Role of Youth in Climate Action


Role of Youth in Climate Action
Dr. Sakeena Nasser, Dept. of Economics, S.V.S. College, Bantwal

India has 60 crore people under the age of 25. That is more than the entire population of North
America. Indian youth await a unique opportunity to shape the rest of this century, but they also
have significant challenges awaiting them. However, there is no challenge more significant,
more prodigious, than climate change. On the list of countries that have been worst impacted by
climate change and weather-related loss events, 3 countries in the top 10 are part of Indian
subcontinent and India is at the 14th position* 1, and given that climate change now displaces
more people than war *2

India is soon to be at the center of an inevitable climate refugee crisis.
In the coming decade, India will lose the most number of productive work hours in the world, an
equivalent of 40 lakh jobs, due to heat stress resulting from rising temperatures alone * 3

The National Institute of Oceanography estimates that over the next 50 years, sea levels will rise 7-8
cms in the next 50 years and almost half a meter by the turn of the century - flooding large parts
of cities like Mumbai and closer to home, several areas of Mangalore to devastating effect.
In spite of this crisis having the potential to wreak havoc on India’s industries and way of life, the
climate movement hasn’t gained as much momentum as it has in the West. 77% of Indians are
happy with the government’s efforts to combat climate change even though 14 of the top 20
cities with the worst air quality are in India* 4

To the government’s credit, it has made significant
strides in embracing renewables and setting a climate agenda that emphasizes technological
innovations. These moves mean that India has lower per capita carbon emissions than most
developed and developing countries. However, India still relies on coal to generate 72% of its
electricity and still accounts for about half of the global deaths caused by air pollution.
Most of the long term adverse effects of climate change, such as agricultural disruption caused
by erratic monsoons, population displacement, extreme heat waves, incessant floods, will be
disproportionately felt by the next couple of generations. Slowing down climate change or
mitigating its worst effects is possible only through a convergence of a conscientious
government that puts the climate agenda front and center instead of paying lip service to it and
a citizenry biased towards climate action. The latter is where a majority of India’s youngsters
can and must play a pivotal role.

Climate change cannot be solved overnight. We saw how little of an impact the pandemic
related global shutdowns had this year on global carbon emissions. Climate change cannot be
solved by one person or one company or one government either. It takes a concerted effort of
people from all walks of life - scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, lawmakers,
bureaucrats - a lot of whom are young. It starts with being cognizant of the problem we face and
creating social and environmental awareness within one’s community. There are two main
facets of climate action - conservation & innovation. Climate action biased towards conservation
recognizes that identifying and conserving natural means of carbon sequestration is the easiest
way to make significant inroads against this daunting challenge. For us on the Konkan coast, it
is important to recognize that preservation of Western Ghats - rainforests that sequester 11% of
the carbon emissions of 6 southern states and 1.62% of all of India’s emissions* 5 - is an indispensable 
asset in our quest to preserve our way of life. If we ignore our country’s long
cherished tradition of protecting nature and let our industries and deforesters run amok, we run
the risk of making floods of the likes of Kerala in 2019 a regular affair. It is important to create
awareness about how large scale infrastructure projects, monoculture cropping, and incessant
logging can lead to its gradual destruction and lobby our state and central governments to side
with the needs of the people over the needs of large corporations.

The other facet of climate action, innovation, comes in the form of finding new ways to power
our coastal economies. Micro-hydel projects, even though they seem like a sustainable
renewable source of energy generation in pockets of Western Ghats, weaken the resilience of
the delicate ecosystem in the Ghats. Youngsters have an opportunity to lobby the government
so that they ensure greater emphasis is placed on alternative energy sources such as solar,
wind and tidal energy. As new graduates entering the workforce they are also perfectly placed
to be part of some of these transformative projects.
In conclusion, my message to youngsters is this: Having the advantage of age on your side, and
the lessons from our generation’s mistakes, you have the power to reshape your world for the
better. You either choose to reshape it yourself or you let the changing climate choose what
world you will live in.

1 Source: Climate Risk Index 2019
2 Source: World Migration Report 2020
3 Source: International Labour Organization, “ILO Warns of Work-Related Heat Stress Causing Job and
Productivity Losses”
4 Source: Gallup World Poll, Steve Crabtree,

5 Source: Hindustan Times, “Need to preserve Western Ghats”,