The International Youth Day, observed on Thursday, August 12, 2021, celebrated the important contribution of young people in tackling global challenges including climate change, biodiversity conservation and unsustainable food production.
The theme of this year’s International Youth Day, “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health,” acknowledges the need for support mechanisms that enable youth to transform unsustainable food production impacting both human and planetary well-being. Food systems currently account for almost 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with agriculture responsible for 80% of deforestation around the world.
Between now and 2030 – the target date for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the number of young people aged 15 to 24 is projected to have grown by 7% to nearly 1.3 billion, thus highlighting the need to provide them with the knowledge and opportunities they need to be a positive force for development.
Pramisha Thapaliya, youth leader in the UN Food Systems summit taking place in September, said: “There is an urgent need to transform the current unsustainable food systems and agricultural practices. We need a food system which is resilient to climate, supplies healthy and nutritious food for all, pays decent wages, implements indigenous knowledge, and respects human and animal rights.”
Youth engagement in the UN Climate Change process
UN Climate Change acknowledges the role of youth as essential partners in the fight against climate change and facilitates youth engagement, including its work related to transforming food systems.
In this crucial year for climate action, with the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow less than three months away, young people are actively engaging in the UN Climate Change process through the official Youth constituency known as YOUNGO. This global network of youth activists represents children and youth at negotiations and other UN events related to climate change, thereby helping to shape intergovernmental policies.
Two YOUNGO focal points are nominated for each COP – one from the Global North and one from the Global South – to ensure fair youth representation at intergovernmental processes.
Marie-Claire Graf, YOUNGO Focal Point for Global North, said: “While we see growing interest in youth engagement in climate governance, we need to empower independent youth-led mechanisms, which are recognized and valued as such. Youth washing and youth tokenism needs to be addressed and called out as #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs.”
Heeta Lakhani, YOUNGO Focal Point for Global South, added: ““YOUNGO serves as the universally accessible and mandated mechanism for youth engagement, and we are proud of our inclusive grassroot network and policy processes. Yet youth is facing a variety of barriers and we need help from other generations to overcome them.”
The annual Conference of Youth organised annually by YOUNGO promotes capacity building and policy training for young climate leaders from across the globe. This year’s Conference of Youth (COY16) will be held just before COP26 and will culminate in a policy document that will be shared during the COP.
In the lead up to this year’s Conference of Youth, the first-ever virtual COY, as well as local COYs in different countries, will be held to create spaces that are “open and accessible to young people from all around the world, especially from vulnerable, marginalized and indigenous communities of young people.”
Youth participation at COP26
The presidency programme of COP26 in November includes a dedicated day for young people on November 5 that will demonstrate the critical role of education and training in climate action. A new work programme under the Paris Agreement on ‘Action for Climate Empowerment’ (ACE) will also be adopted at COP 26 which will enhance governments’ and other stakeholders’ efforts to educate and engage youth in climate action.
In a further effort to boost the involvement of young people, the government of Italy will convene the ‘Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition’ summit next month. The event will offer 360 young people from all over the world the opportunity to develop proposals that will be discussed with government representatives attending pre-COP26 in Milan from 28–30 September 2021. The results of the meeting will be brought to COP26.