With negotiations on curbing global warming and the future of fossil fuels generating the most buzz as the latest UN climate conference heads towards the finish line – COP28 is scheduled to wrap up next Tuesday – young people and children grabbed the spotlight today.
In the lead-up to the conference, the UN released a string of dire reports confirming that our planet is at a tipping point. The latest survey from the UN weather agency, WMO, said that greenhouse gasses have “turbo-charged a dramatic acceleration in ice melt and sea level rise.”
The world is home to 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 to 24 – the largest youth generation in history. They are increasingly vocal and aware of the risks posed by the climate crisis, and they took the center stage today the Al-Waha theater in Dubai’s Expo City.
Movement for change
At a youth dialogue event, Ameila Turk of YOUNGO – a global network of children and youth activists – outlined the global youth statement delivered to delegates at COP28, a policy document prepared with over 750,000 inputs received from over 150 countries.
She described it as a part of climate movement.
“While we might not necessarily have the ability to bring everybody to a COP itself, the global statement is an excellent example of how we able to show… what we really care about, and to show the audience as well why we are here.”
In his remarks, Dr. Mashkur Isa of YOUNGO asked attendees under the age of 35 to raise hands and most hands in the packed auditorium went up.
However, he noted that it is unfortunate that such a high level of youth representation was largely missing in the day-to-day work of COP28, as well as previous UN climate conferences.
“Despite our continuous calls for ambitious climate action our children and youth are absent from climate discussions, commitments and policy-making. Parties must protect our interests by immediately placing the voices of children and youth at the center of all levels of climate change decision-making,” he stated.
Action for climate empowerment
YOUNGO member Bhumi Sharma, moderator of the youth climate dialogue, said that that ensuring finance for Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) is crucial.
ACE, which echoes one of the objectives of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement aims to empower all members of society to engage in climate action through education and public awareness, training, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation.
“There has been a chronic absence of funds and despite efforts, developed countries are not willing to talk about it,” she added.
Speaking to UN News, she underscored that activism for climate action comes from within, “and while we cannot force anyone to care about something they don’t,” her hope is that people take the climate crisis seriously.
‘The climate crisis is an education crisis’
According to a UNICEF analysis released earlier this year, weather-related disasters caused 43.1 million children to be internally displaced in 44 countries over a six-year period – approximately 20,000 child displacements a day.
UN News spoke to Yasmine Sherif, Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait, the UN global fund for education in emergencies, which recently issued an appeal for $150 million to scale up efforts in response to the climate crisis.
“Climate change has proven to be one of the largest causes for displacement after conflict,” she said, adding that displacement affects the education of children and youth, and eventually their futures.
A new ‘Education Cannot Wait’ survey shows that the education of 62 million children and adolescents has been disrupted as an immediate and direct consequence of climate change.
Indeed, nearly 29,000 schools were damaged or destroyed due to flooding in Pakistan, and drought is impacting young lives in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.
“It’s important to not separate climate change from the impact it has on some basic services. These are not two different agendas,” Ms. Sherif explained. “The climate crisis is an education crisis.”
At COP28, Education Cannot Wait is pushing for more progress and to place education at the center of the climate action agenda.
“Without putting investment in education, all the billions we are investing is a lost money,” said Ms. Sherif.
She said that that even a small investment in education can go a long way in ensuring that the new generation continue to go to school and become the engineers, the scientists, the teachers who continue on the path of saving the mother earth.
“Don’t tell me that there are no resources. If we took 5 per cent of military expenditures and move them towards a education and to address climate crisis… We would have $100 billion a year to address climate change. So, the message is that you need to start reprioritizing,” she emphasized.
For her part, Carmen Burbano from the World Food Programme (WFP) said that it was “about time” the link between education, youth and climate action was made in a dedicated theme of a climate conference day.
The Director of WFP’s School Feeding Unit spoke to UN News on the sidelines of an event which focused on reimagining school meals for the health of the planet and children.
As the “largest social assistance programme in the world, we are changing what a third of the population in many of the countries is eating, and that directly impact climate goals,” she said.
She underscored that switching to cleaner energy sources in cooking these meals can also have an impact on preventing deforestation and even move communities around schools towards the use of more renewable energies.
Ms. Burbano said education, food systems and climate action “really need to come together in packages of solutions” and hoped that this would remain a feature of future climate conferences. She also welcomed the inclusion of school meals in the Food Systems Declaration made at COP28 as one of the solutions.