Harness youth to change world’s future

03Apr 2020
The Guardian
Harness youth to change world’s future

VANESSA Nakate of Uganda may have been cropped out of a photograph taken at the World Economic Forum, but she along with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg have made the climate crisis centre stage.

Women bear the brunt of climate change disasters.

Women Deliver Young Leader Jyotir Nisha discusses with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada on how to harness young people to overcome gender inequality and address climate change in a recent wide-ranging interview.

Quesada says key strategies to designing policy to fight climate change require unconventional decision-making to address challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, the fourth industrial revolution, and inequality.

“These are intertwined factors that can hinder development if unattended but, if tackled, they could potentially accelerate progress and wellbeing for all,” he says.

“And, of course, this is a task that young leaders are able to handle and produce the timely answers that are necessary.”

Bringing in her experience in the non-profit sector, Nisha says training girls and women in up-cycling plastic waste to produce handmade goods has assisted them to contribute to their family income and their empowerment in the community. The question is, how can this be broadened.

Quesada says women, in particular young women, are leading the way.

“From cooperative seed banks, to early warning networks, from solar engineers to women politicians carving a path of sustainable policymaking. They are at the forefront of forest conservation, sustainable use of resources, and community enhancement, and restoration of landscapes and forest ecosystems,” he says.

However, women’s roles are often underestimated, unrecognised, and unpaid.

“Women and girls with access to technology have already begun developing innovative tools to reduce emissions by targeting sustainable consumption and production practices, including food waste, community waste management, energy efficiency, and sustainable fashion.”

The solutions exist, but much more is needed.

“It takes a whole-of-society approach for collaboration and cooperation on a bigger and enhanced scale.”

The President suggests that the way investments are made could be fundamental to ensure a flow of finance to the communities, including women, and youth. This will, he believes, provide “a stable source of funding for businesses and services that contribute to the solution of social or environmental challenges.”

The impact of this will be partnerships between traditional sources of finance, like international cooperation and development banks, and new partners, like philanthropy, hedge funds, or pension funds.

“And what better than young people giving the thrust that all this requires?”

Nisha says she was pleased to see the massive mobilisation of young people at the inaugural Climate Action Summit last year. The summit had little good news for climate change with concerns raised that the accelerating rise in sea level, melting ice would have on socio-economic development, health, displacement, food security and ecosystems. However, beyond taking to the streets, they also need to hold decision-makers accountable.

“In the last months we have witnessed the irruption of massive mobilisations in different parts of the world, lead mostly by young people. This would seem surprising for a generation that has been accused several times of passivity, indifference, and individualism,” Quesada says. “I truly believe that, as long as these demands are channelled through democratic and pacifist means, they are extremely important to set a bar and a standard of responsibility for us, decision-makers — who are, by the way, more and more often, young people.”

He adds that world leaders owe them explanations of the decisions made.

“We must also have the wisdom to pay attention to these demands and take into account their opinions and proposals to reach agreements that have the legitimacy of consensus-building.”

However, Nisha notes, while campaigns like the Deliver for Good campaign is working across sectors reports at COP25, and the recent World Economic Forum (Davos), “climate change continues to threaten progress made toward gender equality across every measure of development.”

At WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2020 showed that it would take more than a lifetime, 99.5 years in 2019 for gender parity across health, education, work and politics to be achieved.

Quesada says the climate catastrophe “demands that policymakers and practitioners renew commitments to sustainable development — at the heart of which is, and must continue to be, advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, and realising women’s rights as a pre-requisite for sustainable development.”

Costa Rica, he says, has been recognised internationally on two significant areas: the respect of human rights and environmental protection.

“The present Administration has taken these objectives a step further by paying particular attention to women’s rights, inclusion, and diversity, and including them as part of our core policy principles and our everyday practices,” he says. “We expect to increase women’s integration into productive processes and achieve women’s economic empowerment through specific policies linked to our long-term development strategy — the Decarbonization Plan — allowing the transformational changes our society needs.

However, the critical question, Nisha says, is: “What can world leaders and governments do today to ensure young people have a seat at the decision-making table?”

Quesada is confident that young people will be part of the solution.

“The challenges we are facing today are unprecedented precisely because previous generations did not have to face situations such as biodiversity loss, global warming, or the emergence of artificial intelligence and technology. Thus, we need new answers and solutions from Twenty-First Century people, and those should and will be put forward by the youth,” he says.

The importance of youth involvement was recently highlighted too at the meeting of African Leaders for Nutrition in Addis Ababa. African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina said Africa should invest in skills development for the youth so the continent’s entrepreneurs can leverage emerging technologies to transform Africa’s food system to generate new jobs. This is especially urgent as the population on the continent is expected to double to 2.5 billion people in 40 years putting pressure on governments to deliver more food and jobs in addition to better livelihoods.

In a recent interview with IPS International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Director General, Nteranya Sanginga, explained that this change is neither easy or necessarily something all leadership has taken on board.

“Our legacy is starting a programme to change the mindset of the youth in agriculture. Unfortunately (with) our governments that is where you have to go and change mindsets completely. Most probably 90 per cent of our leaders consider agriculture as a social activity basically for them its (seen as a) pain, penury. They proclaim that agriculture is a priority in resolving our problems, but we are not investing in it. We need that mindset completely changed.”

Quesada is unequivocal that this attitude needs to change.

“My advice to world leaders is to have the humility to listen to the people and to allow more inclusive and participatory decision-making. And to the young people, I can only encourage them to own their future, and to act accordingly, with vision, courage, and determination.