Youth need more opportunities to engage, shape environmental future

Founder and President of Kiribati’s Tungaru Youth Action, Ms Baniti Semilota, said it is imperative to include youth in all decision-making processes. Source: SPREP

9 December 2023, Dubai UAE – The role of young people as key actors in addressing climate change issues, and conserving wetlands, has been highlighted on the margins of COP28 in Dubai, UAE.

At the Moana Pacific Blue Pavilion, a side event titled “Empowering youth for wetland conservation and addressing climate change in the Pacific Island region” delved into the question of how to get more young people to champion the cause of wetland conservation as a way to address climate change and build climate resilience.

The Founder and President of Kiribati’s Tungaru Youth Action, Ms Baniti Semilota, said it is imperative to include youth in all decision-making processes. She is at COP28 as the Kiribati Head Youth Delegate, actively participating in various side events, thematic area discussions and in negotiation spaces, providing crucial support to the Kiribati delegation.  She welcomes the opportunity to engage in this space.

“As a youth in the climate and conservation space, I understand the transformative potential of youth organisations. They serve as platforms where passion meets action. They hold the key to securing the legacy of our ancestors and preserving the rich tapestry of our natural heritage,” she said.

“However, more opportunities are needed for youth in the policy space—opportunities that are inclusive, providing avenues for meaningful participation, mentorship, and the amplification of youth voices in decisions that shape our environmental future. But this is not a task for individuals alone; it requires collective effort.”

The Tungaru Youth Action has been at the forefront of climate action in Kiribati, engaging in capacity building, mangrove plantation, and coastal clean-ups throughout South Tarawa.
But Ms Semilota said more needs to be done to get more young people involved. She pointed out that leaders have a responsibility to ensure young people understand the gravity and the full impacts of the climate crisis.

“How would our people, particularly our youth, be able to conserve our wetlands when they do not even know what they are going up against?” she said. “To support youth in the Pacific, the international community must prioritise technical support, awareness, training, and most importantly action. This step is crucial in fostering increased youth participation and representation in wetland governance.”

Moderated by Ms Mathilde Kraft, the coordinator of the Kiwa Initiative at SPREP, the event also featured Samoa’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Hon. Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Fiji to the Republic of Indonesia, His Excellency Amena Yauvoli, Australia’s Ambassador for Climate Change, Her Excellency Kristin Tilly, Ramsar Secretary-General, Dr. Musonda Mumba and Ms Siva Kima, Lawyer, Mind the Gap, and Hogave Conservation Centre, Papua New Guinea.

Minister Toeolesulusulu highlighted the importance of nature-based Solutions for climate change adaptation and the critical role of young people in their protection and restoration for community well-being and resilience.

“The youth of today are our future, they are our agents of change, they are our leaders of tomorrow so it is really critical that whatever modalities of engagement we do, we need to ensure the youth are engaged effectively,” said Ambassador Yauvoli.

“It’s important to ensure our youth are empowered to voice their opinions in this space, sometimes we tend to only think about big bucks and quick economic gains but when it comes to long-term sustainability, we need to ensure the role of our youth in this space and process is strengthened.

“We should build them up, empower them so they can go out and continue the work that is being done. They need to continue to advocate on the importance of our wetlands.”

Dr Musonda Mumba, Secretary-General of the Convention on Wetlands and Her Excellency Kristin Tilly, Ambassador for Climate Change, Australia, echoed similar sentiments.

Wetlands are critical to the health and livelihoods of four billion people globally; they are biodiversity hotspots and play a crucial role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Some wetland ecosystems, such as mangroves, tidal marshes and sea grasses are particularly important for climate , as they store three to five times more carbon per equivalent area than tropical forests.

In the Pacific region, mangroves and coral reefs alone account for about 28% of the global surface. In addition to their role in global warming mitigation on a global scale, these wetlands also provide natural protection against disasters and support local communities of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Pacific by sustaining fisheries and agriculture.

However, climate change impacts on wetlands are happening faster than anticipated, altering their ecosystem conditions and limiting the services they provide. The fight against climate change thus requires urgent action through nature-based solutions such as participatory wetland conservation.

Source: SPREP