Climate change – voices of youth from around the globe

Tomorrow, an important event is taking place in New York City – one with repercussions far beyond the tiny island of Manhattan.

Tomorrow, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will host the 2014 Climate Summit, with an important goal – to get everyone behind the plan to address climate change and the effects it will have on us all.

But these effects are likely to impact some groups of people more than others – and children and young people are key among them. Not just because they will have to live with the impact of the decisions that we make (or don’t make) with regards to climate change now; but because they are also more vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

And so it is crucial that any discussions about climate change and the environment don’t happen without consulting children and young people. This not only makes logical sense, but it is a fundamental right that all children have – to have their voices heard on matters that affect them.

A Voices of Youth climate mapper - Javanna from Jamaica - captures trash on the side of the road.
A Voices of Youth climate mapper – Javanna from Jamaica – captures trash on the side of the road.

So in preparation for tomorrow’s summit, a few weeks ago we mobilized our Voices of Youth (VOY) global online network, to tell us about the impact of climate change and environmental degradation in their communities.

Our tool to do this? Voices of Youth Maps – a digital mapping system we developed together with the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, and the MIT Mobile Experience Lab.

A group of young digital mappers from Madagascar, documenting their surroundings.
(c) UNICEF Madagascar/2014.A group of young digital mappers from Madagascar, documenting their surroundings.

Since it was first used in 2011 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Voices of Youth Maps has been used to empower children and young people in Haiti, Kosovo, Argentina, Madagascar and Bhutan to report on various issues in their communities through the powerful medium of the map.

In August, we took to the web and social media with a call for applications, asking young people to tell us why they should be selected to help us bring youth voices to the Climate Summit discussions. Each of the 43 individuals we chose for the climate change mapping was sent an instruction kit with details on how to explore their communities and to report on the following:

  • how weather and climatic conditions impacted their community;
  • evidence of man-made destruction and pollution;
  • other hazards in their physical environments; and
  • signs of positive action.
The Voices of Youth Climate Change Map.
The Voices of Youth Climate Change Map.

The map that you see reflects what these young people – from countries as diverse as Nepal, Ghana, Denmark, and Haiti – see as evidence of environmental problems. There are reports of deforestation, air pollution from cars, and reports which show areas that are vulnerable to flooding or drought throughout the year. There are numerous reports of trash in the streets, on the beaches, in the gutters, and in the rivers – showing the challenges of waste management that so many cities face.


recycled-plastic climate-mappingBut it is not all bad news from the climate mappers – there are plenty of reports which illustrate that positive action is possible. From Sweden we have reports of bike-share and recycling schemes; from Kenya there are reports of innovative craft initiatives which turn non-recyclable items like plastic shopping bags into durable long-wear bags; and from Jamaica and Pakistan there are reports of renewable energy projects that seek to address energy challenges in the cleanest way possible.

I urge you to take time and to ‘travel’ the map; to read what these young people have to say; and to get inspired to do your part to take action on climate change.

Gerrit Beger is Senior Advisor on Social Media and Digital Engagement in UNICEF’s Division of Communication in New York.

On Tuesday 23 September, 17:15 – 18:30 EST, UNICEF, together with UN Women and UNFPA, will host a session during the Climate Summit, entitled ‘Voices from the climate frontlines’. The event will be livestreamed here, or you can follow @UNICEFtalk or #climate2014 on Twitter to join in the discussion. If you have any questions for the panelists tweet them to @UNICEFtalk or leave them in the comment section below. 

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  1. It’s exciting to see how youths from different parts of the world have actively participated in the Climate Mapping Exercise. I am proud to be among this group of youths. It is about time that youth get actively involved in policy and decision making in their countries. #Time for Climate Action # I am for Climate Action.

  2. I am more than excited to be associated with this noble course as a youth participant, bringing voices of the youth to the climate change discussions indeed is a magnificient step towards helping curb this global menace jointly. It’s a fact that climate change concerns is a reality from this report; however I realized that it’s never too late to address this challenge as most countries are already tackling it head-on for example through recycling projects. More and more specific policy driven approaches has to be adopted across nations and its time we youth together be more vigillant with our sorrounding as we are very important drivers of change. #IThinkTalkEat#ClimateChangeAction#

  3. Gerrit it was really nice for me participating in this global climate change map, I want people to know about the good actions and the wrong ones people are doing right now and don’t see how much is going to affect, and is affecting now. Thank you for using my photo. Let’s keep working on making better this planet.