Young people as vanguards of climate change

Namgay Choden

Namgay Choden, author of the journal ‘Young Bhutanese and Climate Change’ which was recently published in Druk Journal talks with Bhutan Times Sr. Reporter Sonam Penjor about the need to include diversity in climate change scenario

Tell us about your article that was published in the journal.

I was given a prompt by the editor to write on the theme “Young Bhutanese and Climate Change,” which was a broad topic. So I pondered over the issue and then tried to answer it in the article. I first asked, “Do Bhutanese youth, and I’m speaking to those predominantly 15 – 24 years old, care about climate change?” However, as I read and thought more, I realized that the question wasn’t about whether Bhutanese youth cared about climate change, but rather, what created barriers for them to come to care about it. The bigger issue was about their willingness as well as their ability. This is what the article tries to address.

What messages does your article convey to the readers?

The key message is that climate change must be an issue that Bhutanese youth are able to personally identify with. Many young people are grappling with questions such as, “Will I get a job? How will I overcome my crippling anxiety and depression? Where do I meet interesting people? How can I stop my addiction to alcohol?” So it may appear that the warming of the earth’s atmosphere is an issue that is as far away and abstract as it can get. I argue that this is not true. The futures of young people are very much tied to climate change, which is going to impact our economic opportunities, our food security, the way our cities are built and the social safety nets that we will have to create to ameliorate the worst impacts of the changing climate. Thus, equipping young people to be able to make those connections are key.  It arises from our education system and initiatives by the policymakers to make young people a part of the conversation as well as young people themselves who have to take some personal responsibility.

What challenges did you face while writing the journal?

My greatest challenge was finding the evidence to qualify my claims. For example, when I ask if Bhutanese youth care about climate change, another question that comes up is how I can even assume that in the first place. I made do with the scant literature and also drew a lot from my experiences on the ground, interacting with young people as well as with policy makers. The other challenge was speaking to two distinct audiences: policymakers and youth themselves. Both groups are victims of extreme narratives. One says that they are arrogant, stubborn and can do nothing right. Another side says that they are just misunderstood. But in the middle, I’d say that both policymakers and youth are trying their best within the constraints of the resources they have access to. Policymakers are increasingly committing real resources towards youth engagement. And young people are willing to show up and lead the solutions.

What inspired you to write on this particular topic?

As a Global Shaper (at the Thimphu Hub) and a Climate Reality Leader, I along with a group of like-minded peers commit our time to create spaces and opportunities for young people, particularly to articulate their relationship to the changing climate. This article is inspired by the Bhutanese youth, educators, and civil society members I have interacted with till date. However, my passion for climate action is also greatly informed by my work at the Foreign Ministry where I’m currently employed. I’ve worked in the climate and environment policy desk which entailed coordinating the government’s engagement in multilateral environment agreements such as the Paris Agreement. Therefore, I also firmly believe that Bhutanese youth need to be policy literate and view it as something to be engaged, questioned, and leveraged off of.

What could readers take away from your article?

I hope my readers take away that it is not sufficient to simply urge young people to be invested or even, interested in climate action. I’m not negating the power of personal action. But I also want to highlight that such inclinations will only awaken when adequate resources and efforts to educate and equip young people are committed.