Robin Lewis is a professional NGO worker focusing on humanitarian aid, disaster relief and resilience building. He currently serves as the International Coordinator for Peace Boat, a Japan-based International NGO, and has experience working on humanitarian, disaster relief and youth projects in more than 20 countries around the world.
At the One Young World Summit in Bangkok, I had the honour of joining young leaders from every country in the world in addressing our Heads of Government, calling for them to take serious action on climate change in the run up to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21). The Call On COP campaign, supported by One Young World Counsellors including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Unilever CEO Paul Polman and philanthropist Sir Bob Geldof, gained global media coverage and sent a strong message to our leaders: no more excuses – the time for action is now.
A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to attend the COP21 conference in person, and was extremely fortunate to have the chance to witness this pivotal moment in history first-hand. After weeks of intense negotiations, governments of 195 nations came together to adopt a legally binding agreement to tackle climate change, known as the Paris Agreement. As French Foreign Minister and President of COP21, Laurent Fabius, announced the momentous news, it seemed like the global community heaved a collective sigh of relief. After 20 years of unsuccessful negotiations, it had been accomplished. And with 2015 looking to be the warmest year on record, this agreement could not have come at a more fitting time.
But now that the cries of joy and jubilation from COP21 are beginning to fade, many are asking “what next”? World leaders have committed to taking action, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and transitioning to a greener global economy, but what can we, as young people, do to ensure that sufficient action is taken?
Whilst climate change is undoubtedly one of the key challenges that we face today, I believe that it also presents ample opportunity, especially for millennials. After all, approximately half of the world’s population is now under the age of 25. We have unprecedented access to new technologies, ambitious aspirations to change the world, and enjoy levels of connectivity (both online and offline) that previous generations could not have even imagined. And the sad truth is, it is today’s young people and our children who will be disproportionately affected if climate change continues on its current course. Therefore, it is our generation who must take the lead.
Whilst there are many One Young World Ambassadors doing incredible work in this field, I wanted to share one example of a project that my organisation is working on, focusing on climate change, natural disasters, and young people.
I work for Peace Boat, a Japan-based International NGO in Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council, which carries out its main activities through a chartered passenger ship that travels the world. The ship, which circumnavigates the globe on average 3 times a year, carries up to 1000 people at any given time and visits 60 ports each year. As part of these voyages, we carry out educational programs, seminars and conferences onboard the ship. People from all fields and nationalities come together, explore, and take concrete actions to tackle some of today’s most pressing issues. At COP21, Peace Boat announced the launch of its new project to build the world’s most environmentally sustainable cruise ship, the EcoShip (see The Telegraph’s article here).
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My work for Peace Boat specifically involves natural disasters – both in responding to natural disasters and building resilience to disasters through preparedness and training initiatives. Through experiences of working in over 20 countries, I have seen that the threat of climate change is very real. From increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events to desertification and droughts, the linkages between climate change and natural disasters are numerous, diverse and complex.
This is why we launched the “Resilient Youth” programme, implemented in partnership with the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). The programme has brought together emerging leaders in Africa, Asia, Central and South America on our ship to share experiences and best practices related to disaster risk reduction and climate change with one another, whilst traveling to different countries for study tours, exchanges, and symposiums. The combination of peer-to-peer learning, purposeful travel, and experiential education has proven to be very effective in strengthening regional cooperation and building relations between young leaders from across these continents who are working on the front lines of disaster risk reduction and climate change. For more information, please see these National Geographic or United Nations articles, which cover the programme I coordinated in Southern Africa in December 2014. This programme is just one example of the kind of action that is possible to engage, connect and empower young people in issues related to climate change.
Whilst many things related to the future of our planet are shrouded in uncertainty, what is certain is that the Paris Agreement is just the beginning. It is most definitely a step in the right direction, but many fear that the pledges and commitments made will not be enough to keep global warming below disastrous levels.
Inherent in every challenge is an opportunity. In the case of climate change, the onus is on our generation to take the lead.