This is how young people can help build climate resilient cities

To make cities resilient, inclusive and safe, we need to listen to young people. They will bear the brunt of the climate crisis and they have solutions. Here are some of them.

I n a world that is increasingly urban, where climate change continuously drives people out of rural areas and into cities in search of food, water and livelihoods, urban areas have evolved into climate hotspots whose residents must brace themselves for more heat waves, floods, droughts, landslides and storms than ever before.

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, a trend that is likely to continue. By 2050, nearly 7 out of 10 people in the world could live in cities. Even the world’s least urbanized continent, Africa, is expected to have more people in cities than rural areas within the next decade, noted Joep Verhagen, GCA’s Water and Urban Program Lead, during the last Youth Adaptation Dialogue on Climate Resilient Cities on 20th October.

In Africa, approximately sixty per cent of people live in informal settlements in urban areas. Residents of these settlements – impoverished communities established in unused spaces – often lack sanitation services, face safety issues and climate hazards.

“These people are most affected by climate change, far more than anyone else in the city, and if we do not take care, they’re the last ones to benefit,” said Verhagen, noting that building resilience in informal settlements requires an integrated approach.

“Most of us sit in comfortable offices, we can afford to make climate change something that’s our priority. But if you live in an informal settlement, let’s say in Ghana, there are so many more pressing issues – there’s safety…there’s work, there’s money,” he added.

Young people, who account for a large part of the population living in informal settlements and cities worldwide, will bear the brunt of the climate crisis in the future and must be part of the solution while contributing to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal number eleven: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Ahead of World Cities Day on 31st October, whose theme this year was “Adapting Cities for Climate Resilience,” and COP26, from 31st October to 12th November, the Dialogue convened young leaders and participants from all over the world, who explored how young people can influence the management and planning process to build climate resilient cities, the challenges they face and how they can be overcome.

The young leaders came up with the following recommendations:

1. Multilevel governance to secure youth participation and coordinate climate action

First of all, as voters, youth must do their research to make informed decisions when placing decision makers in power at national and local levels and to elect executive and legislative officials, said Beatriz Pagy, co-founder of Clima de Eleição (Election Climate), a Brazil-based climate advocacy initiative.

“When we have a closer relationship with our decision makers we already have a good breach to really influence public policy-making and planning and we can build a better governance structure in which everything is more integrated,” Pagy said.

2. Increasing meaningful youth engagement at city-level through initiatives such as youth climate councils

Aaron Kiely
, Head of Youth and Civil Society Engagement for C40, a global network of cities committed to tackling the climate crisis, said that youth collaboration on the ground, in cities, is fundamental to building climate resilience.

“We can’t build this big coalition that we need for global change and to pressure national and international leaders if we’re not collaborating on the ground in cities,” said Kiely, adding that it’s essential to make sure “that cities allow young people to lead the way in terms of actually listening to them, in terms of what they want to see the youth engagement in the city look like.”

3. First do the research, then make your voice heard

According to Researcher Manav Khanna from YOUNGO, the Children and Youth constituency to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, youth should not only engage in advocacy, but also in research, to avoid falling prey to greenwashing and to bring concrete evidence to the table.

“Their voices, I think they have been neglected, but I see a change, a paradigm is shifting…and most of the cities nowadays, they are considering youth as one of the important stakeholders,” Khanna said.

4. Finding ways to engage different age groups and ensuring inclusiveness to build resilient governance structures

As Pagy pointed out, even within the same country or city, youth are not a homogeneous group.

“You have many different interests, many different groups, we have indigenous people, we have people of color, we have women and girls, we have people with disabilities, we have people with economic backgrounds that are very diverse and this needs to be taken into consideration,” she said, highlighting that youth are also diverse in terms of their age groups and each one requires a different engagement strategy.

“How you’re going to engage a child is different than how you’re going to engage a teenager or how you’re going to engage a young adult,” Pagy added.

5. Obtaining financial support to promote public participation

Co-facilitator of YOUNGO’s Cities Working Group, Ishita Yadav, mentioned the challenge of engaging youth from impoverished backgrounds in climate action.

“The young people who do engage in these initiatives are often quite privileged and the ones that need to be consulted the most, the ones from impoverished backgrounds often don’t have resources…I think a lot of youth councils are virtual these days and I think we assume that everyone has access to technology and internet and resources like that,” Yadav said.

Pagy recommends obtaining financial support to ensure the wellbeing of marginalized participants.

“We cannot just expect someone to participate in policy if they don’t even have the resources to put food on their plates,” she said, advocating for more concern for the personal development and basic needs of youth participants.

For more information, contact Adriana Valenzuela, GCA’s Youth Leadership Program Lead at youth@gca.org.

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