Asia-Pacific youth unite to fight climate change

24 February 2021 - The Asia-Pacific region is home to 60 percent of the world’s population and is one of the most vulnerable areas to the climate crisis.  Many large cities like Mumbai, Shanghai, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and Jakarta, are coastal and low-lying, making them susceptible to sea level rise and extreme weather events, such as typhoons.  At the same time, rural areas also remain highly vulnerable to drought and flooding.  It is children and young people that stand to be most affected by these impacts of climate change. 

Many youth across the region are frustrated with the lack of climate action by their leaders – and they feel that their voices are not being heard.  A recent UNDP survey found that around 63 percent of people in Asia and the Pacific recognize climate change as a major “global emergency” and want more action from their leaders.  This frustration has been demonstrated over the years by the multiple climate strikes, campaigns and other youth-led movements happening across the Region.   

The Regional Dialogue on Youth Empowerment in Climate Actions took place virtually on 9-10 February 2021, in an effort to address these concerns. The Dialogue was organized by UNDP in partnership with UNFCCC, UNICEF and the British Council, and brought together 1,100 youth and leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region.  The aim of the Dialogue was to elevate the voices of youth and develop practical solutions to address the crisis. 

It is not just young people who are concerned about the climate crisis. A recent UNDP survey found that around 63% of people across the Region recognize climate change as a major “global emergency” and want more action from their leaders.  This frustration has been demonstrated over the years by the multiple climate strikes, campaigns and other youth-led movements happening across the Region.

While each young person’s concern for their environment and their future is unique, together the youth who participated, provided a coherent and insistent set of messages that spoke of the importance of countries stepping up the climate commitments, including under the Paris Agreement. They testified, yet again, the imperative of listening to what youth have to say and building environmental frameworks that place their rights, and their future, at the center of climate policy.

“Climate change is a youth issue and we know that the most severe impacts of climate change will be faced by the youth of today,” explained Nasha Lee from UNDP Malaysia. Nasha shared the findings from their country’s Youth Climate Survey, including that 90 percent of Malaysian youth have already experienced, first-hand, the impacts of climate change. She spoke of the urgent responsibility leaders have, not just to listen and acknowledge the collective voices of the youth, but to also actively empower them to take action.

“As youth, we understand we are part of the solution,” shared Heeta Lakhani from the International Youth Climate Movement (YOUNGO).” Heeta spoke about how youth participation could help ensure a just and green recovery from COVID-19. “We as youth, have to be the change makers, but we also have to be the bridges to our communities.”

Mai Hoang, a climate journalist from Vietnam, outlined the results of the country's first report on youth involvement in climate action which had recently been developed in her country. Twenty youth climate advocates gathered in Vietnam for a writeshop to identify bottlenecks where youth face obstacles to taking climate action. “Youth often have difficulty engaging with government stakeholders, especially at the local level,” Mai concluded. She felt that governments were not appropriately prioritizing the voices of youth when it came to climate policy. Funding for youth initiatives to address climate change and access to technology were identified as other key bottlenecks to youth-led action locally.

“It’s very easy to get caught up in the noise,” said Ernest Gibson, a member of the Secretary General’s Youth Advisory Board on Climate Change. He urged youth attendees to “allow yourself to understand the value that you have.” Ernest shared that being from Fiji, he experienced the value of storytelling from the day he was born, and how he believes that storytelling and writing can really help youth to direct their actions in a meaningful way. “[The climate crisis] is an ongoing story and one that we, as youth, have the unique opportunity to write the next chapter of.”

The lead up to COP 26 in Glasgow is a great opportunity to elevate the voices of youth.  Whilst youth inclusion has increased in countries working with the UNDP Climate Promise, there is still immense work to be done to ensure representation of young people in NDCs and at the COP. Not only do youth have a right to be heard at this year’s conference, but also their expertise and experience is a vital dimension in working towards a future in which their rights are respected. The Regional Dialogue was a major step in helping to ensure this. 

The Youth Empowerment in Climate Action Platform

During the Event, UNDP Asia-Pacific in collaboration with UNICEF East Asia and Pacific, UNICEF South Asia, UNFCCC Regional Collaboration – Bangkok, the British Council, YOUNGO, the Movers Programme and the 2030 Youth Force launched a regional platform to further elevate the voices of youth in the Region. This platform builds upon the results of the Dialogue and aims to achieve the following objectives;

  1. Awareness for Action - Raising awareness of young people for climate actions (at individual, organizational and policy level)​
  2. From a Promise to Action – Support governments to engage young people in meaningful ways to implement NDCs (designing programmes, implementation, monitoring and reporting)​
  3. Knowledge for Action – Enable thought leadership to reach wider and right audiences (curation, dissemination, impact measurement)​
  4. Resources towards Action – Support young people and youth organizations with resources in order to scale up their climate actions (financing, mentoring, showcasing).

The platform will continue providing opportunities for young people to engage in climate action in the region, by sharing of events, joint knowledge products and requests for input from all partners.

The Climate Promise Initiative by UNDP

The UNDP’s Climate Promise Initiative under the UNDP’s Regional Bureau of Asia and the Pacific is helping 27 countries in Asia-Pacific deliver stronger climate commitments in the NDCs This support draws upon UNDP’s extensive portfolio of expertise across priorities such as energy, forests, water, resilience, agriculture, health, youth, finance, governance, gender equality and green jobs. It also builds upon UNDP’s established track record in supporting governments to  design and deliver climate action under the Paris Agreement. Globally, UNDP has agreed Climate Promise work plans with 115 countries – making it the world’s largest offer of support for the enhancement of countries’ climate pledges.

For more information, please contact Rohini Kohli, Lead Technical Specialist, RBAP, rohini.kohli@undp.org

Initiatives by other convening partners of the Regional Platform

  1. UNICEF Climate Change
  2. APAC Climate Week, ACE programme etc. by UNFCCC
  3. British Council Climate Change and the COP
  4. UNFCCC YOUNGO
  5. Youth Co. Lab Movers Programme
  6. The 2030 Youth Force
Last Updated: 24 Feb 2021