Nothing about us without us: how youth empowerment creates lasting change in the climate meltdown


(Markus Spiske, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Fatima Ali, a fifth-year medical student at Imperial College London who has also undertaken a degree in Business Management in Healthcare at Imperial College Business School. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Air pollution and climate change are two sides of the same coin. Both of which affect us all – but it affects all of us differently. Climate change and inequality are locked in a complex vicious cycle. Whilst inequalities determine the disproportionate negative effects of climate hazards on people at disadvantage, the impact of climate hazards in turn results in greater inequality. Therefore, to holistically tackle climate change, we must challenge structural injustices too.

As a driving economic engine of many national economies, the healthcare sector has a unique opportunity to illuminate the path forward. Consideration of environmental risk factors in exacerbating health inequality is vital in ensuring wider socio-political support for endorsing appropriate legislative action and upholding standards for environmental health protection.

Air pollution causes direct and indirect impacts to health. Directly, through cardiac or respiratory disease such as asthma. But it also causes indirect health impacts, such as causing low birth weight, affecting mental health, due to loss of home security, or malnutrition, due to drought. Despite this, schools/universities have not formally included the health impacts of climate change in the core curriculum or the injustices associated with it. We must all recognise that the most vulnerable, which form most of our health service users, are disproportionately affected.

Young people have the acumen, courage and bravery to speak with truth and make radical changes for the climate agenda – for example by forming interdisciplinary teams and innovating solutions. However, the responsibility for youth engagement is a two-way street. Figures in climate change and politics must empower their youth. Young people belong in all places where decisions are made as they will bear the burden of climate change over the course of their lifetimes, with future generations especially being impacted more severely. In order to achieve meaning youth participation in climate action, we can start by following three fundamental strategies: investing in youth engagement on the climate agenda, creating sustainable mutual partnerships and reforming organisational ethos to improve accessibility for young people.

The World Bank defined participatory development as “a process through which stakeholders influence and share control over development initiatives, and the decisions and resources which affect them.” Indeed, there are still disagreements between the youth about what good participation looks like. Regardless, if some shared values can be found with other stakeholders, then groups can collaborate to establish mutual trust and partnership. That, in turn, will lead to improved quality of representative environmental decisions, and young people having a sense of ownership over processes.

The success of climate youth groups, and individual activists alike, is a beautiful reminder that the fate of humanity, in this defining threat of our time, depends on fostering the youth and underrepresented voice and paving the way for meaningful mutual prosperity. We all have a responsibility to create further urgency and momentum for the climate agenda, as the repercussions for falling short would be so catastrophic that our world would be unrecognisable.

About the author

Fatima Ali is a fifth-year medical student at Imperial College London who has also undertaken a degree in Business Management in Healthcare at Imperial College Business School. As the UN Humanitarian Affairs Youth Peace Ambassador to the UK she engages with health-peace policy at a national and international level. Fatima also represented the UK at numerous events including the UN ECOSOC, EU Climate Summit and UN Humanitarian Affairs Summit. She is also a Healthcare Leadership Academy Scholar and is interested in public health and using innovation to create radical change in combating the defining threat of our time.

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