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Turbocharging Youth Empowerment for Climate Justice in Asia and the Pacific

To mark World Environment Day 2024, Sweden has announced a new partnership with the Youth Empowerment in Climate Action Platform (YECAP). With the support from Sweden, YECAP empowers young climate advocates across Asia and the Pacific to lead a transformative movement for positive change. By connecting the dots between youth and decision-makers, YECAP is accelerating youth-led climate initiatives and promoting a sustainable, inclusive future.


Captured in an article by Sida, the journey of Aung Sing, a young agronomist and climate activist from the Indigenous Marma people of Bangladesh’s hill districts will inspire you to take climate action.

Indigenous youth in Bangladesh
Aung Sing sharing about the importance of biodiversity conservation and traditional Indigenous knowledge Photo credit: Ruwang Collective Arts

The Asia-Pacific region is the most severely affected by climate change. Rising sea levels, heatwaves, floods, and unpredictable weather events have significantly increased in recent years. There is significant concern among the youth population in the region. Many young people want to contribute to change but don't know how. Therefore, Sweden supports a regional climate action platform to empower young change-makers, YECAP.


"YECAP has inspired me to believe in my ability to make a difference." — Aung Sing, a young agronomist and climate activist from the Marma Indigenous group

"Being part of YECAP's activities and network has been a transformative experience. I have learned more about climate change, developed my communication skills, and gained the confidence to organize events and campaigns in my community. It has inspired me to believe in my ability to make a difference," said Aung Sing, a young agronomist and climate activist from the Marma Indigenous group in the mountainous region of Bangladesh.


When Sida reached him, the internet connection in the region was unstable. Bangladesh has just been hit by Cyclone Remal, affecting the infrastructure. Before that, there was a record-long period of extreme heatwave. The sudden shifts between extreme weather are becoming more common, and Aung Sing is worried.


"When I was little, there were birds here that I no longer see today."

"I see how the seasons change. During the dry season, we have serious problems. We farm on the slopes and rely on rainwater here. But everything dries up. Then the storms come. We notice how the diversity in the forests changes. When I was little, there were birds here that I no longer see today. This creates big problems for the Marma people as we depend on nature. We collect wood, medicine, and food from nature," said Aung Sing.


But Aung Sing's concern did not leave him paralyzed. Instead, he sought ways he could contribute to change.


With his roots in the Marma Indigenous culture, his relationship with nature is strong. Therefore, he chose a career path as an agronomist and researcher in cultivation systems. But he also wanted to do more, especially in his local community where he saw that the knowledge about climate change was low, while the population was greatly affected. In 2021, amid the pandemic, he came into contact with Youth Empowerment in Climate Action (YECAP), a climate action platform established with support from Sweden through Sida, through a digital workshop to empower young change-makers in Asia and the Pacific.


Engagement that Creates a Ripple Effect


Indigenous youth in Bangladesh
Aung Sing engaging with Indigenous youth in Bangladesh Photo credit: Ruwang Collective Arts

A key part of YECAP's work has been to strengthen marginalized communities, including Indigenous peoples, with knowledge and to make their voices heard in the climate issue. Therefore, the platform established a fellowship programme for young Indigenous leaders. Aung Sing applied and was accepted. The fellowship meant that, along with other young Indigenous peoples in the region, he took part in a series of training and meetings for six months to strengthen their ability to engage and lead work on climate issues at local, national, and regional levels.


The experience made him grow and believe that he could make a difference.


"I have learned so much, and it has given me so much inspiration. I have learned to write, run campaigns, conduct dialogues on climate, and to inspire and motivate others," said Aung Sing.


YECAP provides a safe and inclusive space for all young people from various backgrounds, identities, and countries, supporting them to bypass safety concerns that might occur at the national level by elevating their discussions to regional dialogues.


After the programme ended, Aung Sing continued to engage in a local youth-led climate initiative and, with support from YECAP, established a local fellowship programme for youth from the Marma people.


This way, his enhanced knowledge has created a ripple effect and engaged even more Indigenous youth in the climate issues. Aung Sing believes that it is important to strengthen this particular group.


"I believe that Indigenous youth are important actors to drive the best climate solutions. They live close to nature and understand how urgent the climate crisis is. We can find solutions where we combine modern science with traditional knowledge," said Aung Sing.


Turbocharging Existing Climate Initiatives


Aung Sing is one of thousands of young people whose engagement has been strengthened by YECAP's work. The fact that it is a regional platform has been one of the success factors. YECAP brings together many already existing climate actors in Asia and the Pacific working with youth, including UN agencies through One UN approach, non-party stakeholders, and Civil Society Organizations, and makes the initiatives more effective.


"It turbocharges existing climate initiatives of young people in the region," explained Jenny Collste Lager who works for Sida at the embassy in Bangkok.


"Even before YECAP, there were many organizations working on climate issues and youth engagement in the region, but many actors were small, underfunded, and often focused on specific activities. There was no platform where they could meet, strengthen, and drive the solutions forward together. Together, they have now succeeded in establishing young people as important stakeholders in the fight against climate change," continued Jenny Collste Lager.


The project's focus on strengthening youth engagement has several reasons. They are the group that will be most affected by climate change during their lifetime, and they often lack real influence. At the same time, there is great potential in their engagement and innovation.


The project focuses both on youth as change-makers in climate policy and as entrepreneurs in the business sector. The project thus has the potential to strengthen democracy, climate work, and a sustainable business sector.


"The endorsement of the twin resolutions by the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly has also added impetus to the fight for the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Young people, including Indigenous youth from across the region, like Aung Sing, are working towards it in their own ways. Meeting with Indigenous youth from YECAP in the Philippines earlier this year reinforced this belief and the importance of protection of their human rights," added Jenny.


About YECAP


Partner Organizations


The YECAP platform was established by UNDP in Asia and the Pacific in collaboration with UNFCCC, RCC Asia and the Pacific, UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific, UNICEF South Asia, the British Council, YOUNGO, Movers Programme, and 2030 Youth Force, with support from Sweden.


Goals


Ensure that young people, especially those from marginalized groups, in Asia and the Pacific are meaningfully engaged and involved at the regional, national, and local levels in environmental/climate processes.


Activities


Training and Workshops


Training, workshops, and funding for participation in meetings with young engaged change-makers, to strengthen their abilities to act on the climate issue themselves. Extra focus has been placed on including marginalized groups and vulnerable communities such as Indigenous peoples, LGBTI+ individuals, young women, and young persons with disabilities.


Networks that Strengthen Collaboration


The platform provides the opportunity to foster networks between already existing organizations and groups that previously had little contact with each other. This way, communities can strengthen each other and act better and more effectively together.


Connecting Youth with Decision-Makers and Business


The platform works to get young people into decision-making processes and collaborates with the business sector to create more opportunities for green jobs for young people.


The Progress


Over 21,000 youth participated in workshops that in various ways increased knowledge and awareness about climate change and motivated them to take climate action.


The Participation


The project has contributed to 16 governments in the region now including young people in consultations on national climate commitments. Youth have also gained knowledge to influence policy at different levels.


Marginalized Voices Heard and Strengthened


Focusing on working particularly with marginalized groups has strengthened these voices in the climate movement and given them better ability to influence decision-makers.


This article was originally published in Swedish by Sida (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency), Sweden on World Environment Day here.

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