– On Gladys Habu’s birthday, she filmed a message to world leaders while standing waist-deep in the sea next to a dead tree stump – the only remnant of Kale Island now submerged underwater due to climate-change-induced sea-level rise.
Climate change impacts have deeply personal meaning for this young climate activist from the Solomon Islands – Kale Island was her grandparents’ home.
“I strongly believe an investment in youth is a direct investment into the climate workforce. An active force that will enable the marked difference we all hope to see in the fight for a climate-safe future,” Habu says.
Habu is a Commonwealth Points of Light award winner, the Queen’s Award for activism for her climate change work in the Pacific. She is one of 1.5 billion young people in Commonwealth countries under the age of 30 who are among the most vulnerable to climate change, but least involved in decision-making.
“Climate change is a multifaceted, cross-cutting issue that affects all aspects of life, and therefore is one of the most challenging to face. Despite increased scientific knowledge and evidence of climate change on the ground, there is still a trending rise in investments into profit-oriented industries that contribute critically to the problem,” she tells IPS.
Habu says youths have the numbers to be effective agents of positive change in climate action. But beyond their role as advocates, they must act from the forefront of climate action, taking part in policymaking and implementation.
However, she says, there needs to be a large-scale investment in young people.
Addressing climate change is crucial and urgent. The UN’s State of Food Security and Nutrition says that as many as 161 million more people faced hunger in 2020 than in 2019, driven by increased climate variability and extremes, conflicts and economic slowdowns, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UN says that an estimated 21 percent of the population in Africa, 9.0 percent in Asia, and 9.1 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean are affected by hunger. As Commonwealth youth leaders recently highlighted, these regions are also the most affected by climate change.
As the debilitating effects of climate change unravel, the report shows that compared to 2019, an estimated 46 million more people in Africa, 57 million in Asia and approximately 14 million more in Latin America and the Caribbean were affected by hunger in 2020.
Young climate activist Lucky Abeng speaking at the Commonwealth Pavilion at COP26. Credit: Commonwealth Secretariat
Youth can play a crucial role in halting the fast pace of climate change and reversing its devastating effects – such as accelerated world hunger and malnutrition, Nigerian youth leader Lucky Abeng says.
However, this will need increased youth participation in all levels of climate action.
Abeng was excited to see the level of youth engagement at the recently concluded COP26.
“I was personally impressed to see the interest shown by youth in Glasgow. Joining voices to call for climate justice and bridging the gap on intergenerational equity.”
As the Commonwealth Climate Change Network (CYCN) Chair for Grassroots Engagement and Participation, Abeng is hopeful that position papers submitted by youth activists to various governments will be mainstreamed in plans and programs for implementation post-COP26.
The Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network has over 2000 climate, sustainability, and environment youth leaders and youth-led organisations focused on climate adaptation and mitigation and sustainable development.
Abeng’s hope could well be realised through the Commonwealth Secretariat’s mandate to include young people in national development policies and plans at all levels of decision making.
Former CYEN Special Envoy for Climate Change Jevanic Henry with fellow delegates at the Youth4Climate Summit 2021. Credit: Commonwealth Secretariat
Jevanic Henry, an Assistant Research Officer at the Commonwealth Secretariat, tells IPS that through the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, all the Commonwealth Regional and National Climate Finance advisers seek to consider gender and youth concerns in all climate finance initiatives.
Henry, who served as a Special Envoy on Climate Change for the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), says the Commonwealth Secretariat is “uniquely placed to further advance this mainstreaming, building on the political will by the Commonwealth Heads (of State), technical expertise available within the Secretariat to support member countries and its convening power to work with other development partners at all levels.”
On the sidelines of COP26, Abeng witnessed various events on the nexus between youth, marginalised people, and climate change.
Beyond these events and progressive discussions, Abeng hopes to see realistic and sincere youth-focused implementation plans embedded into countries’ national plans, including their Nationally Determined Contributions to limit global warming.
He says genuine commitment to youth participation in climate action should be demonstrated through funded capacity-building and empowerment opportunities for young people.
Henry believes it can be done. First, “we need a good policy environment that recognises the needs and potential role of young people.”
While there is progress, it is crucial that in Commonwealth funded projects, youth and women are equal in decision-making and beneficiaries of climate action.
“We are aware that youth are change-makers in many ways and need practical support to advance those ideas,” Henry says, and proper funding is crucial.
Commonwealth Assistant Research Officer Jevanic Henry joins a Beach Cleanup with community youth council in St Lucia. Credit: Commonwealth Secretariat
“There is a need for improvement in the design of new and existing climate and disaster risk reduction international financing pools to ensure they are made more accessible for young people,” Henry says.
Within the Commonwealth Secretariat, there are efforts to put youth in the forefront to independently drive national climate action and advance towards integrating and adopting youth-sensitive budgeting.
For these reasons, Henry explains, the Commonwealth Secretariat is advancing a training programme on enhancing access to sustainable financing for green entrepreneurship, focusing on youth.
“For example, ahead of COP26, in conjunction with the Government of Saint Lucia, we run a youth entrepreneurship training,” he says, giving them the information to take advantage of the opportunities that come with a green economy and accessing financing for projects and ideas.
Habu says youth have made great strides in climate advocacy and influencing policy change.
“Imagine how much more can be achieved by youths from the forefront of climate action.”