Young People Sending 'SOS Signal' Ahead of Climate Summit, Says UN Youth Envoy

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Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth
September 16, 2019

Young people from around the world are set to converge on New York this week to demand that world leaders take action to combat the climate crisis. Several marches, demonstrations, and conferences are planned as part of the mobilization, which was organized to coincide with the United Nations' Climate Action Summit on September 23.

"There are many issues that young people are concerned about, but one key issue is the struggle for survival," said Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth. "We've seen this momentum of millions of young people demanding for urgent action, really issuing a call of urgency — an SOS signal to leaders to take action."

On Friday, young people, including renowned Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, and their allies will march in lower Manhattan to rally support for the issue. New York City public schools announced last week that absences will be excused for students who participate in the rally.

Leading activists, as well as young scientists and entrepreneurs, will then participate in the UN's Youth Climate Summit on Saturday where they will get the opportunity to meet with diplomats, UN officials, and business leaders to discuss strategies to address the climate crisis.

"This is not just about young people taking to the streets and demanding action from elders, but saying 'Hey, we are stepping up and we are doing our part. What are you doing about it?'" Wickramanayake said.

The United Nations Climate Action Summit next week will be the latest meeting of signatories of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on world leaders to gather "with concrete, realistic plans" on combating the climate crisis, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

President Trump, who has repeatedly rejected the science of climate change, withdrew the U.S. from the Paris pact in 2017.

You are never too young to lead, and you are never too old to follow.

Jayathma Wickramanayake, UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth.

The UN Secretariat has also been eagerly receptive to incorporating youth voices into the climate summit — seemingly to help pressure member nations to act on the issue.

"Having youth involved in our discussions is about more than just having another voice: we are truly reenergized by your ideas, your enthusiasm and, most of all, we need your solutions to climate change," Ovais Sarmad, the deputy executive secretary of UN Climate Change, said in a speech to students last week in Doha. "Youth have provided a breath of fresh air to the overall climate discussions and remind us of the urgency we face and what we are all working towards – a cleaner and greener future."

The climate summit comes nearly a year after the UN published a devastating report, which predicted catastrophic climate events in the coming decade due to global warming. The report warned of historic floods, droughts, and other disasters unless major overhauls were made to the global economy in nearly every sector.

"We need to map out what is happening, to identify initiatives, actors that can do better, and incentivize them to do it, and to do it not tomorrow, but immediately, because as we have seen from recent scientific reports, the situation could be extremely serious if we do not act now," said Luis Alfonso de Alba, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Change Summit.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.