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Opinion

As the United States Rejoins the Paris Climate Accord and Boldly Confronts Climate Change Crisis- Forget Not the Youth

Greta Thunberg (right), Climate Activist, speaks at the opening of the UN Climate Action Summit 2019. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

URBANA, Illinois, Jan 21 2021 (IPS) - On the first day, hours after inauguration of the new Biden-Harris administration, President Biden signed an Executive Order-rejoining the United States in the Paris Climate Accord.

President Joe Biden is also expected to roll out an ambitious climate change agenda and initiatives to mitigate the crisis, shrink the nations carbon emissions, convene a U.S. climate summit, and give voices to vulnerable communities impacted by climate change. He has already unveiled a very competent climate change team and appointed John Kerry as the special climate change envoy.

Already,  the youth, who understand they do not have an alternative planet, have been very instrumental in climate change related activism-demanding politicians to act on climate change. Their continued activism on climate change matters including the school strike for climate

It is also clear that the new U.S. President believes in science, as seen in his recent unveiling of the science team, and his promise to elevate the Office of Science and Technology Policy into a Cabinet-level position.

These BOLD moves are commendable, especially in a time, when the science and evidence on the impact of climate change is clear. For instance, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service that tracks climate trends, reported that 2020 was tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record.

In 2020, we also experienced many climate change linked extremes – from hot and dry conditions to wild fires in Australia, Brazil, California and Siberia, to flooding in Michigan  to droughts in Zimbabwe and Madagascar to locust invasions in Kenya and India.

In 2021, climate change linked extremities like flooding have already started to happen as seen in Oregon and Washington State , in Panama, Jamaica and in Paraguay. These events would have not been possible without the climate changes driven by the warming earth.

At the current rate, the Earth is on track to warm over 3 degrees Celsius by 2100.

Without a doubt, President Biden’s sense of urgency and his plans to mobilize the entire Federal Government to combat climate change are definitely going to make an impact. When you are facing such an existential crisis-bold actions matter.

Even with all these important efforts, still missing out in the ambitious climate change agenda is the role of youth.

They must be included and given a platform to showcase their ideas and solutions while meaningfully engaging with Federal and State decision makers. One way to include them is for the President to appoint a climate change youth envoy person and a council consisting of youth from all the 50 states, particularly including those from vulnerable states like the southeastern states. The United Nations already has one. The U.S. can emulate this.

Already,  the youth, who understand they do not have an alternative planet, have been very instrumental in climate change related activism-demanding politicians to act on climate change. Their continued activism on climate change matters including the school strike for climate, led by Greta Thunberg and other activists around the world is commendable. Even as leaders failed, these youth voices were key to ensuring that the climate change debate did not grow cold.

Importantly, there must be training and workforce development that targets the youth so that they can acquire the skills that will be needed to tap onto the promised 10 million clean energy jobs that will be created in the process of tackling climate change. The youth will bear the full brunt of climate change, and failure to involve them now is a failure by humanity. They too have a crucial role in addressing climate change.

We also need to value youth’s message and listen to science and researchers.

Researchers across the Universities and other research institutions are hard at work understanding the impacts of climate change and generating solutions to mitigate it. There is need to increase the funding that goes to climate science and the other research that addresses the effects of climate change including its effects on agriculture and food insecurity while developing solutions that are implementable with immediate effect.

In addition, new lines of funding for climate-related research can be rolled out by agencies such as the National Science Foundation and United States Department of Agriculture.

Finally, science communication will continue to be important. Key messages emerging from research and the initiatives taken by Federal Government to mitigate climate change should be communicated clearly and consistently to all stakeholders, including the public. Doing so will continue to elevate the role of science and science advancements in generating solutions to our everyday challenges including climate change.

Tackling climate change will require strong leadership by the government. Confronting the impacts of climate change necessitates the participation of everyone including the youth. As the U.S. returns to the Paris Climate Accord, it must bring everyone with it, fund more science research and communicate messages clearly.

 

Dr. Esther Ngumbi is an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and a Senior Food Security Fellow with the Aspen Institute, New Voices.

 
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