Young people’s engagement in climate change and health in Africa and Asia

Submitted by Michael Boyland | published 8th Sep 2021 | last updated 10th Sep 2021
Youth-led climate strike in Manila, Philippines

Youth-led climate strike in Manila, Philippines. Photo by 350.org (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Introduction

The health and well-being of future generations are bound to the fate of the planet. A 4°C warmer world will have catastrophic and wide-ranging effects on social, ecological and economic systems, and impacts will be disproportionately felt in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) in the ‘Global South’.

Young people are already having to cope with the impacts of climate change and global heating, with unequal impacts on young women, girls, the urban poor and other marginalised and minoritised young people. However, young people are also active agents of change and have demonstrated the capacities and agency to advocate for and contribute to climate action and resilience-building. Yet,  structural barriers and normative beliefs too often fail to recognise their rights and agency to participate beyond a tokenistic level.

This research aims to contribute to young people’s engagement efforts for climate change and health action by investigating current knowledge of young people’s engagement; relevant policy and governance mechanisms; roles and responsibilities of key actors and stakeholders; and what factors enable or challenge effective engagement, in six countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, and Senegal in Africa, and Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Vietnam in Asia. Based on the findings, we offer recommendations for stakeholders to enhance the engagement of young people in climate change and health action.

*Download the full publication from the right-hand column. A summary of the key findings is provided below. See the full report for more details.

Methods

The data collection process, which was largely conducted remotely to ensure researcher and participant safety and ethical research practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, has three components:

  1. Literature and policy review. First, we carried out a literature review included both academic and grey literature, with results supplemented with publications identified through key informant interviews (KIIs) and focus group discussions (KIIs and FGDs). Policies related to public health, climate change and young people were gathered from online databases/websites and analysed.
  2. Online survey. Next, we conducted an online survey using SurveyMonkey. The survey gathered information on respondents’ background and expertise related to climate change, health, and young people’s engagement. The survey received a total of 860 responses, of which 60% were included in the analysis after data cleaning. 
  3. Key informant interviews (KIIs) and focus group discussions (FGDs). Then, we conducted KIIs and FGDs in each country to gain a more in-depth and nuanced understanding of issues and approaches, and to validate information gathered through literature review and online survey. A total of 136 KIIs and 63 FGDs were conducted across the six countries. 

Findings: How are young people engaging?

Forms of engagement

While policies for young people’s engagement in climate change and health may be lacking, past and ongoing initiatives in all six countries can teach critical lessons. There are currently three major forms of engagement: engagement led by young people, engagement facilitated by the state, and engagement facilitated by non-state actors. Engagement in activities or organisations led directly by young people can take the form of a youth-led group, organisation, or club; a social enterprise, start-up, or business run by young people; event-based activism such as climate marches and strikes; and climate litigation, in which young people hold governments and the private sector accountable, demanding action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and suing government for inaction on climate change.

Focus of engagement

Whether young people are leading efforts by themselves or working with the government and other organisations, engagement often focuses on increasing awareness, decision and policy making, and concrete action to address climate change and health. One of the most popular youth activities in all six countries is raising awareness and advocacy. These initiatives teach young people about environmental, climate change and health issues, and inspire behavioural changes both among those who participate and their audience. Besides awareness and advocacy, young people also participate in decision- making and policy processes. In some cases, their inputs are sought by the government, while in others, young people actively inform policy processes and outcomes.

Power and agency

Rich and diverse forms of engagement suggest that young people have unique powers. Young people and youth groups are active, important, and influential in climate change and health. Young people bring fresh perspectives and unique skills, such as ability to adopt new technologies, along with a high level of enthusiasm and excitement. The power and agency of young people also comes from a desire to contribute to society. Young people wish to lead and coordinate advocacy efforts, spread knowledge, contribute to the community, and do good for the society. Young people do not only apply the knowledge gained through engagement, but they also scale it up by reaching out to experts, talking to local governments, and sharing with friends and families, including minoritised groups who may not have access to such information.

Factors that impact engagement

Despite great potential, young people may not have equal access to opportunities and the space to practice their power and agency. Important factors that shape the effectiveness of young people’s engagement include language, gender, economic background, age, ability, and geography. For example, engagement with young people often takes place in official languages, leaving out people in remote, rural communities, and ethnic minorities who may use a different language or dialect. Furthermore, activities that target young people are often designed with school and university students in mind. Fewer opportunities are available for young people who are not in school, such as young farmers, young workers, young civil servants, as well as young mothers.

Barriers to effective engagement

In addition to socio-economic factors that differentiate groups of young people, their engagement is also challenged by structural, organisational, and financial barriers, access to information and resources, and social and cultural norms and perceptions. For example, it is hard for young people to engage when policies and strategies are not accessible to them, and institutional mechanisms are not inclusive. This is the result of many policy- and decision-makers viewing young people as passive victims. In certain cases, even when there are institutionalised channels to participate, engagement can be bureaucratic or tokenistic.

Recommendations

Young people are undoubtedly shaping climate change and health action at different scales across Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Senegal and Vietnam. The effective engagement of young people in grappling with the health impacts of climate change, however, requires greater recognition and concerted efforts from public and private sector actors alike. Based on the research findings, we present recommendations for three key actor groups in climate change, health and young people’s engagement: decision-makers, civil society organisations, and funders. 

Decision-makers at all levels should identify, establish and support formal avenues for young people to be part of decision-making and implementation processes, while also making administrative processes and policy communication inclusive for people of all ages, abilities and background. 

Civil society actors, including practitioners, NGOs, and researchers, play important roles in bridging the government and the general public, including young people. Civil society must sustain and expand efforts to work with young people in holding public and private institutions accountable and demand for transformative climate action, through training, co-designing and implementing programmes with youth-led organisations and building capacity and advocating for governments to work with young people.

International donors and national funding agencies are key actors for ensuring young people are meaningfully engaged in climate and health action, by supporting and scaling up existing youth-led initiativesprioritising funding for marginalised groups and engaging new, alternative ways to engage young people.