Role of the youth in climate and health action is bigger than ever

At Health Care Without Harm we are proud to be nurturing a cohort of youth climate and health activists among our international staff and partners. In July 2019 four of them convened in London along with other youth leaders at a 3-day workshop to align global communication efforts on climate and health. 

Group photo at the workshop “Temperature Check: Youth Action on Health and Climate”

A three-day Climate and Health workshop hosted by the UNDP, WHO, Stanley Foundation and the Wellcome Trust in London in July 2019, highlighted the youth’s interest and crucial role in becoming not just another voice in the global climate action, but also in continuously emphasizing and advocating for the inclusion and significance of a stronger climate narrative through its health impacts.

HCWH staff and partners at “Temperature Check: Youth Action on Health and Climate”, July 2019

L-R: Viktor Jósa (Climate Policy & Projects Officer, HCWH Europe), Claudia Paz (Project Technical Assistant for Latin America, HCWH), Pats Oliva (Communications Campaigner, HCWH Asia), Abhishek Kumar (CEO, Lung Care Foundation) 

Historically, the youth in any era all over the world have been effective catalysts for collective action, bringing about political change and social transformations. And in the case of climate change and its frightening impacts on health, the youth can never be silenced.

Looking back, we had a young girl from Canada, Severn Cullis-Suzuki, who left UN officials speechless with her 1992 speech on massive environmental degradation. In 2015, a young kid from Colorado, Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, with an Aztec lineage reminded the UN that climate change is a life-or-death issue and must be addressed urgently. While in 2016, young indigenous water-rights activists in North Dakota picketed for months at the Standing Rock reservation opposing the intrusive Dakota Access Pipeline.

Today, we have Greta Thunberg, Anna Taylor, Yola Mgogwana, Harriet O’Shea Carre, Milou Albrecht, and the thousands of youth in every continent fearlessly stating the frightening truths why there is no other time to act on climate change but now.

These are the very inspirations why from July 1 to 3, 2019 during the London Climate Action Week, youth and student leaders from around the globe were gathered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Stanley Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust for a workshop entitled, “Temperature Check: Youth Action on Health and Climate”, with the sole purpose of aligning global communication efforts in times when youth-led mass mobilizations for urgent climate action are attracting widespread attention in many countries and compelling governments to declare climate emergency.

Participants of the workshop were efficiently diverse. Tthere were those from developed countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, and Europe, with governments that can influence global policies. There was also important representation from small island and developing countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, India, Haiti, the Marshall Islands, and Nigeria to name a few, who are most impacted by climate injustice.

Viktor Jósa, Climate Policy & Projects Officer of HCWH Europe, shared that everyone had the chance to strategize on the timeline for advocacy before 2020, the long-hailed start year of global de-carbonisation with the ambition of the Paris Agreement. That is 1.5 to stay alive, as there is no compromise for healthy people and a healthy planet.

The fitting format and atmosphere provided by the Wellcome Trust and facilitated by some of the tireless staff of the Stanley Foundation led to inspiring dialogues and Q&A’s between the young leaders and the senior experts present from global implementing entities of climate and health development. There seems to be no doubt about the success of entities like WHO when it comes to innovative communications and new approaches to freshen up dusty UN processes. WHO has been known to be a good communicator among UN agencies addressing both the member state level and the human level in its outreach. Their contributions to the youth workshop have provided greater understanding of the practicalities of simple and effective health messaging for meaningful climate action.

At the workshop “Temperature Check: Youth Action on Health and Climate”

Aside from the important inputs learned and strategies developed, the HCWH Youth team shared their own realizations and insights during the workshop.

For Claudia Paz of the HCWH Latin America team, the London Climate Action Week proved that there is heightened awareness around global climate action among the youth. She added that, “while I was already spreading awareness around my communities, I've been inspired to do more. Getting one person to be more environmentally aware is great, but inspiring that person to create global change and spread awareness among their community multiplies the effect. We are now influencers in our own field, and we need to take advantage of our position to motivate the individuals and the masses. This experience helped us to do more and keep pushing forward.”

From India, Abhishek Kumar who at a young age, leads the Lung Care Foundation, one of HCWH’s India partner organizations, shared that his participation in the workshop was not only informational but inspirational. He further expressed that “seeing individuals, as young as 16 year old, leading movements that are mobilising thousands of individuals inspired and challenged all of us to do much more. The presentations and the resources shared in the workshop compiled the best practices around the world and will be extremely helpful to strategize future initiatives. The workshop has enabled a global coordination to support and amplify each other's work and also share interesting opportunities. What I loved about the conference the most was that, we the youngest and newest entrants in this domain got an opportunity to spend a full 2 days with senior representatives of 4 established organizations to discuss our work, seek guidance and plan the future initiatives as equals.”

The programme was also filled with informal moments for participants to mingle by gamifying underlying global climate and health challenges with the aim to come up with creative solutions to help build the community. The vegan and vegetarian meals served throughout the three days sparked rich discussions about the differences of our food cultures and the different circumstances of socializing low-carbon diets as part of our advocacy for the wide-scale behaviour change needed in consumption.

At the workshop “Temperature Check: Youth Action on Health and Climate”

“In essence, the youth are basically idealistic, active, articulate, and passionate. This workshop the outputs it has produced will put the youth in a very important role not only in promoting the health and climate link, but also in igniting a necessary movement for global action.” Pats Oliva, Communications Campaigner for HCWH Asia, adds.

Videos of HCWH Participants

In these short videos, the HCWH team at the workshop share their motivations and calls to action on climate and health. (Videos courtesy of UNDP.)

Video Montage

Montage of youth leaders urging action on climate and health. (Video courtesy of UNDP.)