty bearers of the enormous challenges that are in front of us and keep them committed to international agreement and accords (like the Paris Agreement) but that doesn’t absolve us from taking actions ourselves. Change starts with the individual taking the first step.
- Climate Change is as much as a science as it is behaviour change. While the prospect of human-induced global destruction may sometimes seem too overwhelming to address, everyone has a part to play in halting it. It hasn’t happened overnight or because of one major event. Similarly, remedying climate change will also require small incremental steps to start with and will require the commitment of the wider community by demanding and adopting sustainable consumption patterns.
- Schools are an important platform to launch and nurture climate change action. Schools play a critical role in helping populations understand and address the impacts of climate change. They also help encourage the changes in attitudes and behaviour needed to address the causes of climate change, adopt more sustainable lifestyles and develop skills that support different modules of economies, as well as to adapt to the impact of climate change. This can start with an audit of green practices in schools, like energy consumption and greywater use. This will have a ripple effect on the surrounding community.
- Young voices in climate change advocacy are critical. The participation of young people is a necessity if the interests of future generations are to be safeguarded. COVID-19 has shown us children are too easily forgotten in a crisis. If we are to be the leading voice and advocate for children and young people, our insights, motivations and actions must not only represent this group but include them.
- Digital advocacy is important. The climate change advocacy landscape, previously dominated by well-established environmental organizations, has adapted well to the rapid diffusion of communication technologies like the internet and portable devices such as smartphones and tablets. Technologies allow individuals to eschew traditional advocacy groups and instead rely on digital platforms to self-organize and narrate a story in a powerful way. Adopting digital advocacy is cost-effective and provides agency to individual taking action and help garner support from like-minded people
To spur action and declare a climate change emergency, we will have to accept the truth without sugar-coating it. Until 2030, we have ten years to transform consumer behaviours, the economy, and our culture to preserve life on earth. By declaring a climate emergency, the issue will not be hidden and incumbent on activists to bring it to the foreground, the community and the government alike will be mindful of the consequences, lest the problem is left to fester, and hence will be exhorted to launch an all-round war against climate change.
The workshop participants had come prepared and during the deliberation listed some actions that they can take and invite the community to join. Below are some of the action suggested by Climate warriors:
- Connect with your municipal corporators/gram panchayat member/legislators/Member of Parliament and demand that recycling of plastic waste is made compulsory.
- Make cleanliness, a competitive process. Organize a clean city/village, clean colony competition.
- Incentivize small enterprises to develop alternative packaging material with bamboo.
- Segregated waste collection from small businesses and households.
- A Cycle lane on roads
- Research for PPE made of biodegradable material.
- Eco bricks.
- Reducing plastic-use in the health care sector
- Reduce the use of fossil fuel, and replace it with an algae-based alternative to fossil fuel.
- Identify areas that need dustbin and connect with a local body.
- Promoting bricks made of recycled materials
- Make one’s family and community aware of segregating dry waste and wet waste, and dry waste further into plastic and e-waste
- Start an eco-club in your school/college/community.
- Make 100/1000+ people pledge to change their behaviour.
- Use cotton or jute bags instead of plastic.
- Switch to carpooling/public transportation.
- Stop using plastic cutlery, carry your own to parties. Stop using plastic and tetra water bottles, single-use straws, plastic straws, Styrofoam tea-cup
- Cycle/walk short distances.
- Switch off the vehicle at a traffic light.
- Avoid/lessen streaming videos, just 30 minutes of streaming on Netflix leads to 1.6 kg of carbon emissions.
- Switch off appliances when not in use.
- Adopt sustainable ways to celebrate festivals.
- Stopping the use of personal toiletries that contain plastic microbeads.
- Educate shopkeepers vendors about the harms of polythene bags and help them adopt an alternative.
- Opt for green weddings (with no plastic, a cap on the number of people invited and using renewable source for light and music.
- Plant trees/initiate afforestation drives.
- Launch information awareness campaign on plastic pollution.
- Clean local park/beach/ponds.
- Use social media to spread awareness on biodegradable products, ask people to sign petitions, get an influencer to join the movement.
- campaigning with the use of statistics, and with the effects that plastic pollution has on society,
- In schools, start clubs for reusable bag-making, rag cloth collection, water reusing.
- Lobby/petition for your school to commit to introducing climate change into curriculums (as opposed to environment science).
- Adopt green audits, make greywater use mandatory, install solar panels, and more.
- Start a uniform bank
Participants shared afterwards that this was one of the most intense workshops they had attended on climate change. They also said that before the workshop, they were not confident about whether they were on the right path, but that now they felt more confident. “Do not underestimate the compounding effects of ‘small’ actions,” said one of the participants.
The workshop is first in the series of activities that seeks the participation of young people in signing up for climate action. Few of the young people who have demonstrated exemplary action and have created models worth emulating will be invited to present their case to parliamentarians during World Children’s Day, United Nations Environment Assembly (2021) and COP 26.