The youth, a potent force for transformational change

Everyone has heard of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist who shook the halls of world conferences and the hearts of leaders and policymakers as she spoke truthfully and candidly about the current and impending adverse impacts of climate change, and urged adults to take urgent action “as if the house was on fire.”

Knowing that “you are never too small to make a difference,” Thunberg had started protesting outside the Swedish parliament on her own in August 2018. With her simple determination and resolution, the number of youth joining the climate change cause grew. This year, on March 15 alone, an estimated 1.4 million students from 112 countries around the world joined her call in striking and protesting for the climate. When Thunberg speaks, everyone, including world leaders, listens.

This is the power and the impact of the youth. Their energies, their resolve, are a potent force for transformational change, all the more so when they recognise that they are also rights-holders of the future, as Thunberg did: “What we do or don’t do right now will affect my entire life and the lives of my children and grandchildren. What we do or don’t do right now, me and my generation can’t undo in the future.”

Estimated to grow to nearly 1.3 billion in number by 2030, the youth can be a powerful force for change when provided with the knowledge and opportunities they need to act. In the ASEAN alone, the youth are a significant 33 per cent of the population.    

This International Youth Day, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) recognises the youth as dynamic partners in conserving, restoring, and sustainably using biodiversity. Around the region and the globe, the youth have initiated many efforts, such as coastal clean-ups, online task forces to prevent illegal wildlife trafficking via social media, and awareness-raising campaigns on threatened biodiversity. They have the passionate energy, fresh ideas, and technological familiarity to make a difference in halting biodiversity loss.

Among the ASEAN youth, one noteworthy example is Adeline Suwana, who, at only 12 years old, formed a youth group Sahabat Alam (Friends of Nature), with around 1700 members. The group plants coral reefs and mangrove trees, helps protect turtles and other marine life, and take part in environmental cleanups and education activities.  Suwana was recognised last 2014 as an ASEAN Champion of Biodiversity.

The ACB acknowledges this potent power of the youth. Through the Biodiversity Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in ASEAN Project (BCAMP) supported by the European Union, we have this year launched the ASEAN Youth Biodiversity Programme (AYBP) in collaboration with the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN) Southeast Asia. The GYBN is the official youth constituency to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), representing the voice of the global youth in political processes affecting biodiversity.

The AYBP provides ASEAN youth with capacity enhancing opportunities, mentorship, and resources through the Youth Biodiversity Leaders (YBL) programme, and Youth Internships in ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHPs), which are protected areas of high conservation importance.

The YBL provides at least one year of in-depth training to ASEAN youth leaders in biodiversity to strengthen youth-led implementation of National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans, and to mainstream youth considerations in national biodiversity agendas.

We are pleased with the success of the kickoff YBL workshop last March, where 20 passionate biodiversity advocates, not only received training but also actively shared best practices and initiated collaborations with other youth leaders. One such notable collaboration is a video documentary “Tiny Heroes of Our Sea” featuring Brunei’s small yet ecologically important marine treasures, produced by youth leaders from Brunei and Singapore. Viewers have been responding positively, expressing awe of and appreciation for the beauty of Brunei’s oceans.

Meanwhile, the Youth Internships in AHPs, which is open to all ASEAN youth, provide on-the-job training and exposure to biodiversity conservation and protected area management and operations. The first intern has already completed her work at Kinabalu National Park in Malaysia, and reports an increased wonder and appreciation for biodiversity as she explored the park and wrote a guidebook for visitors. Such was her amazement that she compared a bird’s wings to “reflective diamonds.” We look to engaging more youth like her and transforming their love for biodiversity into action.

With these developments, the ACB is excited to see what these youth can accomplish in the months and years ahead, and how the youth around the globe can continue inspiring transformational change in biodiversity loss and beyond. We are committed working with the youth in creating a future they would not fear, but would instead look forward to in hope and possibility.

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