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Resources for Speakers on Global Issues

Youth

Climate Change

Climate change is a potential threat to the health and social and economic stability of youth—particularly in developing countries, where the vast majority of young people live.

Encouraging sustainable lifestyles, promoting the use of renewable energy sources and building adaptive capacity and resilience are some examples of actions that youth have undertaken to combat climate change. Strong social and environmental awareness further unites young people to negotiate with a common voice on a global level.

Human activities, such as deforestation and use of fossil fuels, contribute to climate change, which decreases the availability of nutritious food and clean water. This leads to malnutrition and ill health, rendering children and young people particularly vulnerable.

On his parents’ farm near the Gobi Desert in China, each morning 19 year-old Li Liang wakes to the possibility that his entire cotton crop may have been destroyed by a sandstorm the night before. “Every year there are sandstorms, and every time there is a sandstorm our cotton is destroyed, and we have to replant it, which costs a lot.” The impact of climate change is a constant threat.

"Now, more than ever, we need to connect the dots between climate, poverty, energy, food and water. These issues cannot be addressed in isolation." Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – remarks at UNFCCC, 7 December 2010

Global warming is affecting weather patterns and creating drier conditions. If the warming continues, deserts which make up 25 per cent of China’s land will expand to 40 per cent, according to climate experts. The problem begins in the high glaciers of western China’s Qinghai-Tibet plateau where the glaciers are disappearing, and rivers are drying up. In a short time, Li has seen changes in the landscape where he lives. "When I was a kid, the desert was five kilometers away, but now it's right here." The desert threatens the livelihood of Li and millions of other farmers. Desertification losses, as a result of an inability to work, are estimated to be $8 billion a year. In addition, failing crops and lack of water are causing the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

A major cause of this transformation is China’s rapidly growing economy, which has made it the world’s second largest producer of greenhouse gases—and it is predicted to take the lead in the next 20 years. However, China is investing in new technology. It has committed to restoring fertile land through replanting forests and regulating herders. Beijing is planting hardy grasses and shrubs across 30 per cent of a 700,000 square mile desert area by the year 2050. These measures mean changes for Li and many farmers on the desert’s edge who are affected by the reforestation. Agriculture uses 70 per cent of the world’s fresh water, and according to the World Wildlife Fund cotton is one of the ‘thirstiest’ crops. It takes 20,000 litres of water to make one kilo of cotton, enough for a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Other places such as in Pakistan, Australia and Central Asia are also facing similar problems.

Li’s cotton farm may no longer be sustainable. Local officials have ordered his family to switch from growing cotton to planting trees. Climate change means tough choices for nations and people. But sometimes, like Li, people have no alternative but to adapt.