India is the second most populated country in the world with nearly a fifth of the world’s population. According to the 2019 revision of the World Population Prospects, the population of Indian youth stood at 1,352,642,280.
India also has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35, enjoying a clear demographic dividend at global level. In 2020, the average age of an Indian was 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan; and, by 2030, India’s dependency ratio will be just over 0.4. However, the number of children in India peaked more than a decade ago.
During the course of past decades, climate change and environmental issues have seized ample public attention including those of youth climate groups in India around vital issues of water, waste, air pollution, health, carbon emissions, tree plantations and the like facing community. Youth climate groups began to engage with the local community, playing their role in contributing to advance climate action while working with local, national and international coalitions including as volunteers with Green Peace and Amnesty International with underlying focus on climate activism.
India has more than 4 million registered non-governmental organizations of various denominations according to current government data sources. Over the last decade or so, some 25 to 30% of the 4 million numbers has successfully embedded climate change issues and environmental concerns into their core operational areas of action. Along the way, youth climate groups also emerged and began to principally contribute to climate dialogues, environmental campaigns, climate activism, community action and knowledge production in local languages to make community aware spurring action at local level.
One of the youth climate coalition groups based in New Delhi is Indian Youth Climate Group (IYCG), which originated in 2008 following launch of a local campaign on improving Delhi’s transport system which back then was creating lot of pollution and had consequently become a public concern and a matter of wider debate. IYCG was one of the support groups led by youth in Delhi in response to call by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), one of the leading public policy advocacy groups based in New Delhi to impress upon the then state government to fix polluting transport system by making it cleaner by using CNG in place of diesel.
IYCG, through its stated objectives, aims to generate holistic awareness and empower themselves as a generation of young people to take effective action against climate change, at local, state, national and international levels. As the future leaders and concerned citizens of the country, they wish to contribute to generating awareness and establishing consensus on what role India should play in the global debate, and how it can address domestic issues of climate justice and adaptation. The purpose of IYCN is to bring the voice of Indian youth on the global platform as South Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions affected by potentially catastrophic climate change and environment issues.
Another youth climate group set up in 2015 is EARTH5R, which works in the area of aggregating youth collectives by offering them volunteering opportunities and have hands on learn on climate and environmental issues to take action at community levels. The organization offers fellowships to the young and the youth and provides them training and handholding for their subsequent actions in climate change and environment related issues. It also professes to work with other youth climate groups from within the country and with those that operate internationally in spirit of galvanizing local, national and international collective action towards advocacy and activism cantered around climate change and environmental issues.
Aside from national non-profits and youth climate groups, schools, and collages in India with aggregate student enrollment numbers of more than 325 million have been pivotal in undertaking climate action nationwide through a number of academic programs, climate clubs, community action, social media, field trips and awareness campaigns, with massive resultant gains. Their role is well recognised, acknowledged and documented by media, youth climate groups and governments both at the regional and national levels.
To capture the contribution of the young and the youth across the schools and colleges including those of the youth climate groups, British Council carried out a dedicated survey on Indian youth ages 18-25 through 946 surveys and 80 focus groups ahead of the COP 26 held in Glasgow in November, 2021. The survey captured views of Indian youth, their maturity and ability, school systems and their trust in established democratic practices and strong climate governance systems towards field action and community climate interventions in addition to seeking their views out for policy provisions as well.
It also emerged from the Survey that 78% of Indian youth feel equipped to act against issues arising from climate change like the loss of forest cover, decreased agriculture productivity, dry seasons, rises in temperature, uneven rainfall pattern and loss of biodiversity. However, the report also suggested they also face a challenge in finding opportunities for participation in solving such issues because of limited digital access, hierarchical social cultures that exclude young people, and a lack of access to train.
While the role of youth climate groups can’t be underestimated due to their vast outreach, sheer absolute number and ability to spur community action in a flash, there are however some underlying concerns too. With climate issues, no longer being a local in nature and within the realm of politics, there are occasional tendencies seen among the youth climate groups to veer off their professed action and get swayed by vested interests. There is an urgent need to support youth climate groups to effectively leverage their strength in fight against climate crisis.
Youth have enhanced capability to be able to contribute to burgeoning climate action and agenda in India like every other country and must therefore be more involved in debates, dialogues and conversations to rightfully enable them to safeguard the planet for now and beyond.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard India Country Manager Pooran Chandra Pandey