These 4 young leaders from Asia and the Pacific region are at the forefront of climate action

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Youth climate leaders from Asia-Pacific
Visual Credits: UNDP Climate Promise
Youth climate leaders from Asia-Pacific
Visual Credits: UNDP Climate Promise

As the impacts of the climate crisis continues to be felt across the globe, young people are reporting increasing anxiety and worry about their future.

Millions are living under constant threat of losing their homes and family due to tropical cyclones, floods, landslides, and heatwaves. These concerns are having negative impacts on young people’s lives: in a global survey conducted among 10,000 youth, 45 percent reported that their daily lives and functioning have been negatively impacted by eco-anxiety and fear of climate change.

Asia and the Pacific region faces extreme climate vulnerabilities. In fact, 7 of the 10 countries facing highest risk of climate-induced disasters are located in the region. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that young people in the region who constitute 60 percent of the global youth population are among the most anxious. In the Philippines and India, 84 percent and 78 percent of youth are extremely or very worried about climate change, respectively. Making the situation worse, like their peers elsewhere, youth in Asia-Pacific often lack the political capital, power and means to influence key policies and decisions on climate change.

Despite these adversities, young people continue to be at the forefront of climate action, raising hopes and inspiring action. Below, meet four young people from Asia and the Pacific region who are leading change through legal empowerment, awareness campaigns, local climate solutions, and green entrepreneurship.

Asia Wy
Visual Credits: UNDP Climate Promise

Asia is a young environmental lawyer, working as a legal fellow at an environmental legal center in Palawan, the Philippines – an area noted for its beautiful turquoise waters and exotic wildlife. She’s always been passionate about traveling and the outdoors. During her gap year, Asia visited nearly all the 82 provinces in the Philippines, as she loves freediving and taking friends on adventures.

The Philippines is stunningly scenic, but it’s also one of the most cyclone-prone countries in the world. During typhoon seasons, Asia actively participated in disaster relief operations. It was during this time that she came across discussions on climate justice, making her realize that while relief efforts are critical, climate justice should be the main concern of her generation. Asia explains that countries like the Philippines already bear the brunt when it comes to the impacts of climate change, but it’s the vulnerable communities that suffer the most. Since they don’t have the technologies and means to adapt, many end up losing their homes and livelihoods due to flooding and typhoons.

“We cannot simply let climate injustice take away the things and people that matter the most to us”.

Her travels, work, and volunteer experiences inspired her to support rural communities who live in the most picturesque locations yet are most vulnerable in the face of a changing climate. Through legal empowerment and strategic litigation, Asia helps locals to protect the earth and natural environment. One area of work is to assist communities whose livelihoods have been affected by destructive mining practices. Some of the cases concern nickel mining, where thousands of old growth trees, with important carbon sequestering potential, end up being cut to make room for the mining. Although the mineral is critical for electric vehicle batteries and thus for renewable transition, vulnerable communities shouldn’t bear the cost, Asia argues.

Asia notes that the best part of her job is when she sees how legal empowerment helps communities advocate for themselves and actively participate in law enforcement efforts. The connection between climate change and human rights is clear: she hopes to see more climate litigation cases being filed locally and globally so that the judicial system can be fully leveraged in the fight against climate change.

In addition to her regular job, she’s also serving as a youth advisor to the Asia-Pacific Youth Advisory Group on Environmental and Climate Justice as part of the Youth Empowerment in Climate Action Platform (YECAP).

Pengsan Huon
Visual Credits: UNDP Climate Promise

Pengsan is a senior talent activation manager at Impact Hub Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s biggest changemaker and social entrepreneur community. When asked how his passion for climate change issues started, Pengsan remembers an environmental project from a school fair. He and his team captured photos of waste management around Phnom Penh to show how it affects the lives and well-being of the residents. Seeing how the project helped increase awareness of the problem, Pengsan felt inspired to do more to educate people around environmental problems.  

For Pengsan, youth themselves are the biggest source of hope, with all the creative ideas they come up with to tackle the climate crisis in different ways. Combining his strong belief in the power of youth and passion for climate change, he has trained over 7,000 people in climate action and social enterpreneurship in the past two years, hosting in-person and online workshops across Cambodia and Asia-Pacific. As a solution-oriented person, Pengsan hopes to connect like-minded people working on local challenges and help turn their climate ideas into action. “If everyone on the planet cares about climate change and were willing to change to make it better, the world would be a little less chaotic than it is right now” he says. He is currently working on his next project – the first ever YOUNGO Local Conference of Youth (LCOY) in Cambodia to create dialogue between youth and policymakers and discuss concrete actions that each can take to tackle the climate crisis.

"If everyone on the planet cares about climate change and were willing to change to make it better, the world would be a little less chaotic than it is right now."

Aung Sing Hla Marma
Visual Credits: UNDP Climate Promise

Aung Sing is a crop scientist, conducting research to improve farming systems and sustainable agriculture on hill tracts – areas that are known for their deep valleys and indigenous populations. Climate change is driving soil erosion and land degradation in the hill tracts, and as an agronomist, Aung Sing conducts experiments to help develop the best methods for increasing the quality and production of crops in the region. He also works closely with farmers in remote areas of Bangladesh, training them on integrated farm management systems, food nutrition and safety.

Aung Sing comes from the indigenous Marma people of the hill districts, who worship nature and believe that protecting the environment will protect them against calamity. Growing up with this wisdom, he developed a strong passion for nature from a young age, practicing rituals such as respecting old trees and giving offerings before starting farming in new lands. As a student, he loved biological sciences and explored various topics that are connected to nature, land and climate through his university courses.

During COVID-19 lockdowns, a chance encounter with the Movers Programme led him on a path of climate activism. He became a climate leader in a local youth-led climate initiative called SHWARUP that helps raise awareness on the destructive impacts of climate change on natural habitats, especially in the hill tracts, and empower marginalized ethnic communities.

Later, joining the YECAP, Aung Sing helped establish a fellowship scheme for the Marma ethnic youth, bringing leadership opportunities to the indigenous community. As an indigenous community member himself, he believes that ethnic youth can drive the best climate solutions as they live close to nature and therefore understand the urgency of the issue. For Aung Sing, a key solution to tackling climate change and driving sustainable climate-smart agriculture is to train more young researchers who can blend modern science with traditional knowledge.

“There is no time for ‘we will do it tomorrow’. It must be ‘we are doing now’. Taking care of nature is taking care of your own. Do not destroy yourself.”

Sadikshya Aryal
Visual Credits: UNDP Climate Promise

For Sadikshya, an electronics engineer from Nepal, it’s important for people to understand that climate change is a gender equality issue. Through her travels to rural areas and meeting with women farmers, she learned about their day-to-day lives, including the things that make them happy and the struggles and challenges they face.

One day, while doing research in a rural area affected by the earthquake, Sadikshya saw a house where baby clothes were put on a solar panel to dry under the sun. As an engineer herself, Sadikshya knew how partially covering the panels affected their operation. That’s when she realized that many farmers still required knowledge on how to usetheir solar panels properly.

Since then, Sadikshya has been extensively working to promote gender-inclusive energy usage and green productivity through Gaunbata Sanjal, an evidence-based platform that supports energy subsidies to women farmers in Nepal. Additionally, she also manages Girls4rurals, a network of young women who train their peers in rural Nepal on the use of clean energy for production businesses and on maintenance of energy equipment. The network already has over 1,000 members.

In Nepal, global warming has intensified climate-induced disasters such as wildfires – which in turn create additional problems such as smog. As glaciers melt, the risk of flooding also increases, threatening entire communities. Through her social enterprise, Himalayan Innovations, which runs both Gaunbata Sanjal and Girls4rurals initiatives, Sadikshya aims to contribute to emissions reductions through increasing access to affordable, renewable energy. She hopes that one day these efforts will help reduce the smog and allow her to see the Himalayan range from her house terrace, like the way she used to as a small kid.

“When we empower youth, we unleash an unstoppable force of climate activism that reverberates across borders, inspiring change and shaping a brighter and greener world.”

Editor's note: YECAP works to provide a safe inclusive space for young people to advocate for climate action in their respective countries, through awareness raising, supporting youth engagement in NDC design and implementation process, and providing resources to scale up solutions by youth organizations and entrepreneurs. UNDP’s Climate Promise is working to elevate youth climate action with initiatives like YECAP and more.