“Climate change impacts everyone, but not equally,” says Shreya KC, a young climate activist from Solukhumbu, Nepal.
Shreya has seen firsthand how women and young girls in rural communities have been affected by climate change: “For example, in patriarchal societies and rural communities where women bear the household responsibility such as raising children, fetching the water and collecting fodder for cattle, the impact of climate change is very severe on them. In Nepal, water scarcity is worsening so a woman has to walk a long way to even collect a bucket of water thus affecting their health and also time. Young girls from rural and poor families are being married at an early age to cope with food scarcity.”
Women, children, older persons, people with disabilities, migrants, indigenous populations, rural and poor communities as well as those in lower-income countries and small island developing States are among the most vulnerable groups disproportionately affected by climate change.
While the climate emergency is global, nowhere is the need for greater ambition to respond to climate change more urgent than in Asia and the Pacific. Over the past 60 years, temperatures have increased faster than the global mean. Of the 10 countries most affected by these disasters, six are in the region, where food systems are being disrupted, economies damaged and societies undermined. In the absence of decisive action, climate change will remain a central driver of poverty and inequality across the region.
Fortunately, young activists like Shreya are already doing work on the ground and drawing attention at regional and global forums on the serious impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities.
“First, we need to pass the mic to women and young people, amplify their voices to let audiences know what impacts they are facing and how we can support them. Secondly, rather than creating something new, it would be better to support existing actions which may be more sustainable,” suggests Shreya.
Her thoughts are echoed by another young climate activist, Kim Allen from Papua New Guinea. Growing up on Tubetube island, he vividly remembers seeing the effects of coastal erosion, rising salinity, food insecurity, unpredictable weather patterns and displacement of coastal communities.
Governments have a duty to young people and future generations by creating an enabling environment for intergenerational approaches to solving the climate crisis, he says. “Much has been written in terms of Nationally Determined Contributions, climate action policies and pathways. What has to be adopted now is the practicalities of it – that means working in collaboration with networks and communities that are on the ground.”
Kim adds, “If 60 per cent of the region’s population is young people then that is where the impact is. You need to support young people, invest in them and make them aware of the issues that will affect them. Young people are working at all levels. Engage with them from the planning phase and build their capacity as they are also the ones on the field.”
The costs associated with climate change are already too high and far outweigh the costs of investing in climate action. ESCAP estimates annual average losses to increase from the current $780 billion to $1.1 trillion under a moderate climate change scenario and $1.4 trillion under the worst-case scenario.
“If humans can create these problems, we also have the knowledge and capacity to address them,” Kim says. “We have the creativity, we have the innovation… it is possible, but it will take time. The question is when? And that answer has to be NOW.”
For more information, read ESCAP’s theme study The Race to Net Zero: Accelerating Climate Action in Asia and the Pacific: https://www.unescap.org/kp/2023/race-net-zero-accelerating-climate-action-asia-and-pacific
More information on Youth in Climate Action in Asia and the Pacific is at https://knowledge.unasiapacific.org/engaging-youth-in-climate-action.