Young people appeal to world leaders at UN Summit on Climate Change
By Miriam Azar
– A delegation of young people appealed to world leaders for meaningful action today at the UN Secretary-General's Summit on Climate Change. The group of 13 young participants, ranging from 14 to 18 years of age, asked leaders to come together and make a difference on environmental sustainability.
"I would ask world leaders to bring climate change to the highest of their agenda," added Sayed Aown Shahzad, a 15-year-old originally from Pakistan. "I come from an agricultural background, and climate change has affected us adversely – socially and economically. My country has a population of 162 million and faces this dilemma, as does the rest of the world."
At the request of the Secretary-General's Climate Change Team, UNICEF organized the delegation of youths living in the United States but representing diverse nationalities. They greeted heads of state and government with personal stories about how climate change has affected their lives.
Concern about health effects
Dayanara Veliz, 16, from the New York City borough of the Bronx, expressed concern about the health effects of climate change.
"Climate change creates warmer temperatures, which increase air pollution. Bronx County has some of the highest rates of asthma in the United States," she explained. Dayanara noted that her sister suffers from asthma, and she recalled going to the hospital with her mother late at night on several occasions when her sister had asthma attacks. "It's scary to think how many kids around me are in danger," she said.
Shantanu Kumar Roy, 17, a Bangladeshi living in New York, remembers how it once rained for three weeks on end in his hojme country. "My entire neighborhood was flooded, and water filled our home. Epidemics broke out. My grandmother and I were affected by cholera and were hospitalized for two weeks." he said.
Marcos Almada, 17, said he first recognized the effects of climate change when a dry spell in his native Paraguay damaged the livelihoods of his family and community. "Without rain, the crops were not able to grow and many people lost their harvest, which was their main source of income," he recalled.
United to address climate change
Besides presenting their own testimony about climate change, the young participants detailed the issues they want world leaders to address.
The youths assisted in the production and narration of a short film that was shown at the summit. In it, they proposed a series of climate-change solutions, including floating schools and gardens in flood plains, drip irrigation in drought-prone areas, and expanded solar and wind power.
They also pointed out that young people around the world are keenly aware of the need to protect their communities and nations from the effects of climate change – and that they're taking action to adapt to the risks, and to mitigate the consequences by reducing or eliminating emissions.
"Its aggravating when I realize, as a 17-year-old, that some adults disregard global warming and climate change as impending world issues simply because they can't see the long-term impact," said Indy Li, whose family background is in eastern Europe and China.
Working in partnership
UNICEF has been collaborating with its partners on various climate-change initiatives – notably the Unite for Climate platform for young people and the Children's Climate Forum in Copenhagen.
|A young woman cooks for labourers at a brick kiln spewing emissions on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh.|
The agency's partners in these and other initiatives encompass a wide range of UN agencies and non-governmental organizations. UNICEF also works with youth and advocacy organizations, such as the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, Children in a Changing Climate and 350.org – as well as research institutes like The Energy and Resources Institute, the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the Mediterranean Centre for Sustainable Development Programmes. Private-sector partners include Google and YouTube.
Today's summit in New York brings governments together to advance negotiations toward a global agreement at the UN Conference on Climate Change, which will take place in Copenhagen this December. The participation of young people at the summit highlighted their right to engage in an issue that will have a direct impact on their future.
"If climate change continues, it will certainly affect my children and grandchildren," said Marcos Almada. "They would feel the impact of climate changes on the water and food supply, among many other consequences