A sign that reads 'Climate Justice Now' at a climate action protest

Youth and climate change: Supporting action to save the planet

When it comes to youth and climate change action, It is important to note that young people are the future. They should be given a chance to live, a chance for the future, says Felix Onan Olindi

The Living in the Climate Crisis report found that young people in the poorest communities and most marginalized social classes have had climate change disrupt their working lives.

The study, done collaboratively in Uganda by Restless Development, Makerere University, Cambridge University and The British Academy, discovered that 76 per cent of survey respondents had their livelihoods disrupted by environmental changes during the past year. 

In addition, 53 per cent of them told us they had paused their livelihood activities for at least seven days due to climate change. The above facts present the harrowing reality of youth and climate change action. This poses some intriguing questions:

  1. Why are young people specifically vulnerable to climate change?
  2. How should young people be helped to cope with these environmental changes?
  3. Do young people have a chance?

I will answer the first question. Demographically, young people make up the biggest group in the population. Uganda, with a median age of 16.7 years, is the third youngest country in the world.

In most Sub-saharan countries, people are highly dependent on natural resources, thus disproportionately affected by climate change. It is only sensible to assert that in order to have a promising future for these youngsters, action must be taken to create a sustainable environment for them. 

Young people do not have the correct and necessary information to help them adapt to potential climate change calamities. It is common knowledge that information is power, and when people have the correct information, they can prepare for adversities or work towards the solution.

I have argued that young people do not have the information, but even then, do they have a voice? In most countries, young people are excluded from all the available policy making spaces. Platforms are occupied by older citizens, who constitute the smallest percentage of the population. Ministries, the parliament, civic spaces are dominated by the older citizens.  Our policy should be tailored around the experiences of young people, not just hypotheses of those in power. 

It is clear that policies made out of experience deliver greater lasting change than those based on assumptions. Young people have experienced climate change first hand, they know what policies work in their best interests.

It is important to note that the fight against climate change is a fight for the future, a future for young people. It therefore makes greater sense that they are involved at all stages of the policy making cycle. Restless Development’s youth led methodology can be a paradigm for this change.

Young people do not have the resources to carry out efforts towards adaptation, mitigation and resilience. In most of our countries, the resources belong to the older generation. In the wake of climate change, young people have tried within their means to put in place some interventions. 

Climate change in Uganda is a real problem with visible effects. Young people in Uganda have diversified their sources of income to those that are not so dependent on natural resources, for example by joining the fast food and boda boda businesses. Others, though on a smaller scale, have planted trees and made charcoal alternative briquettes. However, these efforts cannot be scaled up because of limited resources. 

Young people should in all possible ways be supported to cope with these environmental changes. Firstly, there is need to enhance or prioritize access to education, information and training. We must incorporate climate education in the formal education structures. Curricula for primary, secondary and tertiary schools and institutions must have environmental education as a key aspect. When young people learn these in schools, they are better equipped to handle environment related issues around them.

Even then, environmental education must be inclusive by being delivered through the informal learning structures, for example community sensitization drives, adult groups, social spaces among others. This ensures that the illiterate population is not left out. This should be the basis of inclusive capacity building.

Leaders must increase financial services to young people. These help them to better diversify their income streams and result in more financially impactful livelihoods. They can also have the capacity to better scale up their innovations to adapt to and mitigate climate change. It will empower them to boost their agricultural productivity.

Governments and the private sector should also collaborate to build mechanisms that foster youth and climate change action, the creation of green, reliable and decently paying jobs to young people. This, coupled with other interventions, will offer young people a sustainable pathway to stronger climate change resilience.

More importantly, governments and development specialists should facilitate stronger and inclusive dialogues between the policymakers and young people. This will amplify the voices and needs of marginalized youth and ensure that the voice of young people, or Youth Power, is reflected in all policies to support young people. 

Young people are the majority group in their countries, so they have the voice and should be given a chance. All efforts for a sustainable future should be centered around the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet our needs.

The young people are the future, so we should give them a chance to live. A chance for the future.

Feature Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Felix Onan Olindi

Felix Onan Olindi is a 19-year-old Ugandan Climate and literacy activist. Until recently, he was working on the Youth Futures Project, a collaborative research study between Restless Development and Cambridge University that is investigating the impacts of climate change on the working lives of young people in Uganda. He is a writer, poet and speaker. He believes that words can change the world and encourages the use of arts to call for public action towards climate change.

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Youth and climate change: Supporting action to save the planet

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