Time to open our eyes to climate change

Quizon, 9, from the Philippines, stands amid the remnants of houses destroyed by Typhoon Pablo in 2012. © UNICEF/2012/EsteyQuizon, 9, from the Philippines, stands amid the remnants of houses destroyed by Typhoon Pablo in 2012. © UNICEF/2012/Estey

While in Doha for COP 18, I was given the opportunity to speak at the side event, “Child Centred Approaches to Climate Change Adaptation”. This was my chance to place the spotlight firmly on women and children, those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Here is an extract from my speech.

Today is Young and Future Generations Day, and I feel immensely privileged to stand here before you, as a young woman who believes that together, if young people and women are empowered, we can and we will find some of the solutions to climate change. We are all people. We all live on this planet called Earth, there is somewhere here we all call home. We are all stakeholders in global society.

I would like you to close your eyes. I want you to think about the last time you were truly scared. I would like you to imagine what it feels like to have your livelihood washed away by devastating floods, to feel bewildered, that your crops are not growing as they used to – to be outside, cold and alone, not knowing where to go. Now I would like you to open your eyes.

Because it is time for everyone to open their eyes. We all know climate change disproportionately affects the most vulnerable members of global society. We all know time is running out. We all know that climate change knows no boundaries. What I want to impress upon you all, is that whilst young people may be the most vulnerable to climate change, we have the innovation, creativity, dynamism and zeal for life that gives us the capacity to make change a reality.

I first became involved in this issue as a youth climate change ambassador with UNICEF, going to Copenhagen for the children’s climate forum in Copenhagen, because I wanted to be heard. I wanted to convey the bitterest injustice of climate change; children are being denied their most basic rights. Children are being denied the right to education, healthcare, adequate sanitation, clean air and water.

I have come here to COP 18, have raised the money myself, have reassured all my friends and family that I am not on going on holiday, to really try and put the spotlight on women and gender issues, quite simply because it is common sense – there has to be a gender balance. Why wouldn’t you highlight the fact that women, particularly young women are vulnerable to the effects of climate change in ways that the rest of society are not? Why wouldn’t you highlight the fact that women have the capacity to lead mitigation and adaptation strategies and why should we be the ones to strive, to seek, to serve, and yet not to yield?

In the face of uncertainty and adversity it is time to rise up, to stand up and be counted. There is no easy answer, and yes, we don’t even have all the answers. But there is a willingness, a willingness on the part of the young people here today. So the next time  you are sitting in another meeting remember what Edmund Burke said: “All that is needed for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing.”

Cressie Mawdesley-Thomas is a former young climate ambassador for UNICEF UK

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