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Three reasons why youths should care about the climate change conferences (aka COP26)

Climate change is a major daunting problem of this century, but our youths today are not powerless.

Dr Neo Mei Lin
Dr Neo Mei Lin

Published: 25 March 2021, 5:32 PM

A human’s normal body temperature is around 36.7°C. This was also the highest daily temperature recorded on Apr 13, 2016, as well as in the last ten years in Singapore. Undoubtedly, our island city-state is heating up in both intensity and frequency. 

The reason? It’s global warming, or often referred to as climate change. 

As a young person living in Singapore, I often hear that climate change is a global issue. And as a young scientist, I know that we are not exaggerating the gravity of climate change and its effects on our people and the environment. 

It is the consequence of numerous localised problems (such as high carbon emissions) that culminated into an expansive problem already affecting many others in the world. There are people who will lose their homes due to the impacts of climate change and become climate refugees, such as those from the sinking island states in the Pacific. 

This could also be the future for Singapore, as our country is low-lying and highly vulnerable to sea level rise.

Like the world, Singapore will not be spared from the impacts of climate change. In early 2021, the Singapore Parliament passed a motion acknowledging that climate change is a global emergency and a threat to mankind, making us the 15th nation in the world to have declared a climate emergency. 

This encouraging move signals that Singapore is committed to addressing one of the most long-term threats we face in the 21st century through a whole-of-country approach. This builds upon ongoing efforts by the government, academics, non-government organisations (NGOs) and activists over the years. With this declaration of emergency and the recently announced Singapore Green Plan (SGP30),  there will be an opportunity for diverse stakeholders to play an increasingly bigger role in guiding Singapore’s response to climate change.

As we soldier on to fight climate change, we must recognise that the decisions made today will have significant impact on our tomorrow. Youths have inherited the current state of the planet, and if we don’t play a part in fixing it, who will? This is why I became an environmental advocate – speaking up for the environment and for my future. 

But my journey hasn’t always been smooth sailing. I’ve experienced countless criticisms and denials throughout my growing up years. Today, I am so glad to hear the chorus of agreements of various government representatives from Singapore, United Kingdom, Italy and New Zealand that the youth voice matters, and they want to hear more from us.

On Mar 17, I had the privilege of attending the Singapore COP26 Youth Climate Dialogue that let Singapore youth leaders engage governments on how youths can play a big part in fighting climate change. Throughout the dialogue, there was a sense of urgency to address climate change and a call for increased involvement by young people leading up to the COP26 Glasgow in November. 

 

Youths engaged with local and international organisations to share their ideas and areas of concerns in sustainability and climate change at the dialogue. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL

 

Having heard diverse views on these issues, and having gone through similar experiences in my advocacy work, here are my three reasons why I think youths should step up and persist in the fight against climate change.

1. We are energetic, creative and… impatient!

Pablo Picasso said, “Don’t waste your youth growing up.” And waste not, it is! 

Young people possess an exuberant sense of positivity and enthusiasm. This seemingly endless bout of energy is what is needed to drive conversations and actions going at the high-level meetings and on the ground. 

Imaginably, some of these COP meetings can be doom and gloom where there appears to be no end to negotiations. The presence of young people not only injects a zest of fresh air, their loud voices remind countries to keep at it until a compromise is reached. 

While the latest Paris Agreement said to be a watershed agreement for the COP Parties, only 45 out of 193 parties (44 countries, plus European Union’s 27 member states viewed as one block) have come forth to declare their more ambitious nationally determined contributions (or NDC, which are national climate plans highlighting climate actions) targets by 2020. 

COP insiders urge young people to give countries more time and have patience to see it work, but this doesn’t mean we should stop what we have been doing. It only means that our impatience can help to persuade more stakeholders to put forth their commitments to net zero carbon emissions. Every country has a role in tackling climate change.

2. Our voices matter

In 2015, a Singaporean youth voice was heard at the COP21 Paris meeting. On behalf of the youth community, Nor Lastrina stood before the world leaders and negotiators, with parting remarks: “From now onwards, youth from all over the world will rise up to hold you to your promises.” 

There has been an increasing number of youth voices for fighting climate change, with a particular mention of the highly successful Greta Thunberg that propelled the global climate strike movement, Fridays For Future. 

Youths are important figures at international environmental and climate change conferences as they help to keep the governments in check and balance, hold global leaders accountable for their promises, and demand transparency in the negotiation process. 

Many of the youths in attendance at COP meetings are leaders in their countries where they also play an important role in highlighting what is and is not working on the ground, and fill the monitoring and evaluation gap of blanket government initiatives.

3. We might be Earth’s last hope

This may sound like another motherhood statement, but science doesn’t lie. Our generation has become the first to have enough evidence to confirm that we are destroying our earth, and the last to be able to change the course on various global environmental issues.

 

As inheritors of today’s broken world, the heavy burden of responsibility is placed upon the youth of today. PHOTO CREDIT: NOAH BUSCHER VIA UNSPLASH

 

But I have not given up hope yet – the global COVID-19 pandemic has clearly shown that the world can work together (albeit not seamlessly) to solve a human health issue. 

Climate change IS also a humanitarian crisis, yet still very poorly acknowledged by many world leaders. Youths may feel powerless, but let’s make good use of our energy, creativity and voice to cajole the world to do more for us and the generations to come.

At the end of the day, there is no planet B for us. We are all on this Noah’s ark that either floats or sinks, survive or perish, depending on our actions today. So, what will be our action today?

Dr Neo Mei Lin is a Senior Research Fellow at the Tropical Marine Science Institute, National University of Singapore, and is one of the resident scientists working at St. John’s Island National Marine Laboratory. Passionate about the natural world, her current work explores the interface of science, policy, and education.


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