Climate Anxiety Highlighted at Youth Environment Assembly –IISD

The Children and Youth Major Group to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) organized a virtual Youth Environment Assembly to coordinate, mobilize, and build capacity ahead of the fifth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5). Participation was open to any youth and youth organizations to discuss and identify their broader priorities for environmental action.

 

The Assembly convened online 12-13 and 18-20 February 2021, with over 7,000 people from 180 countries registering for the meeting. Other events in the lead-up to UNEA-5 included the Third Global Session of the UN Science-Policy-Business Forum on the Environment (UN-SPBF), the fifth meeting of the Open-Ended Committee of Permanent Representatives (OECPR-5), and the Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum (GMGSF).

 

Youth participants uniformly said climate change has affected their mental health.

 

In a thematic consultation on chemicals and wastes, organizers launched a Chemical and Wastes Youth Platform that will connect youth with relevant UN bodies. A consultation on the Science-Policy-Business (SPB) nexus launched a platform for youth engagement in the SPB Forum. Other thematic consultations addressed youth and faith-based engagement; education and environment; and nature, food security, environment, and health.

 

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) hosted a global consultation on the World Youth Report to be published in 2022, the flagship edition of a new biennial publication. Participants shared their stories about the links between mental health and the environment. Youth participants uniformly said climate change has affected their mental health, including by giving them eco-anxiety and depression; confusion, despair, and hopelessness; uncertainty about what the future will look like; fear of losing their homes and lives; and anxiety about whether there will even be a world left for them and future generations. To combat these, participants shared various strategies: nature-based healing and reconnecting with nature; channeling energy towards activism; fundraising for conservation organizations; sharing concerns with friends; staying informed; and focusing on actions they can take.

 

Participants overwhelmingly deemed education as a tool to reduce mental health impacts of the climate crisis: from incorporating climate education in school curricula to engaging with schools and students, to funding awareness raising campaigns. They want leaders to recognize climate anxiety as a legitimate impact of the climate emergency and treat it as the crisis that it is.

 

In a ministerial segment, the Major Group of Children and Youth presented the draft outcome of the Youth Environment Assembly. Key recommendations included: advocating for all youth, especially those who are unable to attend multilateral events; strengthening the role of and focus on sustainable consumption and production; engaging youth not as a separate constituency, but as an integral part of UNEP’s work; and working towards more meaningful online conferencing.

 

Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary, German Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety, acknowledged the importance of two types of youth involvement: taking to the streets to make their voices heard and participating in processes like the Assembly. He recognized the need to support safe spaces for youth.

 

A closing dialogue featured UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen and UNEA-5 President Sveinung Rotevatn. Rotevatn stressed that while youth are advocates for future generations, they also provide solutions in the present, citing the UNEPs’ Young Champions of the Earth and youth delegates. Andersen lauded the countries that have included youth as part of their UNEA-5 delegations. She encouraged youth to continue pushing states to act, stressing that UNEA-5’s decisions are essential for youth to “get the UNEP they want.”

 

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