Indigenous youth are among those who are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts because of several factors.
First, most of them are highly dependent on natural resources and the integrity of the ecosystems or territories they inhabit to be able to perform their productive and reproductive roles and responsibilities in their societies. The majority of indigenous peoples live in territories or ecosystems which are very fragile and vulnerable to climate change. These territories include the Arctic, high mountain areas, small islands and low-lying coastal regions, forests, grasslands and the savannah. Generally, indigenous young people are the ones responsible for provision of food, fodder, water and fuel, care of the younger, elderly and the sick and the reception of traditional knowledge to the better and sustainable future. Any development which diminishes their access to resources needed by them to perform these responsibilities will have serious repercussions on everyday lives of their families, communities and the planet.
Secondly, they are still subjected to the worst forms of racism and discrimination, physical, sexual and psychological violence, human rights violations, and social and political exclusion. This is because they are youth and because they are indigenous. They are victims of enrollment in the rebel groups, also subjected to violence based on gender (particularly indigenous women), inaccessibility to education infrastructure, and HIV.
Discriminatory and racist behavior and mindsets against indigenous peoples are still prevalent, despite the existence of international norms and standards established and ratified by these States Parties. The inequalities and injustices related to access to education, good health, finance service, technologies and technical assistance, climate change finance are very much linked with discrimination. The invisibility of indigenous young people in the big picture of climate change impacts and solutions, natural resources management and governance is a function of the general insensitivity or blindness to intergenerational equity and ethnicity perspectives and issues.
Thirdly, according to statistics, indigenous peoples are overrepresented among the world’s poor. They compose around five per cent of the world’s population, but they constitute around 15 per cent of the poorest of the poor (UN 2009, 21). It is safe to assume that indigenous young people, also indigenous women compose the majority of this 15 per cent. Their vulnerability to climate change impacts is higher as they do not have the resources needed to adapt when more frequent droughts, floods, stronger hurricanes, etc. strike their territories and homes.
In other ways indigenous young people also have strong potentials to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Since they greatly depend on the various ecosystems and the services emanating from these, they have the knowledge on how to sustain and manage these and how to adapt when changes occur. Many of them are traditional knowledge holders and practitioners of sustainable development. They are among those sectors of society who have the smallest ecological footprints. Climate change also makes insecure the future of this community which is unfortunate as they have a great role to play in environmental governance.