Young people are right about climate change: It’s time to listen

Luis Alfonso de Alba

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New York

Jakarta   /  Fri, September 20, 2019  /  11:36 am

Students are seen during the global school strike for action on climate change outside New Zealand's parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, on March 15, 2019.(AAP Image/via REUTERS/Boris Jancic)

Climate change is not a far-away problem -– it is causing huge damage right now in Indonesia and around the world. From air pollution choking many major cities, to more extreme heat and natural disasters, to one million species at risk, the urgent need for climate action is clear. We are all paying the price today, but unless we take action immediately to limit the impacts of climate change, it is young people who will be living with the ever-increasing consequences of global warming. So, it is no surprise that it is young people who are at the frontlines of efforts do something about it.

We cannot afford to ignore the voices of young people. We cannot afford to trivialize their demands. What they say matters.

Today, there are 1.8 billion people in the world between the ages of 10-24 years, and 1.2 billion of them are between 15-24 years. It’s not just that we need to listen to the voices of youth, it’s because the voices of youth matter. Young people can drive agendas. This is the most interconnected generation in history. And together, what they purchase determines what sells.

Young people are telling us we need to change. The world is on an unsustainable path, and as climate impacts increase, the opportunities for today’s young people will diminish. They are demanding nothing short of a transformation of the economy to a green economy.

Political, business and civil society leaders in every country are taking notice. To ignore the voices of youth is to ignore the urgency with which we mustact.

United Nations’ Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is convening the Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23 in New York to spark this transformation. The Secretary-General has made clear that we must value the voices and welcome to the global stage the young climate champions who have been setting the agenda and inspiring climate solutions.

That’s why I’m working with Secretary-General Guterres to convene the first-ever UN Youth Climate Summit in New York City on Sept. 21.

The Youth Climate Summit will feature a full-day of programming that brings together young activists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and change-makers who are committed to combating climate change at the pace and scale needed to meet the challenge. It will be action oriented, and inclusive, with equitable representation of young leaders from all
walks of life and every region of the globe.

More than 7,000 young people between the ages of 18 to 29 answered our call to apply to attend the Youth Climate Summit. While only slightly more than 500 can attend, an effort has been made to ensure wide and inclusive representation. One hundred young leaders from the Global South were awarded a UN sponsorship, or “Green Ticket”– funded, carbon-neutral travel to New York City – to participate in the Summit.

Vania Santoso, co-founder of heySTARTIC– an Indonesian social enterprise that promotes an environmentally friendly mindset through ethical fashion is one of the 100 young leaders awarded a ticket. In addition, five other young leaders from across Indonesia will also attend the Youth Climate Summit sponsored by various UN offices. From a female
ranger in Gunung Leuser National Park, to a young social entrepreneur from Komodo Island -- these outstanding young leaders have been selected based on their demonstrated commitment to addressing the climate crisis and advancing solutions.

Given the impacts of climate change in Indonesia, and the leadership of young people in communities here, I’m pleased that several young people from Indonesia have been selected to participate in the Summit in New York.

I look forward to joining the young climate leaders in this historic moment in September and hearing from them about potential solutions that can help meet the challenges posed by climate change. But their work, and our work, does not end there.

It is imperative that all of us – individuals, business leaders, heads of state – draw inspiration from these young leaders.

Secretary-General Guterres has called on world leaders to come to the Climate Action Summit with concrete plans, not beautiful speeches. Leaders would do well to hear the calls from young people to protect their communities today and safeguard their futures.

Businesses must step up and follow young entrepreneurs’ lead in the transition to a low-carbon economy thatprovides inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

And everyone in civil society can join with young climate champions by following along on the Youth Summit livestream and making choices that have less harmful effects on the environment through ActNow.

I urge young people to continue taking positive climate action now and holding leaders, business and your communities to account. By doing so, you will continue to push us forward in this race we cannot afford to lose.

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UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Climate Action Summit