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Why the youth must lead climate action

We all have those moments when we are faced with difficult choices. And one of the toughest, if not the hardest, is choosing between life and death — choosing who will live and who will die.

One such story I encountered a few weeks after Typhoon Yolanda ravaged communities in the Philippines in 2013. I was then working with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on their Typhoon Haiyan response.

In one of our visits to Tacloban, I met a fourth year high school student, who was three months shy from graduation. Before Yolanda hit, he was studying for his exams with his girlfriend. It was supposed to be the last Christmas they would be dependent on their allowances. They dreamed of traveling together after college. It was going to be their first time. They never had money to spare before. But in three months, they thought, everything would be all right. They only had to wait a few more months. After all, they had already waited for four years.

What he didn’t expect was the fact that amid one of the strongest storms he had encountered, he would have to face the difficult decision of choosing between saving his girlfriend and his one-year-old niece. For months, he would stare longingly at the sea, at the exact same spot he found his girlfriend, with a piece of galvanized iron that was used for roofing pierced through her stomach.

This and many other stories, along with the sight of devastation, death and decay that was present at that moment, changed my perspective in life. While Filipinos are naturally resilient, we have to change our concept of resilience. Instead of just bouncing back after every disaster, we should strengthen our defenses to minimize the negative impacts of disasters to our lives and our communities.

Studies indicate that storms have become stronger, producing more rainfall, because of climate change. This is due to the fact that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor. If the world gets warmer, future storms could even be more intense than Typhoon Yolanda.

Climate change has long been a global emergency. Every year that climate action is stalled or becomes lacking, brings us closer to the dreaded 1.5-2 degrees Celsius temperature increase between 2026 and 2042, which is well within our lifetime.

While action must be done by the leaders of today, the youth must take an active part as well, even lead if necessary. After all, this is our future at stake.

The UNDP’s Peoples’ Climate Vote revealed that nearly 70 percent of those under 18 are “most likely to believe climate change is a global emergency.” Meanwhile, a global study of 10,000 youth from 10 countries in 2021 found that over 50 percent of young people felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty about climate change.

While the youth have pursued an active role on advocating and demanding for stronger political will from governments and the private sector, there is a greater need for everybody — older generations and young people — to really come together, create solutions and implement urgent actions to combat climate change and achieve climate justice.

During COP26, the global climate change conference in 2021, young leaders presented a Global Youth Position statement that represented the voice of over 40,000 young leaders who demanded that their rights be guaranteed in climate change agreements.

Here in our country, among the youth’s initiatives is leading the declaration of the annual ASEAN Youth in Climate Action and Disaster Resilience Day, which promotes awareness and positive action among the youth to address climate change and strengthen disaster risk reduction efforts.

In this day and age, with the presence of digital technology, more young people can gain knowledge about the climate crisis and what must be done to halt the warming and mitigate its effects. The more important thing is to ensure youth involvement in policy- and decision-making.

We must take climate action now. Let us not wait for the moment when we have to make that difficult choice between life and death; because we can choose now to have a safer and sustainable world.

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