Youth not ignoring climate change

Youth not ignoring climate change

Climate change is all too real. For everyone and particularly young people it can seem overpowering. But there are solutions. Youth across Southeast Asia are finding innovative solutions.

Covid-19 remains the most immediate threat to health and wellbeing for millions of people in our region, yet climate change is the biggest threat to the future of humanity. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released this week warns of catastrophic impacts unless we avert global heating above 1.5C. It also states that there are solutions, though global action is nowhere near fast enough.

Every day, I work with youth on the frontlines of climate action. I sense their anxiety, frustration, and weariness in the slow global response to tackle climate change. One comment from a young volunteer in Bangladesh rings loud in my mind.

"For decades, we've known that climate change is the biggest threat we face. In Asia, over recent years, we have been witnessing the devastation caused by more intense and frequent climate disasters. Finally, people are waking up right around the world."

The numbers are staggering. In 2020, globally, there were 389 disasters mainly climate-related that affected 98.4 million people. Asia Pacific suffered more disasters than the Americas and Africa combined.

Far from being disillusioned, young people are coming up with practical, low-cost solutions to climate change. We know popular culture influences behaviour and changes minds. Youth volunteers of the Red Cross across Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines are collaborating to develop Manga comic booklets for children and teenagers. Manga characters speak about climate change in a fun way, demonstrating simple steps for climate action.

In the Philippines, millions of people are still recovering after six big storms slammed into the country late last year in as many weeks. Super Typhoon Goni was 2020's strongest storm in the world and there are fears that this may be a sign of worse to come. In the shadow of these disasters, Red Cross Youth in the Philippines have launched a project to help women and girls have access to more sustainable menstrual hygiene products.

One disposable sanitary pad is around 90% plastic and an average user disposes 120 to 150kg of tampons, pads and applicators in their lifetime. Eliminating disposable menstrual products can make a dent on climate change by saving around 5.3kg of carbon dioxide per person, according to analysis by Friends of the Earth.

Youth are distributing re-usable menstrual pads and hygiene kits among women in the Visayas region, central Philippines. Regular use of reusable alternatives to single-use sanitary pads and tampons reduces harmful waste and makes a sizeable impact on our carbon footprint, the amount each of us is responsible for emitting into the atmosphere.

Tree planting is another important and accessible solution. Regenerating forests and planting trees globally could soak up 100 billion tonnes of carbon, which equals around 10 years of human carbon emissions at current rates, according to Imperial College, London.

Across Southeast Asia, including Cambodia and Timor-Leste, young volunteers are planting trees to tackle climate change. This simple yet effective action reduces global warming and adapts to greater climate threats. Mangroves prevent coastal erosion and planting trees on slopes helps to avoid disastrous landslides.

In Timor-Leste, youth are recycling plastic waste into flowers for sale. Recycling plastic keeps the local communities free of this toxic waste. It reduces flooding by preventing drains and rivers from becoming clogged with plastic. Earlier this year, the worst floods in decades submerged several areas of Timor-Leste, around the capital, Dili. There's urgency in these efforts by youth to tackle climate disasters.

Extreme weather and climate-related disasters killed more than 410,000 people in the past 10 years, according to the World Disasters Report 2020. Heatwaves and storms have been the biggest killers. Climate change is an even more dangerous challenge for humanity than the Covid-19 pandemic. They can -- and must -- be tackled together.

Youth understand the complexities and risks in their communities. Their practical solutions to address climate change make communities safer and more resilient to future disasters.

Francesca Capoluongo, Youth and Volunteering Delegate for Southeast Asia and ASEAN Cooperation, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

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