Children Youth and Climate Change; Towards Hope for Climate Justice and Inclusive Future

  • Ajay K Jha •

The most positive thing that has perhaps happened in the last decade in the climate discourse has been the visibility of youth and children in climate activism. Greta, Vanessa also Indian girls like Disha and Licipriya etc have brought in immense energy world over among the youth. Children have been active in bringing legal action against the governments in many countries including Germany, UK, US, Poland, the Netherlands etc. beyond the activism. Only last week a class action suit has been brought by young people including a twenty week old embryo in South Korea. Manifestly, there is great hype about young people’s participation so much so that UN has also recently opened an Office for the youth at its head quarter in New York and appointed a youth Under Secretary General. However, let’s also look a bit deeper on whether this immense energy put by children and young people has brought their issues in the consciousness of the policy makers? Couple of years ago, some groups analyzed NDCs of 160 countries and found that half of them failed to mention children. Among those who mentioned children, did mostly so describing them as one of the most vulnerable groups. Only 7% of them mentioned them as stakeholders. The girls fared still poorly. Only three of them (Zambia, Malawi and Venezuela) mentioned girls in their NDCs. Indian climate p[policies are no different. NAPCC and NDC completely miss the agency of children in climate policies. SAPCCs do refer to children and young people but children are mostly alluded to in the context of malnutrition, (lack of) education and health services etc. Youth are referred to mainly in the context of employment except for most SAPCCs. Some of the SAPCCs referring them as stakeholders are a departure. This has to change. The agency of children and youth in the policy is critical factor to make it amenable for societies like us where every third person is in the bracket of children and youth.

Many developed countries are also hiding their inaction behind the fig leaf of promoting youth participation. Rather than establishing their agency, they are almost giving messianic status to these children and youth for their individual commitment or community work. This way they have tried to convert climate crisis from a global and systemic crisis to one individual and local. It is argued that though local and individual actions are important, however, this reductionist approach in putting emphasis on individual and community behaviors allows the perpetrators of climate crisis to go scot free. The only way to fight the global and systemic crisis is to engage in political conversation and seek political solutions. Besides, children and youth, women and indigenous peoples should be cognizant of this and investigate deeply that offers luring them are not part of the youth washing design.

Climate activist Vanessa Nakate, Licypriya Kangujam, Greta Thunberg, Disha Ravi

Climate injustice hurts most children, girls and youth. They are suffering now and will continue to suffer growing into an uncertain future, their health and nutrition hampered and education interrupted by disasters, if urgent actions are not undertaken. Being a global crisis, no community, country and region alone can reverse the crisis. Being a systemic crisis, it needs economic, social and political inequities between and among the countries addressed. The failure of the north to mitigate results in adaptation needs and failure to address adaptation needs results in loss and damages mostly in the global south. More than 70% of costs and 70% casualties happen in the global south. However, we should not forget that there is a north and there is a south in our own countries and results are almost similar.

Climate justice demands that the emissions are halved and production and export of fossil fuels (including oil and gas are pared down significantly in near future. However, the reality is that biggest economies viz. G 20, which accounts for more than 70% of emissions, are only likely to reduce their emissions by 10% by 2030, as against halving them as Paris Agreement requires. On the other hand, none of the 20 biggest producer and exporters of oil and gas have (i) stopped further exploration of the oil and gas, (ii) eradicated fossil fuel subsidies, (iii) stopped overseas public financing of fossil fuels, and (iv) have given an end date for fossil fuels. (Carbon Brief, 2023).

The road to climate justice has insurmountable impediments and seems highly unlikely in foreseeable future. Huge inequality exists in the carbon space. While 38% of global population has access only to 10 GJ of energy, developed countries still have enviable access of 130 GJ per persons. (Jason Hickel, 2023). All these industrialized countries are betting our future on false net zero promises rather than addressing this inequality in near future. The expansion of renewable energy cannot be ignored, but we cannot seek salvation in RE or other technologies like the novel CDR. While a planetary scale renewable energy will be fossil fuel plus plus; novel CDR etc. stand a meager chance in removing even 1% of the emissions required to be removed in 2030. And, if this inequality does not perplex you, hold your breath, this is going to continue even beyond this century. Majority of the IPCC (considered gold standard) scenarios have so low socio-economic and energy variables that developing countries will not be able to achieve per capita income or energy consumption of the developed countries even beyond this century! If industrialized countries also achieve net zero only in 2050 then what is the development space available for smaller countries? The climate crisis cannot be reduced unless all industrial countries reduce their energy use drastically and urgently.

However, this seems highly unlikely as climate action have essentially an imperialistic approach, which seeks to sustain the energy privilege of the north. The North countries even now depend on the resources of the global south for their riches. Even as we speak, 10s of trillions of dollar are being transferred from the global south to the north by undervaluing the land, labour and energy in the global trade. If recovered, this amount alone has the potential to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger many times over. (Jason Hickel, 2023). Similar is the potential of the shortfall on the 50 year old promise of the ODA, which eve by modest calculations amount to more than 5 trillion dollars.

To sum up, children and youth have a critical role in building a future for themselves and the humanity. They need to aware of the nature of the crisis lest they can be used for youth washing. They need to go beyond individual action and demand political solutions for the crisis. Climate crisis is not only about carbon emissions, it’s also about economic, social and political injustice. The entire grammar of equity, justice and intergenerationality has to change to address this crisis. Climate action is not only about rebuilding same societies on a low carbon basis, the societies which has too much discrimination and too little solidarity. It’s not only about energy transition. It’s about transitioning to a different society which along with reducing its emissions also builds a sustainable and viable society. Let’s be hopeful that youth will contribute in moving forward towards the real sense of climate justice and creating a livable society.