Students at Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh, have joined a YouthNet for Climate Justice demonstration this week targeting young people to fight climate change. Shakila Islam led the protest – Islam is co-ordinator for YouthNet for Climate Justice, an online networking platform aimed to support youth-led projects on climate policy.
The groups aim is to “amplify young voices from coastal areas and increase their engagement at local, regional and national levels.” Their current mission is to organise rallies, demonstrations, and campaigns in coastal cities most affected by cyclones, storms, and extreme flooding – all linked to the climate crisis.
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Over the years, YouthNet have also staged many other protests and demonstrations around several climate change issues. For example, the group organized protests in Dhaka opposing the construction of a coal-based facility in Matarbari, which was being jointly developed by the government and investors from Japan. In the end, Japan withdrew its financial support for the Matarbari and Cox’s Bazar projects, and the government turned down 16 out of the 21 proposed power plants throughout the nation.
Despite receiving a small amount of government funding through its collaboration with Climate Parliament Bangladesh, YouthNet encounters significant economic hurdles in achieving its goals. Nevertheless, it has managed to initiate fresh dialogues with the policymakers of Bangladesh.
When discussing funding, Islam states, “The fight against climate change comes with financial consequences for young activists…Although we participated in the National Adaptation Plan formulation process and the Delta conference to enhance youth participation, YouthNet was unable to fulfil the government’s funding criteria as we don’t have the bank balance to register as an NGO.”
The city of Barisal has been a recent focus of the group’s efforts – it’s location on the banks of the river Kirtonkhola leaves it vulnerable to extreme flooding. Rallies and demonstrations were organised by the city’s youth, with the support of YouthNet, demanding the Bangladeshi government to act on climate change.
Sohanur Rahman, co-founder of YouthNet, also identified other social and welfare issues that the climate issue has a knock-on affect to, “Our outreach work found a link between climate change disasters and child marriages.” Rahman claims that “Displaced families responded with a negative coping mechanism — marrying girls off at a young age means one less mouth to feed and body to shelter,”
Rahman goes on to argue that young people’s voices must be heard, “No more side-lining children in decisions affecting their lives…Their protection shouldn’t be compromised when they fight for their rights and future!”
YouthNet will continue to support many people adapt to the climate crisis. With aid from the COP26 Youth Engagement Challenge Fund and ActionAid Bangladesh, YouthNet has empowered 2,000 activists and provides continuous support for 50,000 people from 40 climate-vulnerable districts. We can all hope to see much more from them over the coming months as the fight against the climate crisis continues.