As the world flocks to Egypt for the UN climate talks, Abu Sayeed Asiful Islam of the Dhaka Tribune spoke with Ejaj Ahmad, the founder of the Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center and the Global Youth Leadership Center, to discuss youth climate action.
A graduate of St Andrews and Harvard Kennedy School, Ahmad is in Sharm el-Sheikh for COP27.
Here are some key points from the interview:
The planet is in trouble
We just had a major global summit in Khulna, Bangladesh, where I had a conversation with Sir David King, who is one of the world’s leading climate scientists, and chairman and founder of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group. The data he presented are quite alarming.
I think there is a consensus within the scientific community that we are in a climate crisis. In 2015 the Paris Agreement countries pledged to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels or less, but we are already at 1.35 degrees Celsius by 2022, it is not so there’s no way to reach the target we set for ourselves in 2015. Temperatures could rise by two degrees or even three degrees by the end of the century.
This means that we could see a sea level rise of six meters by the end of the century. For a country close to sea level, like Bangladesh, even an increase of one meter would be devastating. I think sea level rise will be the biggest challenge for humanity and it will have major consequences for Bangladesh. We need to find a way to return to a normal level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to limit the temperature increase.
People don’t always see the long term
We are all myopic and we don’t like the idea of loss. By loss, I mean the idea of adapting, of making sacrifices in our own way of living life. The question is not why humans resisted change because I don’t think people resist change.
For example, if I give you a million dollars today, it is a change in your life, but you would not resist it, rather you would appreciate it. People resist change when there is loss attached to it; thus, people are actually resisting the loss.
I think the reason why businesses, citizens and governments have not taken this seriously is, firstly, because we believe that the next generation will deal with this problem and it will not happen from my living. Second, we sometimes feel helpless, thinking “what can one individual do”, so citizens don’t act.
Life is not fair
With 54 countries in the Climate Vulnerable Forum, we are only responsible for 5% of global emissions and yet we are the main losers. So there is clearly an element of climate injustice that the countries that contribute the least to the problem suffer the most. Rightly, the Bangladesh delegation to COP27 will push for loss and damage.
We should continue to plead for loss and damage. But if we don’t get support, how do we adapt to this changing reality? How to build your own resilience?
Bangladesh has a youth unemployment rate of over 10%. Thus, a large number of young people enter the labor market every year, approximately 2.3 million young people for 200,000 jobs. We need to create self-employment opportunities.
I think entrepreneurial education around climate mitigation and adaptation should be a priority. So how can we create more freelance opportunities in this space? Large-scale training around climate science and entrepreneurship.
The young person must have a place at the table
I think young people have the biggest role to play in this because it is their future that is at stake. Unfortunately, our generation, including myself, passed this problem on to the next generation and now they have to solve this problem.
I believe that young people should have a place at the table, and I am delighted to see that there is youth representation in the Bangladesh party delegation this year for the first time at COP27. Their voices must be heard.
They need to advocate around loss and damage, which young people in the South are doing. At the same time, I think young people need to look for entrepreneurial opportunities around climate mitigation and adaptation, such as new technologies, new business models.
Together we can do it
How to create sustainable businesses that also generate jobs and resources for people? So this is something that I think young people have a role to play in the countries of the South and in the North. Also, we see a lot of energy among young people around climate change…I see that very positively.
In countries of the North, young people can lobby their governments for mitigation, for loss and damage, and also for restoration. The other argument could be that you don’t have to pay us anything, but just withdraw what you put in place. You do your part of the world because you created the mess. Just take care of this part and the planet will be fine. And then we can all continue to live on a stable and sustainable planet.
I see a major role for young people. It’s not just one thing. There has to be advocacy, there has to be leadership, there has to be organization, there has to be entrepreneurship. And also, before we all preach to change the world, we must also ask ourselves, what changes am I making in my own life?