Charles Hamilton, climate change and public health advocate says climate change has become, for his generation, the single defining issue of his time and that he and his peers are looking to leaders for leadership. He says their survival depends on their ability to act.
Hamilton was one of four young adults permitted to provide an intervention during the opening segment of the High-Level Debate Meeting of the General Assembly to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations on Monday, September 21.
In his address, the Bahamian tried to make sure that the plight of The Bahamas and other small island developing states were noted, while calling out leaders for inaction, and providing meaningful ways they can address those gaps.
“Young people believe that we can change our present situation and create a brighter future – let’s make this more than just a commemoration, [more] than words with empty meaning. It will only happen if leaders commit to solidarity and strong support for multilateralism, on this 75th Anniversary of the UN and beyond,” said Hamilton, climate change, public health, and communications consultant chairperson at the Cat Island Conservation Institute.
“Eighty-seven percent of youth believe that global co-operation is vital to deal with today’s challenges, and the UN has expressed its optimism about the future – because of us, young people.
“However, on behalf of young people in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), peoples of the Caribbean and CARICOM, persons residing in coastal and indigenous communities, and in Least Developed Countries (LDCs), we demand greater urgency, action, and broader intergenerational governance structures within the UN to swiftly resolve our world’s greatest challenges.”
Two top priorities for the UN to address, identified by young people, according to Hamilton, were recovery from COVID-19 and addressing the climate crisis.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded inequalities that young people have advocated for decades to tackle, while SIDS and LDCs face a triple threat – a climate, COVID-19, and debt crisis – despite having a minimal historical contribution to these problems.
“These are the cards dealt to young people and the game feels rigged. One year ago, the second and third most populated islands and economic engines of The Bahamas were decimated by Hurricane Dorian – dubbed ‘Category Hell’ by the Secretary-General [António Guterres] – with loss and damages amounting to over 25 percent of The Bahamas’ GDP [gross domestic product]. Now, compound this scenario with COVID-19 and its economic fallout.
“This chilling scenario is possible for other SIDS and LDCs – as climate change is not our future, but the present reality for all people.”
With the National Hurricane Center (NHC) running out of names for the 2020 season, with swaths of the planet set ablaze, and more countries sinking into the ocean, Hamilton asked the Assembly whether the climate crisis should be the loudest wake-up call for the greater need of multilateralism, instead of retreating from the environmental challenges.
“We can no longer refuse to extend universal health coverage to all people, across all borders, and to those who cannot afford it – especially young people. Multilateral efforts toward a green and just recovery and not an “us first”, isolationist approach, is the best solution to swiftly eradicate this pandemic – and to place young people back on the path toward a hopeful future.
“Therefore, increasing accountability to the implementation of internationally agreed frameworks (such as Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement) at local and national levels, with the active participation of young people, is non-negotiable; it’s a prerequisite to success.”
He said the youth recognize that their leaders have stolen time from their future, and aggravated their present situations, and, as such, young people are focused on reclaiming their time.
“It is do or die,” said Hamilton.
“Are you uncomfortable?” he questioned the Assembly. “Good. Channel that uncomfortable feeling into ensuring that young people are engaged, consistently, and meaningfully beyond inviting us as panelists at events and meetings; but by also supporting our work, through financing and decision-making spaces – at national and multilateral levels.”
Hamilton said the UNESCO Caribbean Climate Change Youth Network notes: “Climate change has become, for our generation, the single defining issue of our time and we are looking to you for leadership. Our very survival depends on your ability to act.
“Young people believe that we can change our present situation and create a brighter future – let’s make this more than just a commemoration, more than words with empty meaning. It will only happen if leaders commit to solidarity and strong support for multilateralism on this 75th Anniversary of the UN and beyond.”