10 Dec 2019 Story Air

Meet the youth standing up for our environmental rights

What a year it has been.

For the environment, not a good one. But for youth around the world, an outstanding show of courage, determination and fearlessness.

Wildfires raged in Russia in July and the Amazon in October, prompting a state of emergency in the former and a spike in breathing problems among children in the latter. Delhi’s toxic smog in November prompted the government to declare a public health emergency, forcing schools to close.

Children were on the front line of a crises they played no part in creating. Every day, around 93 per cent of the world’s children under the age of 15 years (1.8 billion children) breathe air that is so polluted it puts their health and development at serious risk, says the World Health Organization.

And yet, as environmental crises unfolded across the world, it is children who have dared to step up, to defend our environmental rights.

Greta Thunberg’s stirring speech in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where she cried out “Our house is on fire”, sent alarm bells ringing throughout the year.

Her urgent calls to action were echoed by youth around the world, who gathered for the largest climate strikes ever seen, across the globe.

As the increasingly bleak science such as that most recently outlined in the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report, continues to document the failings of governments around the world to tackle the crisis, the world’s youth are already on it.

image

Tim Christopersen, Head of the Freshwater, Land and Climate Branch at UNEP, said: “The task is clear: we have to turn the tide on environmental degradation and climate change. In the digital age, we can make everyone part of the solution. Young people everywhere are demanding this kind of new power, and are showing us how to do it.”

They are twenty-five-year-old Miranda Wang, whose US$5 million technology in North America is tackling the plastic crisis. With an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic washed into the sea each year, her technology is taking previously unrecyclable plastic and turning it back into chemicals as part of a circular design model. She has hired 8 people in 12 months, driving the green economy.

They are twenty-six year-old Arpit Dhupar, whose efforts to tackle India’s air pollution crisis have culminated in a retrofit diesel engine filter. It not only removes 90 per cent of soot and dangerous particulate matter from the air, but also turns it into ink used to print boxes for large brands.

His factory has increased five-fold in the last 12 months, creating employment in India and proving that a circular economy is indeed possible when grit and determination are applied.

They are twenty-six-year-old Hugh Weldon, whose “fit bit” for food is helping consumers track their shopping to reduce their carbon emissions, making them aware of their food footprint. One third of all food produced in the world—approximately 1.3 billion tonnes—is thrown away every year. A huge waste of resources and a slap in the face of the 820 million people still going hungry today.

They are twenty-seven-year-old Shady Rabab, whose Rabab Garbage Project is raising awareness about plastic pollution and teaching children from vulnerable communities in Egypt how to make beautiful music from trash at the same time. His project keeps kids off the street while showing them the beauty of coming together through art.

In Nepal, Thirty-year-old Sonika Manandhar is driving a transition to electric mobility. While helping women to get finance to upgrade their electric vehicles, she is making electric transport available to more men and women.

image

In the Russian Federation, twenty-nine-year-old Marianna Muntianu is sparking a digital revolution to tackle wildfires and deforestation in a country where more than 12 million hectares of forest were destroyed by fires sweeping through Siberia. 

Taking advantage of the 1.3 billion people around the world who play computer games, her virtual ‘Plant the Forest’ has already restored 400,000 trees in 17 regions of the Russian Federation in actual life.

In Lebanon, Omar Itani’s finger is on the pulse of a new fashion trend. ThreadUp, the world’s largest online second-hand shopping destination, reports that millennials, those aged 25–37, and generation Z, aged 18–24, are driving a growing market for second-hand clothes.

Twenty-four-year-old Itani’s second-hand stores FabricAID have upcycled 75,000 kilograms of clothing and sold more than 50,000 items to over 10,000 people, mostly refugees or disadvantaged communities with little income, giving them the option of buying low-cost clothing rather than depending on donations.

They are changing the world. They are standing up for our right to a cleaner, fairer, more ethical world. Isn’t it time the world grew up, and joined them?

Do you have what it takes to be a Young Champion of the Earth? Stay tuned - applications open in early 2020. Pressing submit makes you part of our change-maker community – get involved and be part of the conversation on environmental change.

The Young Champions of the Earth Prize, powered by Covestro, is UN Environment Programme’s leading initiative to engage youth in tackling the world's most pressing environmental challenges.