Youth leading the charge in global environmental action

Zola Madaga

February 17, 2024

The United Nations Environment Programme headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, will witness a gathering of world leaders, activists, scientists, and civil society groups from February 26 to March 1, 2024, during the sixth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-6).

UNEA is the foremost global environmental decision-making body, and it aims to restore harmony between humanity and nature, focusing on addressing the triple planetary crisis: climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

UNEA 6 Youth CongressAmong the key players in this event is the Children and Youth Major Group (CYMG) constituency, a formal youth engagement mechanism for the United Nations Environment Programme. CYMG is a dynamic movement of youth organizations worldwide, united by a mission to champion environmental conservation.

With a strong youth-led voice and independent spirit, the constituency empowers children and young people to engage meaningfully in environmental governance and conservation processes across the UN system.

Climate change activists

As the world prepares for UNEA-6, attention is drawn to the inspiring youth climate change activists who have become symbols of hope on a global scale. One such figure is Greta Thunberg, a prominent climate activist who has captured international attention with her unwavering dedication and tireless efforts to galvanize young people to take action on climate change.

The impact of her advocacy has sparked a revolution among the youth, inspiring many emerging climate change heroes who are stepping forward to make their voices heard and bring innovative solutions to challenges such as plastic pollution.

UNICEF has recognized Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate as a goodwill ambassador for her significant contributions as a climate activist. Their contributions serve as a testament to the power of youth in driving positive change and building a sustainable future.

Urgent need for environmental conservation

Faith Patricia Ariokot, a young tree hugger from Uganda, has taken the world by storm. Faith set a new tree-hugging world record, holding onto a tree for 15 hours and 19 minutes. Her feat was a personal achievement and a powerful statement to raise awareness about the urgent need for environmental conservation.

Anita Soina from Kenya, a passionate environmentalist and water and climate change advocate from the Maa community, has become influential. As the Global Youth Champion for the UN-hosted Sanitation and Water for All global partnership (SWA), Anita’s work has profoundly impacted tackling water-related challenges and promoting sustainable solutions.

UNEA-6 Youth Congress
Zola Madaga, the Alliance for Science Global Fellows Coordinator and Youth Congress Lead. [AfS]

Amidst this global movement for change, the Alliance for Science plays a pivotal role through its Youth Congress, led by yours truly. This department is actively engaged in Informal Youth Consultations (IYCs), gathering perspectives, insights, and recommendations to shape the draft resolutions and decisions to be considered at UNEA-6.

Collaborating under the Global Youth Coalition on Plastic Pollution (GYCPP) banner, the consultations focus on policy positions and declarations related to environmental issues. Key drafts, including the Global Youth Declaration on Environment, International Environmental Governance, Addressing the Root Causes of the Triple Planetary Crisis, Nature and Ecosystems, and a consultative roundtable on the revised draft of the Plastics Treaty, have seen fervent debates this January.

Exchange intergenerational wisdom

In 2023, the Alliance for Science took the initiative to host the Climate Action Zone on the sidelines of the Africa Climate Summit. This platform brought together various stakeholders, such as civil societies, farmers, policymakers, children, and youth, to deliberate on pressing climate-related issues.

The outcome of these discussions was a declaration that underscored the importance of representation from all stakeholders. The statement emphasized the need for inclusive spaces to exchange intergenerational wisdom and culturally appropriate strategies for climate action, thereby ensuring long-term sustainability.

One particular highlight was the vibrant children’s zone within the Climate Action Zone, where children and young learners showcased their knowledge and understanding of climate change. Their contributions generated a positive buzz and highlighted the importance of involving all children and young people to combat the climate crisis, ensuring no one is left behind.

The need for children and youth to actively participate in climate change discussions cannot be understated. They are the inheritors of this fragile planet, and the decisions made today will shape their future and future generations. Their voices must be heard, their concerns addressed, and their innovative ideas embraced.

UNEA 6 Youth Congress
Jote Cika, AYEN Youth Coordinator. [AfS]

As global citizens, we are responsible for harmonizing our efforts and coming together to combat the environmental challenges we face. UNEA-6 provides an unparalleled opportunity for world governments, civil society groups, the scientific community, and the private sector to collaborate and shape a sustainable future where humanity and nature can thrive in harmony.

Future generations must take action

According to the United Nations, there is a significant youth population, with approximately 1.2 billion people aged between 15 to 24 years, accounting for 16 percent of the global population.

This number is projected to grow by seven percent, reaching nearly 1.3 billion by 2030. Recognizing the immense potential of these young individuals, we mustn’t underestimate their critical role in driving positive change in the global fight against climate change.

It is imperative for all organizations, regardless of being humanitarian, private, or governmental, to actively involve youth in their policies, processes, and actionable efforts toward environmental conservation.

By doing so, we can move closer to our goals and empower future generations to take action, ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future.


Zola Madaga is the Alliance for Science Global Fellows Coordinator and Youth Congress Lead.