Despite having contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions, adolescents, young people and future generations will disproportionately shoulder the burden of climate change (Figure 1). Almost every young person in the world is exposed to at least one climate and environmental hazard, shock, or stress such as heatwaves, cyclones, air pollution, flooding, and water scarcity. Evidence from the BMJ Collection on Adolescent Well-being shows that climate change threatens all five domains of adolescent well-being – good health and optimum nutrition; connectedness, positive values, and contribution to society; safety and a supportive environment; learning, education, and employability; and agency and resilience.
To fight the greatest intergenerational injustice of our times, adolescents and young people are pioneering a human rights-based approach to address climate change. Worldwide, they are taking to the streets and using global and national fora and climate litigation to call for climate justice and hold governments accountable for their carbon emissions and climate commitments. In March 2023, the UN General Assembly approved a landmark resolution requesting an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice on States’ obligations concerning climate change. The resolution was influenced by the Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change through the World’s Youth for Climate Justice campaign. Prioritising the well-being and needs of adolescents and young people and their future would result in urgent climate action and intergenerational equity which is in line with the Paris Agreement goals.
However, many countries are lagging behind in prioritising tailored national policies with matching investments targeting the needs of young people. Only 34% of 103 countries with new or revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in 2021 were assessed as youth sensitive. High-income countries are still far away from reaching the 100 billion USD per year pledged by 2020 to address the pressing adaptation needs of low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where most young people live and which are most affected by climate change, resulting in exacerbating existing inequalities. Climate financing focused on enhancing resilience and coping mechanisms, especially of the most vulnerable populations – such as through strengthened health systems and diversification of food sources – can lead to long-term cost savings. However, less than 5 % of total global climate adaptation spending is targeted to health.
Governments must commit to invest in the future of our planet by listening to adolescents’ and young people’s calls for climate justice. On Earth Day, we call for urgent climate action that addresses the adverse impacts of human-caused climate change by prioritising the well-being of adolescents and young people.
To mobilise political and financial commitments for adolescents and young people, and advocate for centering voices of young people in decision-making processes, PMNCH is launching the 1.8 Billion Young People for Change campaign whose key milestone will be the Global Forum for Adolescents. Partners from all over the world will unite through national events and a virtual mainstage later this year (11-12 October 2023) to mobilise actionable political and financial commitments by governments and key actors for adolescent well-being. We invite all adolescents and young people to join the 1.8 Billion campaign advocating for governments to prioritise investment in adolescent well-being and the future of our planet.
(Omnia El Omrani is a Climate and Health Junior Policy Fellow, Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London. Also COP27 President Youth Envoy and Founding Committee member, Youth Climate and Health Network, Global Climate and Health Alliance)
(Giulia Gasparri is Founding Committee member, Youth Climate and Health Network, Global Climate and Health Alliance and Project Officer, PMNCH)
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisation.