With the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28) wrapped up in Dubai, civil society organisations, governments, and other stakeholders reflected on the series of dialogues with a shared goal of achieving climate justice for all. Many were left in dismay by the result of the negotiations. For example, how countries called for a transition away from fossil fuels instead of a complete phaseout and how there was a lack of clear goals for what countries should do for the transition.
One key constituency that should always be involved in these discussions, yet often sidelined, is young people, who will inherit the planet for future generations. During the COP, the youth reiterated how their voices and ideas “could help rescue the planet”.
Before COP 28, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) organised the Regional Climate Weeks in the Global South for the first time. In Asia and the Pacific, this was held in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, in mid-November 2023.
International Land Coalition (ILC) Asia co-organised an official side event titled “From Rights to Resilience: Innovative Solutions to Climate Adaptation and Mitigation from the Youth of Asia”. The event shared best practices from young people who are part of Youth and Land Asia - a regional group of ILC members working on promoting youth land rights across the region. These young people have actively built local solutions from the ground to address climate change.
The event also focused on how youth could integrate these solutions into policies at the national or regional level and how they could contribute to such policy recommendations.
Youth at the heart of regional policy advocacy
Dazzle Labapis, Programme Officer from the Non-Timber Forest Products - Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP) Asia, shared one such entry point in the event, which is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Guidelines on Recognition of Customary Tenure in Forested Landscapes, adopted in 2022. The Guidelines aim to establish a comprehensive regional approach to the recognition of customary tenure, which is defined as a set of rules, practices and norms defined over time by communities that govern the allocation, use, access, exclusion, and transfer of land, forests, fisheries, and other natural resources.
The Guidelines have also facilitated meaningful participation of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, farmers, and other constituencies in the decision-making processes at the national level of each ASEAN member state. Customary tenure is usually associated with Indigenous communities and administered in accordance with their customs.
In five ASEAN countries (Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand), rights to only 10 per cent of all lands, including non-forested landscapes, customarily owned by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, are legally recognised.
The active involvement of the youth sector holds immense potential for effectively implementing the ASEAN Customary Tenure Guidelines. It is imperative to amplify the voices of young individuals, particularly those belonging to Indigenous communities, in the formulation of the pathways for the future of forested landscapes in Southeast Asia. This inclusive approach adds significant value and fosters a more holistic and intergenerational implementation of the Guidelines.
“By cultivating an environment that encourages the active involvement of young minds, we can ensure a more robust implementation of the Guidelines, thereby paving the way for sustainable and equitable management of forest landscapes,” said JV Colili, a youth from Palaw'an Indigenous community in the Philippines, who was present at the side event.
There are many ways for young people to contribute to these policymaking processes, e.g., promoting youth solutions, organising movements, and launching campaigns to hold governments accountable. "Building the youth agenda is critical to ensure the principles enshrined in the Guidelines are realised throughout the Southeast Asia region, especially since the Guidelines explicitly mention the role of youth under Principles 1 and 5," said Dazzle.
Secure land rights and customary tenure key to climate action
Land rights empower smallholders, family farmers and pastoralists to build a resilient and sustainable food system and safeguard our climate in three key ways.
First, they encourage long-term investments in sustainable agricultural practices and management of land and other natural resources that reduce emissions.
Second, land tenure rights are a prerequisite for engaging in adaptation and mitigation, bolstering resilience against the impacts of the climate crisis.
Third, land rights protect communities from the growing pressure of land-intensive climate solutions, such as net zero, destructive carbon markets, and offsets, which allow continued pollution rather than focus on cutting emissions.
At the side event, ILC Asia member Kunduz Adylbekova of the Central Asia Pastoralist Alliance (CAPA) shared the adverse impact of the climate crisis on pastoralist communities in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia. There is also a growing water scarcity that affects the livelihoods of communities.
CAPA helps develop artificial glaciers, which are ice stupas constructed during the winter and used as a source of freshwater in late spring and early summer. This is one way to alleviate the region’s water crisis, as water from the melting glaciers can be used for drinking, livestock herding, and agriculture. More young people have now been involved in this effort, although it is still quite a challenge to convince them to return to the rural way of life when they prefer to seek opportunities in urban areas.
Raihana Rahman, the focal point of the Stand 4 Her Land (S4HL) Campaign in Bangladesh and a staff member of the Beneficiary’s Friendship Forum (BFF), shared a story about the impact of climate change on the livelihoods of rural women in the coastal parts of the country. Because of extreme weather events, women farmers in Patuakhali, south Bangladesh, have experienced crop failures with limited access to the government’s agricultural infrastructure and services.
“At COP 28, we hope our government can ensure inclusive participation of women in all climate policy negotiations that translate to gender-inclusive policies and action plans at the local and national level,” said Raihana during the side event. She added that it’s critical for young women to have meaningful participation at the COP as the driving force of adaptation and mitigation interventions.
ILC and its partners call for governments that have just returned from Dubai to put their trust in young people, farmers, pastoralists, women, and Indigenous Peoples and take concrete steps toward securing their land rights.