Climate change: a look through the eyes of youth

Over the past few weeks you’ve probably seen a lot in the news about climate change – coverage of natural disasters, or speculation about how the COP21 conference and the negotiations that are now coming to a close. You may have heard from journalists, scientists and politicians – you may have even heard from us, highlighting that children are likely to be the hardest hit by climate change.

But you probably did not hear much from children or youth themselves.

That’s because while children are disproportionately affected by climate change and they are the ones who will have to live with its impacts, they are largely left out of conversations about it.

Youth mappers from Chad share a laugh as they map their community.
©UNICEF Chad/2015Youth mappers from Chad share a laugh as they map their community.

We believe it is imperative that the views of children and young people on the issues of climate change and the environment are heard. And this is why, for over a year we’ve been working on a special digital mapping project with hundreds of children and youth from around the world to capture how they see climate change and environmental damage affecting their communities. The project is part of the Voices of Youth Maps initiative, which uses the power of digital mapping to empower young people and to help them advocate with decision makers and mobilize their communities.

Climate mappers from Ireland (top) and Guatemala (bottom).
Climate mappers from Ireland (top) and Guatemala (bottom).

Building on the work we started ahead of the Climate Summit that took place in New York in September 2014, in the six months leading up to COP21, we’ve worked with 120 children and young people from 11 countries to capture some of the following: disaster risks, climate issues linked to health, pollution, deforestation, and the best local practices in addressing these issues. The young people come from France, Ireland, Guatemala, Malaysia, China, Kiribati Islands, Tanzania, Zambia, Niger, Chad and Zimbabwe.

Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to meet some of them and to spend time with them at the Conference of Youth and COP21 in Paris. They were in Paris to talk about the digital mapping project as well as other initiatives that they are involved in to raise awareness about climate change and its effects on their lives and that of their friends’, and on their communities. They met with youth from other countries, shared their knowledge and skills, developed a joint set of policy recommendations, and addressed COP21 delegates and global media.

Bellinda who is an indigenous youth from Malaysia met with other indigenous youth from other continents and discussed the similar issue they face: how climate change threatens their basic survival and traditional lifestyle. She explained how the digital mapping tool helped her and her peers not only to identify the issues facing her community, but also to engage youth from different tribes in amplifying their voices on the climate issue.

Immaculee from Chad explained how “in Moundou, the first day of school is unpredictable and often delayed by a month or two due to floods”. How is her team of youth mappers and reporters address such issues? Through radio. At COY, she ran a radio workshop by setting up an improvised studio very much like the one she uses when hosting her weekly show at her local station in Moundou. As a radio DJ, she demonstrated how to mobilize and transmit narratives of climate change to local communities using traditional media.

Zandy from Guatemala and Halima from Niger connected issues of climate change with gender rights. They both mobilize girls and women in their communities around issues of violence against women, access to school and contraceptives, and early marriage, using digital tools such as sms and blogging.

A 'mapper' edits a new report added to the digital map.
©UNICEF Chad/2015A ‘mapper’ edits a new report added to the digital map.

Islaman from Niger spoke to the media on the importance of making the link between issues of health, malnutrition, population displacement and violent conflict with climate change. He used video and digital mapping to explore three regions in his country. He told the story of one village where there weren’t any youth. “Where did they all go” he asked. One of the answers he got: “the land doesn’t produce anything anymore”.

The digital map now has over 800 reports so I wanted to share with you some of the highlights – which you can access by scrolling through the gallery at the top of this post. If you’re interested in learning more the young mappers from Niger, Chad and Zimbabwe describe it best in the video below. Also, in case you missed it live, check out Andozile (from Zambia, who campaigns against deforestation and belongs to a network of 1200 youth climate ambassadors) and Tatiana (from Zimbabwe, who built a water boiler with recyclable materials) who took over the UNICEF global Twitter channel to talk about the impact climate change is having on their communities – and what they’re doing about it.

I’m sure you’ll feel as inspired as I do.

Zayn Abaakil is the Voices of Youth Digital Mapping Project Manager.

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  1. The fight against climate change is the road map to sustainable development. Let’s keep on fighting for a better tomorrow.