Biennial Panel Discussion on Youth and Human Rights; Theme: Young people’s engagement with climate change and global environmental decision-making processes
Tsedenia Gigar Getaneh
Women’s Rights Researcher,
Global Human Rights Defense.
At the 54th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the issues surrounding youth and human rights in relation to the environment were discussed. Mr. Vishal Prasad, Campaign Director for the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change, recently presented the achievements and challenges faced by the youth-led campaign. He emphasised that this youth-led campaign is a significant achievement, as it marks a growing passion among young people for climate action. However, he also highlighted several key points that shed light on the complexities of youth involvement in climate advocacy.
One of the primary challenges Mr. Prasad pointed out is that young people are often not taken seriously in the fight against climate change. They are sometimes seen as tokens or symbols of representation rather than genuine contributors to the cause. This perception can hinder their effectiveness and ability to drive meaningful change. Logistical challenges, such as securing financing for youth programs, also pose significant obstacles. Adequate funding is essential for organising events, conducting research, and implementing initiatives that address climate issues effectively. Without financial support, it becomes difficult for young activists to make a substantial impact.
Mr. Prasad noted that young people possess a unique trait of adaptability and fluidity. This adaptability allows them to evolve and respond to changing circumstances, which is crucial in the context of climate advocacy. However, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a formidable challenge for youth advocates, disrupting their efforts to engage in face-to-face advocacy and community-based activities.
On a positive note, Mr. Prasad emphasised the active role of social media in amplifying the voices of young people in the climate movement. Platforms like social media have enabled youth activists to reach wider audiences and garner support for their causes. Moreover, Mr. Prasad called for government institutions to evolve and become more responsive to the demands and concerns of young climate activists. This evolution is essential for creating effective policies and initiatives that address the urgent issue of climate change.
He also stressed the importance of youth conferences, noting that they should not be isolated or secularised events. Instead, they should serve as vital platforms for young people to come together, share ideas, and collaborate on solutions to climate-related challenges.
Accountability, transparency, and honesty were highlighted as crucial values in the youth-led climate movement. These principles are necessary to maintain credibility and trust among both supporters and decision-makers.
Ms. Xiomara Acevedo Navarro, the Representative of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network, highlighted several crucial points regarding the involvement of young people in environmental initiatives.Firstly, she emphasised that young people are not a homogenous group. This statement underscores the diversity among youth in terms of their backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Recognising this diversity is essential when addressing environmental issues, as it allows for more inclusive and effective solutions.
Ms. Navarro also pointed out a concerning statistic: young people receive less than 1% of the climate fund. This fact highlights a significant disparity in resource allocation, indicating that young people's efforts in combating climate change are often underfunded or overlooked. To create meaningful change, it's imperative that more financial support is directed toward youth-led environmental initiatives.
The economic challenge faced by young people was another barrier she addressed. Economic constraints can hinder their ability to engage actively in environmental activities. It's crucial to address these economic challenges by providing opportunities for young people to participate in environmental projects and initiatives, regardless of their financial status.
She then shed light upon the work of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network, particularly its focus on workshops related to socio-ecological crises. These workshops likely serve as platforms for young individuals to develop a deeper understanding of the intricate relationship between society and the environment. By educating and empowering young people through such initiatives, they can become more effective advocates for biodiversity and sustainability.
Lastly, Ms. Navarro stressed the importance of ensuring the full participation of women, indigenous people, and those from the global south in environmental efforts. This inclusivity reflects a commitment to diversity and acknowledges that these groups often bear the brunt of environmental challenges. Their unique perspectives and knowledge are invaluable in finding holistic and equitable solutions to the world's environmental issues.
Mr. Zuhair Ahmed Kowshik, as the Global Focal Point for the Children and Youth Major Group to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), emphasised several key points regarding the engagement of civil society, particularly youth, in environmental initiatives. These points shed light on the critical role that civil society can play in addressing environmental challenges and promoting sustainable development.
One of the primary concerns highlighted by Mr. Kowshik is the lack of civil society engagement in environmental decision-making processes. This is a significant issue as civil society organisations and grassroots movements often represent the voices and concerns of communities directly affected by environmental issues. When civil society is not adequately engaged, there is a risk of decision-making processes being dominated by other stakeholders, potentially leading to policies and initiatives that do not fully address the needs and aspirations of affected communities.
Furthermore, Mr. Kowshik points out that this lack of engagement can lead to youth feeling like outsiders or passive observers in environmental discussions and actions. Youth represent a demographic with a strong interest in environmental sustainability, as they are the ones who will inherit the consequences of current environmental decisions. When they are not actively involved, their potential contributions are lost, and they may become disillusioned or disengaged from the process.
To address these issues, Mr. Kowshik emphasises the importance of promoting youth participation from various regions and backgrounds. Environmental challenges are global in nature, and they affect communities all around the world. Therefore, it is essential to have diverse perspectives and experiences represented in discussions and decision-making processes. This not only ensures a more comprehensive understanding of environmental issues but also fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility among youth from different regions.
Speaking during the discussion, twelve States and observers, one national human rights institution, and two non-governmental organisations highlighted their contributions in this area. .
Germany is hosting a conference that places special emphasis on empowering young people to express their voices. They have initiated a comprehensive programme that spans an entire year, involving young individuals dedicated to sustainable development. This programme aims to equip the next generation with the tools and knowledge needed to tackle the world's pressing challenges.
Iraq has taken significant strides in engaging its youth population. Recognising the importance of meeting the unique needs of young people, they have prioritised providing essential health services, ensuring that the youth of Iraq can lead healthy and fulfilling lives while actively participating in their communities.
Bahrain has made notable efforts to encourage creativity among its youth, particularly in the realm of environmental activism. They have initiated programs that foster creative thinking and innovative solutions to address pressing environmental issues. By nurturing the creativity of their youth, Bahrain aims to drive positive change and inspire the next generation of environmental leaders.
The UAE places a high priority on the education of its youth. In the 28th session of Green Education Partnership Roadmap, they have unveiled an expansive universal network dedicated to providing accessible and high-quality education opportunities to young people. This initiative reflects their commitment to nurturing the intellectual growth and development of their youth.
The UNDP called for collective action to empower youth. With a significant 60% youth participation rate, the UNDP is actively listening to the voices of young individuals, recognising the importance of their perspectives. They are steadfast in their commitment to ensuring that no young person is marginalised or left behind in any youth-focused agreements.
National Human Rights Institutions have also played a crucial role in youth engagement at the COP conference. They have provided training and support to empower young people, highlighting that climate change is not just an environmental issue, but a fundamental question of human rights.
The World Jewish Congress, an NGO dedicated to universal values, continues to advocate for the respect of human rights on a global scale. They strive to enact policies that ensure human rights are universally respected, championing the cause of justice for all.
World Vision International, actively involved in COP 27, recently featured a compelling statement from a 14-year-old girl. Her message emphasised the critical need to provide space for youth opinions. She eloquently highlighted that economic instability can lead to early marriages and dependency on males, as well as exploitation through child labor due to economic hardships. Her statement serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges faced by young people worldwide and the importance of addressing these issues at international forums such as the COP.
Mr. Prasad mentioned the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as a potential avenue for making a significant impact on climate justice. He expressed hope that this system could lead to more equitable outcomes and hold those responsible for environmental harm accountable. He expressed optimism for the future, believing that the youth's dedication and passion will lead to a brighter future than the past. This sentiment underscores the determination of young climate activists to continue their fight for a sustainable and just world.
Ms. Xiomara Acevedo Navarro's remarks underscored the need to recognise the diversity among young people, address the funding gap they face, overcome economic challenges, empower them through education, and promote inclusivity in environmental initiatives by giving voice to women, indigenous populations, and individuals from the global south. These points collectively emphasise the importance of involving and supporting young people in the fight for a more sustainable and biodiverse world.
Mr. Kowshik stressed the need to provide youth with the necessary knowledge and tools to be actively involved in environmental initiatives. This includes access to education, training, and resources that empower them to make informed decisions, advocate for their concerns, and participate effectively in environmental projects. When youth have the knowledge and tools at their disposal, they can become valuable agents of change in addressing environmental challenges. Moreover, the Global South has challenged the involvement of policy and decision makers; action plans are not adequately included. At Global Plastic 2024, youth were observers rather than speakers. The matter discussed within the HUman Rights Council should also find expression on an alternative platforms.