Youths should be harbingers of change, not passive spectators in combating climate crisis

Odisha’s Advika initiative helps inculcate environment-friendly values amongst adolescents; such initiatives should be launched nationally to ensure young people are empowered warriors who can battle climate change

Tree plantation done in Nabarangpur, Odisha. Photo: Debabrat PatraTree plantation done in Nabarangpur, Odisha. Photo: Debabrat Patra

There’s no doubt that public discourse on climate change has been on the rise and has attracted not just intense academic vigour but also active participation of governments, intergovernmental  institutions and the civil society at large. However, the participation of the younger sections of the population needs to be far more vigorous in environment protection as this is precisely the section of the population that is most ill-fated to survive an adversely changing climate.

The unprecedented heatwave in India in the ongoing summer season is a scorching testimony of the intensity of climate change. If that wasn’t enough, the intensity and frequency of cyclones and floods are rapidly increasing every year. These extreme weather events call for a more holistic approach to handle the environment crisis.

It is disappointing that the generation that perhaps has the least contribution to climate change is the one that is going to bear the worst brunt of the crisis.

Hence, it is crucial to ensure that we are aware about the trends of disasters and climate change and their impacts on the younger sections of the populations. Their educational and career pursuits need not be hampered by climate change. Online education, which has been immensely popular since the COVID-19 pandemic, has its advantages and disadvantages and still remains inaccessible to a majority of the population in India.

As an affordable and accessible alternative to these ‘smart classes’, the local coaching centres launched by various civil society organisations proved to be vital during the pandemic where local educated youth took charge of teaching the kids in their neighbourhood to ensure that they can catch up with their studies.

Such platforms can be capitalised to educate children and youth about other issues of public importance as well.

One such initiative is the Advika centres — launched by the Odisha government as part of ‘Advika: I am Unique’ scheme. The scheme aims to empower eight million adolescents by sensitising them on various issues such as health, gender equality, nutrition, and environment. This programme is implemented by the 75,000 Anganwadi centres spread across the coastal state where adolescents assemble every Saturday to discuss such issues. This interaction is facilitated by the Anganwadi workers who are mostly stationed in the rural pockets.

This programme imparts life-skill education to the youth, which not only empowers them to play a proactive role at the community level but also builds their confidence to deal with various issues and challenges in real life scenarios. Dealing with climate change-related disasters should be an integral part of this life- skill education. Additionally, children and adolescents should be involved in local climate change mitigation activities as it will imbibe a sense of ownership and responsibility towards the environment.

Despite the blistering heatwave conditions in Odisha, around half a million adolescents from 23,694 villages came forward to prepare themselves to combat climate change. As part of the much popular ‘Advika Club’ activities, these adolescents discuss various aspects of climate change like global warming, heatwave prevalence, importance of forests, alternative means to address water scarcity, preventing heatstroke, and the significance of rehydration salts.

Tree plantation in Kandhamal, Odisha. Photo: Debabrat Patra

In addition to this, the youths organised several activities like awareness rallies, plantation drives, and painting competitions to raise awareness within their communities. Also, they put up temporary water stations for community use, organised plantation drives and cleaned public water sources, demonstrating their ownership and responsibility towards the environment.

Although this is a small endeavour by UNICEF, ActionAid and district-level officials in Odisha, this model can be promoted by the Central government by directing the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development. Then, it can be suitably replicated in other states as well. Even though the quantum of this endeavour seems small in contrast to international climate talks and other strategic interventions, it empowers the youth with a sense of confidence. They now believe that instead of being helpless and mute spectators, they can be harbingers of change and can make a huge difference in battling the menace of climate change.

“Advika club and Anganwadi didi have made me realise that a small effort on my part matters a lot. We have planted a total of 30 tree saplings since last year. Just imagine if all children of my age would plant a tree sapling, how beneficial it will be for my environment. It will definitely help us a lot during the summer season.”

This was what Samrin Begum, a 16-year-old Advika Club member from Bhubaneswar had to say when asked about her experiences while participating in club activities. She along with her other peer club members have organised consecutive plantation drives in 2023 and 2024.

Another such participant,  Rakhi Sahu, a 17-year-old girl from Odisha’s Ganjam district echoed Begum’s sentiments.

“Since last year, I have been part of this activity and have learnt so much about how climate change is affecting us and how we can make a difference. Since then, I take part in the activity every year no matter what. When I see my neighbours tend to the saplings we have planted, it fills me with so much happiness and joy,” Sahu said.

Such local-level actions to rope in the young population solidifies their confidence which will eventually empower them to take up large-scale projects to combat climate change.

To begin with, large-scale tree plantation drives, conducting awareness campaigns for waste management and reducing carbon footprint, leading community-level disaster risk reduction initiatives, creating disaster response mechanisms are few practices that can be undertaken by youth to combat climate change and its adversities.

This will result in a change in perception of children from being a victim of climate change to an active protagonist in initiating broader climate-friendly projects.

Debabrat Patra works as Associate Director and Humanitarian Lead at ActionAid Association India. 

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of ActionAid or Down To Earth

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