The new normal: Youth leadership for climate action

Harnessing the power of youth


Syed Zakir Hossain


In recent years, the world has faced the global challenge of a health crisis; a long series of natural disasters, and extreme climatic events shaking our social, economic, political systems to their core.

While the climate crisis is unravelling, individuals and communities who are socially, structurally, and systemically marginalized are being disproportionately affected. As climate change will continue to intensify the challenges, children and young people, especially those at the frontlines are foreseen to suffer grave consequences.

However, young people across the world are initiating their own movements — raising their voices, needs, and commitment for a better future. Yet, it is questionable how those needs and demands are reflected in global and national policies and negotiations, particularly when it comes to the implementation of the policies. Therefore, it is high time that our collective actions uphold climate justice for future generations.

At ActionAid Bangladesh, we are committed to delivering and catalyzing youth-led social change. Since 2008, we have been working to empower women and youth across Bangladesh to take climate action. We start nurturing children from the early childhood development phase through “Sishu Bikash Kendro” and continue building their capacities as they mature and become young advocates.

“Youth Activism” is one of the core areas in which ActionAid has been investing over the last few years. Youth activism has been harnessed at the national, international, and community levels, therefore. We established Activista — a global youth network in more than 25 countries involving more than 250 ActionAid partners and thousands of volunteers who are working on various issues including climate justice.

On the International Youth Day 2020 (12 August 2020), ActionAid Bangladesh, together with a group of youth-led grassroot organizations, launched “Coastal Youth Action Hub” (CYAH) — a platform for young people from the coastal district to learn and share information, knowledge and take cumulative action to environmental and climate challenges.

In 2018, children from different working locations of ActionAid took part in the climate justice movement by writing open letters on how climatic events had taken away their homes and dreams. In 2019, youth platforms in Bangladesh mobilized over 20,000 young people in 17 districts to join the global climate justice campaign.

Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, the movement continued to expand in 2020 and 2021. In 2021, along with 13 other countries, ActionAid Bangladesh participated in the Youth-led Digital Engagement (YDE) using a digital platform to facilitate youth mobilization on youth and gender-responsive public service, climate action, and decent work and economic empowerment. The project capacitated and mobilized marginalized young people of Barguna, Kurigram, Rajshahi, and Satkhira.  As a result, 80,36,189 young people were reached (using digital platforms).

To show global solidarity and commemorate global youth actions, ActionAid Bangladesh (AAB) both supports and joins the youth-led movements “Fridays for Future” and other global climate strikes. AAB was especially involved before COY (Conference of Youth) and COP (Conference of the Parties) in 2021.

To facilitate and grow feminist leadership, we are working with young women to lead emergency response in rebuilding the embankments damaged by Cyclone Yaas in May 2021 with the intent to ensure safe drinking water in the coastal areas. Additionally, every Friday, we support the coastal women-led climate movement.

“Campaigns” are also a big part of the interventions at AAB. In October 2021, AAB took part in the Global Earth Walk Campaign and by covering 1200 km through walking, cycling, and swimming became the highest contributor to the Global Earth Walk Campaign within the ActionAid Federation. Around 3000 people from all around Bangladesh expressed solidarity with the campaign held during 15-31 October 2021, demanding that world leaders need to “Step Up for Climate Justice”.

Through the implementation of the Global Youth-led Climate Campaign (GYCC) project, we have mobilized 4,31,419 young people from a total of six districts. They expressed their solidarity with the global movement in demand of climate and economic justice. At the policy level, the campaign focused on the inclusion of youth voices in the National Adaptation Plan (NAP).

In February and March 2021, ActionAid worked in partnership with the “Space for Art Foundation” on a global art project. The objective of the project was to bring together young people’s voices from around the world on climate change issues for a Safe Earth. A total of 1,033 children from 15 of the AAB working areas took part in the competition. Few of the artwork of the Sponsor Children were selected to represent Bangladesh at the COP26, in their exhibition.

ActionAid Bangladesh provides the space for young people to learn, act, and share with the intent to take up advocacy and lobbying. We regularly take part and organize youth parliament, policy debate, and dialogues to provide young people the floor to share their views and thoughts. Recently we organized an online consultation on “Climate Justice: Capturing the Youth Voice from Global South”. Young people from 30 countries of the Global South took part in the event. We reached 23,632 youth through this consultation. Furthermore, in 2021 we produced two animated videos on the theme of youth-led localized climate solutions and climate finance. In the same year, we organized three dialogues focused on youth, coastal challenges, and food systems transformation. We have conducted four  divisional consultations with youth on Climate Change.

ActionAid Bangladesh believes in supporting young people and creating opportunities for them as they will be instrumental in dealing with the planetary emergency and global challenges like climate change. We will continue to address injustices within our communities and promote social cohesion and inclusion for all, as here at ActionAid we believe in the “Power in People”.

Originally this article was published on April 11, 2022 at Dhaka Tribune

Farah Kabir is the Country Director of ActionAid Bangladesh. She is the chair of the Global Board of the Global Network of Disaster Risk Reduction (GNDR) since 2015 and is currently an elected Board Member of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA).