Empowering Youth to Fight Climate Change and Air Pollution

by Fiona Hurrey - 8 August, 2023
Generations to come will face a disproportionate burden in mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change.
“We are growing up in a world where losing years of life due to air pollutants is normalised and known while business continues as usual.... the choices we make today have a direct and significant impact on the wellbeing of future generations.

We are determined to build a future where the air is safe, where open spaces and green environments are abundant, fostering healthy growth and development.

Clarence Gio Almoite, former Asia-Pacific Focal Point of the Children & Youth Major Group to UNEP, speaking at the 2023 Climate and Clean Air Conference in Bangkok

Climate change and air pollution are disproportionate burdens for youth, including the more than 1.2 billion youth aged between 15-24. The impacts of existing environmental and climate damage will become increasingly worse throughout their lifetimes. Today’s youth advocates, students, and young professionals are the leaders and decision-makers of tomorrow with the opportunity to play key roles in reducing short-lived climate pollutant (SLCP) emissions and advance climate justice.  

To ensure youth are well informed on the actions necessary to mitigate climate change, and in recognition of their unique positioning to change our current trajectory, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) is taking steps to engage and empower youth in advocacy and decision-making. Engaging youth further in climate action as agents of positive change can lead to long-term behavioural changes, build a sense of responsibility, and foster a commitment to reducing short-lived climate pollutant (SLCP) emissions across a large demographic. 

Gio Almoite CCAC

Clarence Gio Almoite, former Asia-Pacific Focal Point of the Children and Youth Major Group to UNEP, delivered closing remarks to the 2023 Annual Climate and Clean Air Conference held in Bangkok

Clarence Gio Almoite, former Asia-Pacific Focal Point of the Children and Youth Major Group to UNEP, delivered closing remarks to the 2023 Annual Climate and Clean Air Conference held in Bangkok

Youth and short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) 

According to a 2022 survey by World Vision and the Global Alliance Cities 4 Children, air pollution is the top urban health concern for global youth who recognise climate, clean air, and food security as issues of human rights. Youth will bear the brunt of climate change impacts in the decades to come, facing threats to ecosystems, livelihoods, economic stability, food and water security, and health. Youth are also heavily impacted by air pollution which kills one in ten children under the age of five globally and can permanently stunt brain, lung, and immune system development. Exposure to air pollution prior to birth and as infants also increases the risk of chronic diseases in adulthood. Ninety-three percent of all children live in environments with air pollution levels above WHO guidelines. 

Today’s youth live in a world in which air pollution and the existential threat of climate change is an ever-present reality. They know that the need for action is urgent, that the time to act is now, and that they have diverse roles to play in reducing SLCPs. From composting at home and in their communities to advocating on the world stage, youth are powerful agents of change and are already taking innovative approaches to encourage ambitious climate change action. Young professionals, scientists, policymakers, educators, activists, and leaders are already contributing to efforts on climate and air quality on a daily basis. 

The youth of today are more digitally savvy, educated, and globally connected than ever. This enhances their potential to make change in their local communities and contribute to the development and implementation of relevant policies and practices. The use of legal action by youth groups to hold decision makers and corporations accountable for environmental damage demonstrates their determination and creativity. For example, a group of law students from several Pacific Island nations were instrumental in the adoption of the March 2023 United Nations Resolution ‘Requesting International Court of Justice Provide Advisory Opinion on States’ Obligations Concerning Climate Change’. This Resolution was spearheaded by Vanuatu and ultimately co-sponsored by more than 130 countries.  

Engaging youth in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) 

Recognising the immediate danger posed by climate change, especially if global warming is not limited to 1.5°C by 2030, young climate activists are already focusing on the “need for speed”.  This is consistent with the CCAC’s focus on reducing SLCPs, which is the best near-term mitigation strategy available.  

“Youth are unequivocal in our demands: we want to move beyond pledges towards binding commitments and concrete action because we know that we are in an emergency. The announcements and commitments made [at COP27] will help slow near-term warming, but they are not nearly enough. We need Heads of State to lead by prioritising methane and the other super pollutants because it is the best and fastest way to deliver climate justice.”
Amelia Murphy, Fast Action on Climate to Ensure Intergenerational Justice (FACE Intergenerational Justice), speaking at the CCAC Ministerial meeting at COP27 at Sharm el-Sheikh.

Many youth climate activists already advocate for policy solutions that align with the fast mitigation strategy advocated for by the CCAC, but their language often focuses on lived experiences and community needs, rather than scientific and policymaking jargon. The CCAC is using our experience in high-level policy making to help bridge the gap between youth messaging and the language of international policy and overcome barriers to implementing climate justice in high-level policy spaces.  

We were pleased to host youth speaker Clarence Gio Almoite at the 2023 Annual Climate and Clean Air Conference in Bangkok to deliver closing remarks to experts and government representatives from 57 countries.  The CCAC Board also took the conference opportunity to approve our Youth Engagement Strategy (YES). Through this strategy, we will engage, educate, empower youth in climate and clean air spaces, amplifying their voices through a participatory approach. 

We have also established our Young Scientist Programme, which will support young researchers to work with the CCAC Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) and contribute directly to climate and air quality research while receiving mentorship from some of the world’s leading scientists. 

Meaningful engagement with youth also means recognising their capacity to effect concrete change on the ground and create constructive relationships. Since 2018, the CCAC has welcomed youth-led non-governmental organisations such as Youth Climate Lab as official Partners. We also support youth implementers through CCAC-funded projects such as Youth Initiative for Land in Africa, which is co-implementing a transformative action project in the agriculture sector in Ghana and Benin. 

The CCAC welcomes connection with youth organisations and individuals interested in climate and air quality.  Options for youth engagement include: 

  • learning about the connections between climate change and air pollution, starting with the resources below; 

  • including SLCPs in climate and air quality initiatives; 

  • advocating for fast mitigation measures; 

  • following our updates on social media; and 


The CCAC Secretariat thanks FACE Intergenerational Justice and the Major Group for Children and Youth (UNMGCY) for their collaboration and support throughout the development and implementation of the YES.