UN Young Leader Karan Jerath on climate change

Karan Jerath

Student at the University of Texas at Austin, the youngest member on the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Energy List, and a United Nations Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals

Our climate is changing at an unprecedented rate. With our livelihoods and the livelihoods of future generations at stake, it is critical that we shift current unsustainable patterns and create a path for remediation with respect to the most pressing environmental and humanitarian crisis of our time.

Our current approach simply will not do. Projections for 2050 from the United Nations Development Program explain that for our global population of 9.6 billion, we would need the equivalent of almost three planets worth of resources to sustain our way of living if our current consumption and production patterns remain the same. Currently, sea ice in the Arctic is declining at a rate of 12.8 percent per decade, leading to warmer atmospheric temperatures due to increased absorption of the sun’s rays from the ocean. Brazil alone, the highest contributor to deforestation in the Amazon, has increased deforestation practices by 13.7 percent since this time last year (1.9 million acres slashed)—resulting in an increased concentration of greenhouse gasses. Furthermore, global carbon dioxide measurements, an indicator of fossil fuel consumption, currently stand at 410 parts per million—a value that has never exceeded the 300 parts per million mark for the past 400,000 years. World leaders have discussed, debated, questioned, and then debated the issue further. It is time for a new strategic approach.

I believe that the key to solving this issue lies in intergenerational collaboration. Particularly the involvement of youth at all stages of the climate action decision-making process—from shaping legislation and policy to implementation and action. As a member of the largest youth population in history, with 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24, we deserve a voice because we stand to be the most vulnerable to the repercussions of climate change.

A survey from the United Nations Environment Program found that while 89 percent of youth believe that they have the ability to make a difference with respect to climate change, only 9 percent are very confident that the world will act quickly enough to address the issues at hand. This stems from a lack of policy prioritization and a lengthy bureaucratic process to engage stakeholders for such a large undertaking.

Youth are seeing the inaction from the public and private sectors and are stepping up to the task. From holding elected officials accountable through marches, such as the one in Australia where 15,000 students staged a walk-out to denounce the plans for a coal mine being built in their hometown, to a call for decarbonization within the United States economy in order to promote economic and environmental justice and equality, we are establishing our presence. We are also developing inventions that address this issue through startups and science fair projects.

By organizing, inventing, and speaking up for what we believe in, we are proving that we are creative, we are resilient, we care, and most importantly we need a seat at the table. Including youth in climate change conversations provides immense value. Ultimately, our involvement is critical because as the next generation of leaders, engineers, teachers, scientists, and policymakers, we have the power to create a global movement to tackle and solve the climate change crisis.

LEED ON,

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