Bangladeshi youth can carve a new path for the Global Youth Adaptation Network

School and college children staged a demonstration at Manik Mia Avenue in Dhaka in September 2019 to urge world leaders to act against climate change. Photo: Star/ Prabir Das

Last week, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon jointly launched the new South Asian Regional office of the Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA). This was followed by the launch of the GCA’s flagship Global Youth Adaptation Network (YAN) by Saima Wajed Hossain, who is the thematic ambassador for Vulnerability of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF). This new YAN initiative will start with a series of regional consultations around the globe as well as a few national consultations in some selected countries initially.

The aim is to have the YAN up and running as a global youth movement at the Global Adaptation Summit to be held on January 25, 2021. It is aimed to be a synergistic counterpart to the global movement of school children that the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg has so successfully led where the focus, quite rightly, has been in getting the major greenhouse gas emitting countries to reduce their emissions to keep global mean atmospheric temperature below 1.5 Degrees Centigrade, which all countries have promised to do in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2015.

The YAN, on the other hand, will focus on youth from the global South and promote the need to adapt to the adverse impacts of human induced climate change, which have now become quite apparent. The year 2020 will be marked as the year in which the globe has transitioned into a climate changed world with major wildfires, floods, hurricanes, heatwaves and droughts occurring in every continent. Henceforth, the enhanced intensity of all such major climatic events, as well as slower ones such as sea level rise, can be attributed to the fact that humans have already raised global mean atmospheric temperature above one Degree Centigrade.

As the YAN consultations take place over the coming weeks and months, there will be one in English for the South Asian region and another one in Bangla for Bangladesh and West Bengal in India, where we have an opportunity for our young people to engage proactively in setting up the Bangladesh National YAN chapter as the first national chapter of the global YAN.

Bangladesh has already many different movements and clubs of youth in schools and universities, as well as Scouts and others who can join together in this effort. An important aspect of the YAN to keep in mind is that adaptation to climate change is not simply being aware of environmental issues like pollution and engaging in activities like planting trees, although those are certainly important. It requires a slightly more nuanced understanding of climate change impacts, which are not always the same as simple environmental considerations.

Hence, it will be important for our youth to gain an understanding of climate change impacts and how to adapt to those impacts and help the country become more resilient over time. This will require some initial learning and capacity building for all our youth. The consortium of universities and research institutions in Bangladesh under the leadership of Gobeshona has a youth leadership programme that can support the other youth initiatives with this learning and help build their capabilities to tackle adaptation to climate change.

This is a tremendous opportunity for the young people of Bangladesh to play a pioneering role, both in South Asia as well as globally, in promoting actions to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.

In particular, as the world prepares for the 26th annual Conference of Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2021, it will also be preceded by a Youth COP to be held in Milan, Italy in September 2021.

If we are able to get the Bangladesh chapter of the YAN up and running by then, it will be a great opportunity to share our activities with youth from around the world in Italy next year.

Originally this article was published on September 16, 2020 at Daily Star. The author Prof. Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).