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Children and youth are not only passive victims of climate change but also powerful change agents
Scientists say that the world has already warmed by approx. 1.2 degree C since the 19th century and the last seven years were the warmest (2015 – 2021). Out of 35 states, 27 are vulnerable to Tropical cyclones, heavy rainfall, severe thunderstorms, floods and drought in India. Kerala also witnessed extreme weather events like cyclone Ockhi in 2017, and extreme rainfall events followed by floods and mudslides in 2018 and 2019. The impact of climate change has exposed every child and youth on every continent to more frequent, intense and destructive climate hazards including air pollution, water scarcity, heatwaves, vector-borne disease, cyclones, and river and coastal flooding.
Children are already uniquely vulnerable to death and damage from climate change - they are less able to survive extreme weather and are more susceptible to toxic chemicals, temperature changes and diseases. Children and youth are not only passive victims of climate change but also powerful agents. There is a need for urgent action to build the resilience of children and young people to climate change.
There is also a need to mobilise and empower youth to reduce the impact of climate change because it affects them the most. Climate adaptation and mitigation led by youth is key to overcoming the impact of climate change. Adaptation and resilience building offers the most effective way to protect child lives and family livelihoods from the immediate and expected impacts.
We need to ensure young people are reflected in all decisions. They should be represented within all key institutions and bodies with responsibility for implementing climate adaptation and resilience plans. Youth groups and bodies must be encouraged, consulted and listened to when developing and implementing adaptation plans and preventive long-term mitigation.
In this context, UNICEF India in collaboration with the Speaker’s Office of Kerala Legislative Assembly and KLAMPS initiated ‘NAMB’. The objective of the initiative is to support children and youth to lead climate mitigation and adaptation measures both at local and state levels. ‘NAMB’ facilitates dialogue between children and youth and is the highest policy making body in Kerala. The synergy between youth, children and MLAs have led to concrete actions in building carbon-neutral communities, a decrease in single-use plastic and concerted actions by youth and children to reduce air pollution.
Kerala has also made significant strides towards building a climate-resilient state. The announcement of the Environment Budget for 2022 – 2023 and allocations of funds to schools prone to monitor the weather through rain gauges and other initiatives are noteworthy.
Children are one of the largest groups at risk from climate change. Measures that specifically target this group can reduce the impacts of climate change across a large proportion of the population and may realise economies of scale. Child-led measures develop skills across a large segment of the population and over a longer period.
(The writer is chief of UNICEF Office for Kerala and Tamil Nadu)