Harnessing young talent for net-zero

November 10, 2022 | 13:33
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Young people are the future of our planet, in more ways than one. Morgane Rivoal, climate and circular economy officer at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Vietnam, explains how and why the young generation can be climate pioneers.

I was deeply moved when attending a dialogue with Vietnamese youth representatives at the Academy of Diplomacy, on the visit of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to Hanoi, by the passion, commitment, and wisdom of the young participants. The words of Ngoc Anh – one of the youth writers of the Special Report on Youth4Climate Action – still resonate deeply with me. A few days after that, Greta Thunberg, the youth Swedish climate advocate, released her Climate Book, where she gathered knowledge from scientists and activists around the key message that “there is hope, and it has to be us, and it has to be now”.

Harnessing young talent for net-zero
Morgane Rivoal, climate and circular economy officer at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Vietnam

As Vietnam embarks on its race towards net-zero carbon emissions, the government is driving an inclusive and just climate transition for youth, and the UNDP is a proud supporter of this endeavor. During COP26 a year ago, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh declared, “Climate change has truly become the greatest challenge to humankind. As this is a global issue, a global approach is required. As this issue affects every person, an inclusive approach is necessary.”

We believe that the prime minister’s inclusive approach needs to be implemented by listening to the voices of the young generation so that they can be pioneers in responding to climate change through concrete action.

Aligned with this statement, young people have already been recognised explicitly as part of the solution in Vietnam’s National Climate Change Strategy 2050, which was approved earlier this year. The strategy empowers youth and encourages parties to work with them to increase the role, capacity, and participation of youth, among other social groups, in adapting to climate change, managing disaster risks, and promoting movements and campaigns. It also helps to raise climate awareness and knowledge for young people as well as solutions for disaster prevention and climate response.

Vietnam has reaffirmed its leadership ambition to accelerate youth-led actions in driving a green, resilient and just transition that is nature-based and centred around people, for they are the actors and drivers of sustainable development, in order to leave no-one behind.

Stepping up ambition

Young people today are the least responsible for the climate crisis; the biggest threat humanity has ever faced. Yet, those who are 20 years old now will bear the brunt of extreme weather events like flash floods, typhoons, and stronger storms; but they will also experience the steady increase of extreme temperatures, sea level rises, ocean acidification, and so much more.

Not only these, but the impacts of climate change might also undermine their enjoyment of social, economic, and cultural human rights, such as the right to education, health, or food. The Emissions Gaps Report published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) finds that parties to the COP summits are falling short of meeting the objective of keeping global warming to 1.5°C and that under current policies, the world will likely warm by around 2.6°C by 2100.

We need a steep acceleration of climate ambitions by countries across the globe in the next decade so that we will not compromise the ability of future generations to live in a sustainable world. To be successful, policies must enable bottom-up experimentation and learn from the youth and for the youth. These people are often at the forefront of climate action, yet they cannot shoulder the responsibility of tackling the crisis alone.

Against this background, we developed the Youth4Climate Initiative in 2020, aiming to increase youth understanding of climate change and support existing youth representatives and networks to take stronger, more decisive climate change action.

We are genuinely grateful for the unfailing and thoughtful support of this meaningful work as well as for the constructive discussions we have had with our key partners. They include the Department of Climate Change under the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources; the Ho Chi Minh National Communist Youth Union; and organisations working at the forefront of the climate crisis with Vietnamese youth such as CHANGE, Live&Learn, and Wild Act.

Through our initiative, youth commitments have already resulted in significant advancements. The foundations were laid by the first Special Report and a comprehensive and ambitious youth-led Roadmap for Climate Action 2021-2025, handed over to COP President Alok Sharma before being officially presented at a Youth4Climate event in Milan last year. Vietnamese youth curated their own Youth4Climate Learning Hub, providing the most up-to-date and reliable information so that young people can access and learn about climate-related knowledge.

They also set up an independent Youth4Climate Network with 15 member organisations; while more than 400 youth-led innovations from 54 provinces applied to an innovation contest roll-out by the UNDP and Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union to adapt or mitigate from the impacts of climate change.

In addition, and with energy being the largest emitting sector in Vietnam, we have rolled out a training programme to promote the energy transition, with the participation of 10 young people nationwide with GreenID and USTH.

Harnessing young talent for net-zero
Young people did not cause the climate crisis, but they are among the first to want to do something about it

A green, inclusive future

This year, 24 young co-authors have reflected on the changing policy landscape, articulated concrete youth-led actions to contribute to Vietnam’s net-zero goals by 2050, and recorded more than 130 youth-led initiatives and projects that are outstanding good practices of meaningful climate action.

They have also identified several priority accelerators moving forward, such as the establishment of a Youth Climate Policy Working Group; the development of a multi-stakeholder dialogue on climate change; a research and development fund for youth innovation; the promotion of the role of youth in climate governance and diplomacy; education and capacity-building programmes on climate change; and financial and technical support for youth-led projects.

The Youth Statement, which is the product of the combined efforts of thousands of young people across the country to unite their voices and a common vision of youth in Vietnam on climate issues, will contribute to the Global Youth Statement at COP27.

I often think about our lead author of the Special Report 2021, who asked us to stay young at heart. I warmly keep this advice as we continue to design programmes that will benefit future generations. Young people can count on us as their allies to win the race against climate change and need to know we have listened to them. We must and will deliver support to help them rise up and fulfil their roles and plan for a future that is green, inclusive, and also doesn’t take away years of development hard won by their parent’s generations.

The UNDP has already put forward this idea of a ‘green climate doi moi’ referring to the well-known economic miracle operated by Vietnam decades ago. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero in less than 30 years may sound like a daunting task, particularly as the country is simultaneously striving to become a high-income country by 2045. Yet, in the past, Vietnam has demonstrated its ability to achieve remarkable results over similar periods. We truly hope this new generation can lead on a ‘green climate doi moi”.

The UNDP’s outlook when it comes to climate action is fully inclusive and taps into the creativity of all stakeholders in society. It launched its first ever podcast, ‘The Descendants to Hai Ba Trung,’ showcasing voices from the frontline of the climate crisis. By curating stories of those who are already taking bold action and mobilising their communities, we hope to contribute to creating a learning society which knows how to learn the skills needed to tackle climate change.

“Those on the front lines of the climate crisis are at the back of the line for support. Adaptation needs in the developing world are set to skyrocket to as much as $340 billion annually by 2030. Yet adaptation support today stands at less than one-tenth of that amount. The most vulnerable communities are paying the price.” These were the words of UN Secretary-General Guterres at the launch of the UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report, and the UNDP alongside it is committed to mobilising climate finance for youth projects.

The UNDP calls on all development partners to work with us to facilitate and advance an environment where young people can rise to fully occupy their roles as agents of change, as we continue working side-by-side with them in upholding their creativity, motivation, and power to fast-track climate action.

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By Morgane Rivoal

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