Op-Ed: Young people are right about climate change: it’s time to listen

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Op-Ed by Luis Alfonso de Alba – UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Climate Action Summit

Luis Alfonso de Alba – UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Climate Action Summit

Climate change is not a far-away problem– it is causing huge damage right now in Asia-Pacific 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 1.8 billion people in the world are 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 must act.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is convening the Climate Action Summit in September 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 Saturday, September 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. 100 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. 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 Asia-Pacific, including increased disaster risk, inequality and harm to the environment, and the leadership of young people in communities here – I’m pleased that several young people from the Asia-Pacific region have been selected to participate in the Summit in New York.

I look forward to joining the selected 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 entrepreneur’s lead in the transition to a low-carbon economy that provides 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.

Luis Alfonso de Alba is the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Climate Action Summit