Last year’s COP26 and COY16 (the conference of the UN’s International Youth Climate Movement) conferences placed a key focus on bringing diverse and unheard voices to the climate conversation – especially young people from the global south, who are most affected by climate-related challenges.
A strong advocate in this area is Umesh Balal Magar, who represents Nepalese Youth for Climate Action – a youth-led network that engages the Government of Nepal to assure youth participation and representation in climate dialogue and action.
Part of the ethnic Magar community, in Nepal’s mid-western district of Gulmi, Umesh strives to fight for climate justice for all, particularly those at the margins of society. And as Country Coordinator for Nepal at COY16, he participated in discussions and debates at both climate change conferences in Glasgow.
He spoke to us about his experiences at COY16 and COP26, and why it’s important to make climate action as inclusive as possible.
Can you tell us about your involvement in COY16 and COP26, and what you hoped to get from the events?
I attended the whole four days at COY16, and the two full weeks of COP26. I also had the opportunity to be a panellist at two side events – one on the importance of quality education in advancing climate justice and youth leadership, and the other on intergenerational dialogue. My main hope was that voices from the global south will be heard and respected in relation to climate justice.
What were the main highlights?
The main highlight of COY16 was seeing youth being empowered in the climate conversation and contributing to one common statement on climate change from young people all over the world. At COP26, I found the discussions around mitigations and adaptations particularly fruitful. Overall, I left the events feeling wholly inspired by the energy that young people put into tackling climate issues.
Can you tell us about your personal experiences with climate change and action?
Climate change affects everyone, but it has a greater impact on young people and those with disabilities – a group I myself belong to. I was motivated to get involved in climate action to represent those who are voiceless and at the frontline of climate disasters. I actively work between youth and community, by co-ordinating with the government to raise awareness on climate change and give young people a better place at the policy-making table by making sure their voices are heard.
Why is it important for young people to speak up on environmental issues?
If nothing changes, today’s young people face a bleak future. Climate change is our issue, so it’s our right to speak up and demand a better future. Otherwise our grandchildren will ask us why we did nothing for the environment. It’s our future, so we must speak up and act now – before the sea-levels rise, and the mountains fall and our beautiful Earth become a lifeless planet.
How can we make climate action more inclusive?
Young people, indigenous groups, women and people with disabilities should all be at the decision-making table – and have meaningful participation, where their voices are included in final decisions. Different groups of people have experienced different kinds of suffering and have different perceptions, so we should make sure no one is left behind by ensuring governments play the role of guardian and young people and civil society act as watchdogs.
What needs to happen to achieve our climate goals?
Climate change is not a political issue – it’s an issue of human survival. We all need to change our behaviour to become more climate-friendly. All counties, both developed and developing, should ban fossil fuels immediately. We need to leave the greed of economies aside, because in a lifeless Earth, the economy counts for nothing.
Lastly, are you positive for the future?
Yes, I’m positive for the future, because being positive is good, and good things never die. We young people are the future, and we have to fight for a better future with a positive attitude, rather than a negative and depressed mindset, because we’ll never achieve anything like that.