Op-ed: Empowering Youth for Climate Action in Three Steps

  • Thmey Thmey
  • October 23, 2019 3:16 AM

Why Youth Matters?

Votey is 24. She has been born into a world, at the beginning of a mass extinction. Three years ago, she trekked through forests to promote eco-tourism communities in Cambodia as a Young Eco-Ambassador, and a member of the UN Youth Advisory Panel. In 2017, she launched Green Lady Cambodia-Vietnam with two friends to introduce washable pads and menstrual cups to reduce plastic sanitary waste in landfills. She says Cambodia “needs more change-makers and risk-takers to boldly kick start their innovative ideas.” We need to listen to people our youth. My generation has failed in its responsibility to protect the planet. It is time we listen to the new generation.

Young people in Cambodia make up 60 per cent of the country’s population. Approximately half of the global population is under 30 years old today. It only makes sense that young people are an integral part of the climate change solution in Cambodia.  

The science is crystal clear. Cambodia is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. Rising temperature, extreme weather, and unpredictable seasons, is taking its toll on Cambodia’s economy and agriculture. In 2050, Cambodia’s GDP will be almost ten per cent less than planned. Agriculture which comprises one-third of gross domestic product (GDP), is vulnerable as it is mostly rain-fed. For Cambodian workers, rising temperatures is impacting their health and productivity. For young people, school hours in Cambodia have been reduced twice in recent years due to record heatwaves, affecting tens of thousands of students nationwide. 

Step 1: Act Now

Young people are telling us that we need to change. Your action matters. The recently launched UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019 emphasized that personal actions such as making daily lifestyle changes, such as reducing and reusing plastic bags, and consuming less meat, can reduce one’s carbon footprint significantly. Votey told us that for the last two years, she has lived a minimalist lifestyle, shopping mostly second-hand clothes and is challenging herself to let go of unnecessary things. By practicing awareness of her impact on the environment, she “creates space for what really matters in her life.” When young people choose to live sustainably, their families and communities listen. 

Step 2: Innovate, Innovate, Innovate

We can no longer continue with business as usual.  We need to innovate in Cambodia. Youth solutions, such as Solar for Life and Liter of Light, follow entrepreneurial models that blend goals for economic growth and climate change by creating financial opportunities for communities, while educating – and addressing – larger environmental issues.

Step 3: Step back and let them lead!

Education on climate change is important. Eco-Schools promoted by the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports is a good start.  When climate change is integrated in the curriculum of six Cambodian universities, it creates momentum. But more investments are needed to build capabilities of young Cambodians to respond to the climate crisis. Sharing knowledge and networking will generate leadership and new ideas!

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the 2019 Climate Summit said that “And young people – above all, young people – are here providing solutions, insisting on accountability, demanding urgent action.  They are right.” To safeguard the future of the planet and of the generations to come, youth themselves need to be part of the solution. The future is now. To fulfil our promise for a peaceful, prosperous, sustainable and inclusive Cambodia, we need to listen to our youth. And they are telling us to act together now.  Will you join us?


About the author: Ms. Pauline Tamesis is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Cambodia. She has more than 20 years of experience in international development, including in democratic governance, anti-corruption, and women’s empowerment. The United Nations system in Cambodia is represented by more than 20 agencies, funds and programmes. 

Follow her on Twitter: @ptamesis 

Related Articles