The theme for this year’s International Youth Day was, “Youth and Climate Change; Time for Action.” The selection of this theme clearly indicates that climate change has already begun to devastate communities particularly in the developing world. Today the problems of hunger, floods and poverty continue to bite.
As International Youth Day, is celebrated, there is need to recognize the immense vagaries that have taken place as a result of climate change; to recognize that the earth’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and other green house gas emissions is being overwhelmed; that there is an unprecedented rise in temperature, local rainfall patterns are changing, ecological zones are shifting, the seas are warming and the ice caps are melting.
This year’s theme is a powerful reminder of the critical importance of the social, economic and political participation of youth in the progress and contribution towards, sustainable development in our societies.
This is exemplified in countless initiatives all over the world, where young people themselves have developed and implemented active solutions to development challenges faced by their communities.
The youth, which officially in Rwanda consists of the population between 14 and 35 years old, is the most affected by the effects of climate change resulting socio-economic problems.
At present, the youth are part of the majority of the Rwandan population at 36 per cent while 57 per cent of the Rwandan population is under 18 years of age according to a 2006 Rwanda country review report on child rights associations and youth movements in Rwanda.
As environmental and sustainable development issues take centre stage in our global agenda, there is need to place great priority on involving the youth to make a positive difference to our natural environment.
The youth should be encouraged to actively participate in activities such as public lectures, debates in schools, tree planting, and community cleanliness campaigns as part of addressing climate change.
The youth must be educated on proper utilization of Rwanda’s immense natural resources that include fertile soils for agriculture, forest resource reserves and use of water resources.
If properly utilized these resources not only mitigate the effects of climate change but also provide job opportunities for the youth and support sustainable development for the country as a whole.
The youth must be discouraged from participating in uncontrolled cutting down of natural wood land for purposes of construction, charcoal burning ,brick burning and fuel.
Uncontrolled cutting of trees has grave implications on the environment: it leads to soil erosion, loss of soil nutrients and reduces bio-diversity.
But why should the youth be keen about climate change? The youth should be keen because they will inherit the earth left by their elders.
And like the Human Development Report clearly indicates what we do today about climate change has future consequences that will last a century or more.
The report further argues that climate change needs urgent action: today we are living with what we did yesterday; tomorrow we will live with what we do today. Hence the need to take action now.
Equally critical is the fact that the youth represent a store-house of human resource potential which can be tapped and channelled in activities that could help reverse the current trends as a result of climate change.
Climate change is real and it will affect us all. The world is getting warmer and human activity is a major cause of this.
The problem is urgent but the situation is not entirely hopeless, at least, not yet. Most people are beginning to “open their eyes” to this reality of climate change, but the youth, who are the next generation have much at stake.
The youth should be at the fore-front of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for creating a sustainable environment that will stimulate development and peace.
If we are to adequately and effectively tackle issues of climate change, amongst other issues highlighted in the Millennium Development Goals active involvement of the youth is a key factor.
There is need to establish a partnership between the various stakeholders and the youth, to provide the resources and skills for environment problem solving and capacity building.
While most people may think the International youth day is just for the youth to celebrate, the official day also gives policy-makers and stakeholders an occasion to focus on ensuring that young people are included in decisions that affect their and the world’s future.
As we join the youth the world over to celebrate international youth day, let us engage and support their youth to participate in activities that will secure a bright and safe environment for now and the next generation.