ASEAN youth driving climate change action ahead of COP21

Climate change is one of the most urgent challenges of this century. Across the world, a growing movement of youth organizations is taking positive action in combating climate change.

Recently, more than 200 young leaders from the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathered in Singapore dubbed as the “ASEAN Power Shift” to discuss youth-led climate actions in the region in preparation for the United Nations-backed climate change negotiations in Paris in December.


“Make your voice heard. This is an opportunity to demonstrate to government leaders across the world that we demand action now on climate change. When you go back to your own countries, lobby to the whole range of people that we can and must do more to avert climate disruption,” Ambassador of France to Singapore Benjamin Dubertret told the delegates of the first Singapore ASEAN Power Shift organized by the youth-led organization Singapore.

Dubertret explained to the youth that the French government, as host of the 21st Conference of Parties, the goal is to build the Paris Alliance for Climate that have four aspects: a universal agreement to limit the planet’s average temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2 degrees Celsius; the presentation by all countries of their climate action plans or the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs); the financial aspect to support developing countries and enable the transition to resilient, low-carbon economies to be funded before and after 2020; and the strengthening of commitments from civil society groups and other sectors.

“We have done a lot of progress already. But we are running out of time. We have much to do and it is still a long way to get the universal agreement. Paris is not about reaching agreement but a very long-term commitment. It is important that you express the ASEAN voice,” Dubertret added.

Acknowledging that the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, youth leader Beatrice Adeline Chua Tulagan who also participated in the 3-day ASEAN Power Shift conference, believes that youth can stimulate debate and participate in local and international decisions on climate change adaptation measures, for instance.

“I believe that there should be an increase in the areas of collaboration between the youth, the government and civil society. We should go beyond providing young people endless climate seminars informing them of the basics and inducting them into the fold,” Tulagan told the Philippine EnviroNews. “ I think, what will strengthen the youth’s commitment to climate action is the understanding of the philosophy and psychology behind the climate justice movement, as this pushes them to consider their very humanity and duty to others, and therefore inspire them to consider their purpose.

Tulagan suggested mentorship programs for the youth to be more effective vehicle in raising public awareness of various issues such as the complex topic of climate change. “ Specialization is key if one wants to contribute since obviously climate change is such an overwhelming advocacy. The youth needs to see people in action. This is how we can make climate change and justice digestible concepts, something one cannot relegate to statistics and spreadsheets.”

Tulagan’s view on empowering the youth was re-echoed by Renee Juliene Karunungan, Program Manager for Advocacy for the civil society group Dakila composed of artists working on social transformation and climate justice.

“We need to give youth a more powerful voice and include them in processes that concern climate issues. We need to make them more involved in this issue as they will be the ones who will inherit climate impacts in the future,” said Karunungan, who also attended the ASEAN Power Shift in Singapore as a youth delegate. “ We need to build the capacity of youth not only in negotiations but also in implementing programs in their communities.”


Youth civic engagement

On August 12, the world celebrates the International Youth Day emphasizing the youth civic engagement that is essential to achieve sustainable human development. It will be the day where we give importance to the participation of youth in politics, and public life, so that young people can be empowered and bring a full contribution to society, development and peace.

In a video message to the ASEAN youth, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres highlighted the voice of youth in achieving new, sustainable and climate-safe model of social and economic growth.

“We need you to step up to meet the climate change challenge by activating your network, extending your reach and raising awareness of both great risks we face and the great opportunity we have in addressing these risks. Paris (climate talks) may seem like months away, but it is just around the corner. Even after Paris, we need all citizens to be actively engaged in the transition to low-carbon, highly-resilient lifestyles and livelihoods,” Figueres said.

The participants to the ASEAN Power Shift will hand-over a climate change youth position paper to the ASEAN Secretariat and to the French presidency of the COP21 in Paris in December.

Nor Lastrina Bte Hamid, chairperson of the youth organizing committee and Team Manager of Team Young NTUC 350 Singapore, said the conference has been successful in strengthening youth engagement and further empowering the youth to build a collective, ASEAN voice.

“We hope we have provided capacity building opportunities, networking for ASEAN youth activists and equipped them with skills and knowledge in taking solutions on climate change,” Hamid said.

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