Government of Maldives, United Nations urge greater action to address devastating impact of climate change on children and young people
20 October 2021
“Our Climate, Our Present, Our Future” event in Male calls for placing young people at the heart of the climate change agenda and for greater role of private sector in addressing climate change
MALE, Maldives, 20 October 2021 – In the run up to COP26, the Government of Maldives and UNICEF, in collaboration with UNDP, today hosted the “Our Climate, Our Present, Our Future” event in Male, in an effort to spotlight the devastating impact of climate change on children and young people in Maldives and catalyze action and partnerships to mitigate its effects.
The event was attended by over 100 experts, business leaders and young people from Maldives and other small islands developing states (SIDS), such as Seychelles. It was opened by H.E. Ms. Aminath Shauna, Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Technology, with remarks by the UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for South Asia, Ms. Sun Ah Kim Suh, the British High Commissioner for Maldives, Ms. Caron Rohsler, and the UN Resident Coordinator a.i., Enrico Gaveglia, representing UNRC Ms. Catherine Haswell.
Through presentations and panel discussions, the event provided a platform for young people from Maldives and other SIDS to make their voices heard and lead by example through climate action, while also sparking synergies among the private sector for innovations, transfer of technology, know-how and climate resilient solutions. JICA was among multiple speakers supporting a more active role for innovation and private sector partnerships in climate action.
“Young people have a critical role to play in ensuring that climate change is addressed in the most inclusive manner to ensure maximum resiliency to our communities. We, as government leaders, need to ensure that their voices are welcomed and heard. We need to ensure that they are given platforms to express their views and concerns, so that youth today can lead their own path for change,” said the Minster of Environment, Climate Change and Technology, H.E. Aminath Shauna.
In his remarks, the UN Resident Coordinator a.i. stressed on the unique risks and consequences climate change poses for the future of island nations like Maldives. He also highlighted the crucial role of young people in climate action in accelerating achievement of the 2030 Agenda which will ensure a healthier, more resilient future for the people and planet.
While children and young people across the globe, especially girls, are the first affected by the climate crisis, they often remain the least empowered to influence climate change policy-making and action, despite their numerous solutions and contributions. In a recent poll run by UNICEF, 77% of young people in Maldives said that they were worried about the effects of climate change, and 92% said they wished to take more action, if provided with support.
“We must recognize the climate crisis as a child right’s crisis,” said Marjan Montazemi, UNICEF Representative in Maldives. “For children and young people in Maldives, climate change is a direct threat to their schools, their health centers, and their very survival. Children and young people must be given center stage in all climate negotiations and decisions, and the world must accelerate action to reduce emissions, invest in climate adaptation, actively work with young people and provide children with climate education and green and blue skills.”
Maldives has the lowest terrain of any country in the world: four-fifths of the country’s land is less than one meter above sea level. Erosion of the shoreline is already a severe issue in 64 percent of the Maldivian islands, and much critical infrastructure for children and families, including many schools, hospitals and health centers, sit within only 100m of shorelines. The country is predicted to become uninhabitable as early as 2050, and disappear before the end of the century.
“Seeing the effects of climate change on my country firsthand has been devastating, especially the rising sea levels,” said Aishath Zeeba Hamid, 19 years old, from Male. “It is a constant reminder that my country is right at the forefront of danger. Further worldwide assistance and cooperation is required, not just for Maldives but all other small island nations suffering similar fates.”
Plastic pollution and a limited waste management system remain a major challenge in Maldives, with islands across the country left littered with trash, a significant portion of which are single-use plastics which end up in the ocean and inside marine life. According to the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Technology, every year, 104 million non-biodegradable plastic bags are imported into the Maldives.
Meanwhile, the archipelago suffers from severe water scarcity, with some islands requiring desalinated water to be shipped in by boat. Water insecurity is slated to increase the incidence of water and vector-borne diseases, destruction of ecosystems, and children’s access to sanitation facilities.
The private sector is increasingly being recognized as key to boosting climate resilience through innovative solutions, transfer of expertise, technology, and financing.
“To ensure private finance supports the shift to a low-carbon economy, every major financial decision will need to take climate change into account,” said Enrico Gaveglia, UNDP Representative in Maldives.
Maldives has taken ambitious steps to respond to the climate crisis and has been playing an active role on the world stage for over more than a decade, including with the country now holding the Presidency of the United Nations General Assembly. Maldives committed to phasing out single use plastics by 2023 and net zero emissions by 2030, and is also actively supporting children and young people’s direct involvement in climate negotiations and decisions, especially within the context of COP26.