We are the Future: Youth Activism for Climate Change

07 May 2021


“The younger generation may only be 25% of the world’s population, but we are 100% of the world’s future.”
- Melati Wijsen


Small incremental changes to the Earth’s average temperature is creating a worldwide domino effect that is leading to floods, drought and food supply concerns.1

The effects of climate change paint a grim future especially for the younger generation. Instead of accepting the predicament, youths are rising up to make the world they will inherit better – by making their voices heard and joining the climate fight on an unprecedented scale.

From a mere vision to a global movement

One of those leading the fight is Melati Wijsen, a 20-year-old Indonesian climate activist who has been named among the world’s most influential teenagers by Forbes, Time magazine and CNN. She was the youngest speaker at the ‘Temasek Shophouse Conversations (TSC): Climate Action’ which was held on 9th April 2021.

In 2013, Melati started Bye Bye Plastic Bags (BBPB) at the age of 12, with her younger sister, after being dismayed by the plastic waste strewn over their home island, Bali. Driven by passion and determination to rid their island of plastic bags, they started an online petition, spread awareness through school and community workshops, as well as organised massive beach clean-ups which drew local and international attention. In 2019, BBPB achieved its first victory when the Balinese government banned single-use plastics.

The BBPB’s green initiative has blossomed into a global phenomenon. Today, the movement is active in 57 locations over 30 countries.

The young changemaker has not stopped there. Melati founded YOUTHTOPIA, a space that provides peer-to-peer programmes, offering relevant skillsets and tools for youth. In YOUTHTOPIA, likeminded young adults come together to generate ideas and provide support for one another, as they push forward meaningful causes.

Melati has big goals for YOUTHTOPIA. In the next 10 years, she hopes to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals mapped out by the United Nations, working towards a future of circular systems where people live in harmony with nature – not taking more than we need.

The Rise of Youth Climate Activism

As more countries begin to create their own green plans to grow sustainably, many companies are also committing to net zero. Forward-looking businesses are embracing sustainability requirements and regulations, using them to innovate, compete and create new ways to do business.

Consumers and corporates alike are focusing on environmental and sustainability practices when making financial decisions. Global consumer demand for ethically and sustainably sourced products has led to more businesses incorporating environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into their trade and finance decisions.

Financing change in the world

Youth activism is on the rise as climate activists like Melati seek accountability and action from communities, organisations and governments. A ship is always safe at shore, but it is not what it is built for. To shape the world and push for change, we need to step up and take charge of our future. Whether it is as simple as practising the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and refraining from using plastic bags, or bigger initiatives like leading a climate rally, every step forward can help create a better future.

A 2019 survey found that 9 in 10 Singaporean millennials are concerned about the impact of climate change and want to do their part for the environment. They believe that the current infrastructure is inadequate to withstand the impact of climate change and want to rally the public sector to do more.2

This same mindset continues today despite the pandemic. While COVID-19 has caused disruptions to our everyday lives, it has increased youth involvement in civic and social participation. Youths are demonstrating that they are not merely the nation’s future, but have the ability to shape the present3. Young Singaporeans are making their voices heard in their push for climate change through various youth movements4.

Igniting Youth Action for Climate

Inspired to make a change and lend your voice for Mother Earth but don’t know where to start?

The “Temasek Shophouse Conversations: Youth Call-to-Action Programme” launched by Temasek Foundation in partnership with the Heartware Network is a great place to start. The programme, targeted at youth aged 40 and below, guides young leaders to proactively contribute ideas and solutions to be effective drivers of change.

Participants will undergo training to guide their understanding of community issues and needs, and gain new skills on ideation and project planning to improve the feasibility of their proposals.

Mentors from the public, private and people sector will support these youth through development and implementation of project ideas, or scaling them up for greater impact.

The most recent - Youth Action for Climate - seeks proposals to advocate for a sustainable future, advance climate resilience, and combat the climate crisis.

We all play a crucial role in combating climate change. It is not too late to act and create the future that we want to see.