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22 June, 2019 00:00 00 AM

Climate change is a youth issue

Climate change alters rural youth employment opportunities in all sectors – not just in agriculture
Ranjan Roy
Climate change is a youth issue

No challenge poses a more significant threat to future generations than climate change. All-encompassing efforts to tackle climate change are, therefore, more urgent than ever; as the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary recently remarked, “the world is still running behind climate change.” This write-up focuses on the interconnections between climate change (impacts) and youth in Bangladesh.

What makes climate change a youth issue?

Bangladesh, with a large youth population share, is unlikely to be able to avoid significant impacts of climate change by 2050. The Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 presents a gloomy development forecast up to 2100. They estimate, by mid-century, flooding extent might increase up to 6% from the base (2005) in the coastal zone, and salinity intrusion would increase with sea level rise (SLR) of 52 cm that is likely to cause significant changes in river salinity during the dry season (October to May). In 2050, domestic water demand is estimated to increase up to 100%, and due to the reduction in yield, paddy production would fall by 1.60%. These impacts pose a severe threat to youth employment, agribusiness, and other farming and non-farming income-earning activities, which consequently have negative implications for rural youth opportunities and livelihoods.

Bangladesh, with large youth populations and a high degree of vulnerability to drought, flood, and SLR are also highly dependent on agriculture—the most climate-sensitive sector. Studies show that the relative size of the youth population and dependence on the agricultural industry are strongly correlated (International Fund for Agricultural Development). A high degree of reliance on agriculture makes this country vulnerable to the effects of climate change and other environmental shocks, which are likely to be felt more intensely in rural areas where young people look at livelihood opportunities dominated by the agriculture sector, including fisheries, and livestock.

The most significant shares of young people have the least capacity to deal with the implications of climate change. Rural youths have been struggling to find decent employment, mainly in the agricultural sector. Scholarly research indicates around 50% of rural youth in Bangladesh live in opportunity spaces with strong agrarian potential but with limited access to markets, finance, and land.

How does climate change affect rural youth opportunities?

Climate change alters rural youth employment opportunities in all sectors – not just in agriculture. Climate change negatively impacts agriculture. However, the projected impacts of climate change include decreased livestock productivity due to heat stress and changing distributions of pests and diseases; redistribution of the potential catch of marine fisheries away from sub-tropical countries (5th Assessment Report of the IPCC). These impacts pose the risks of reduced production, income, employment and, hence, food security.

Climate change has a significant impact on the road, bridge, culverts, and other infrastructure; besides natural-resource-dependent sectors; which increases the exposure of young people. Farming and non-farming activities such as processing, packaging, and transportation are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on infrastructure. This vulnerability is undermining the productivity and connectivity of rural youth (The Delta Plan).

Economy-wide effects magnify the implications of climate shocks for investment, job creation, poverty reduction, and structural transformation (i.e., associated with the public investment in health, education, and infrastructure). In recent years, the coastal zone has increasingly faced a combination of cyclone risk, salinity, and tidal water movement above critical levels, which led to marginal investment in the development sector, slow job creation, low levels of structural transformation, and slower growth.

The impacts of climate change are distributed unevenly across the rural-urban areas. In rural regions, climate change impacts are felt on agriculture, food security, and water supply. The human costs in rural areas are high because of rural residents’ heavy dependence for their livelihoods on natural resources, high rural poverty rates, and the low connectivity of the rural regions. For these same reasons, young people are bearing more the brunt of the combined effects on their productivity and connectivity than urban people.

Youth-specific constraints – especially on access to land and other capital– may be exacerbated by climate change. Land values have impacted to change in response to climate-related hazards such as drought, flooding, and SLR. Price of lands in the coastal regions is relatively declining, along with productivity and employment opportunities.

What can sustainable livelihood opportunities for rural youth be created through adaptation to climate change?

Agricultural sectors that are well prepared to meet the challenges of changed agroecology can partially offset losses elsewhere in the economy. Individual, organizational, and institutional knowledge, skills, and technology development are urgent. Moreover, financial and policy support in production and marketing are also indispensable to generate youth opportunities. Current investments in agricultural R&D fall short of what is needed to drive a dynamic agricultural sector that can create sustainable employment opportunities.

The agricultural development and growth model has to be embedded climate-change priorities into their heart, where Bangladesh has been lagged. The government of Bangladesh should work on accentuating incremental actions—smaller, discrete, within system changes— that can be sequenced and gradually phased in to pave the way for longer-term transformative outcomes for rural youth.

Adaptive investments in all sectors can reduce the climate-related push factors of migration. Climate change is known to affect overall migration patterns in different ways. Studies show youth are slowly migrating in response to natural disasters. In the same way, migration is occurring due to lack of access to natural resources, primarily land. Climate change is exacerbating these constraints. For this reason, incorporating a rural youth lens into climate change adaptation and land reform policies are required.  

How can a programmatic approach (i.e., long-term and strategic arrangement to achieve large-scale impacts) to adaptation be designed that goes beyond agriculture to ensure productivity, connectivity, and agency for rural youth?

Investment is critical for developing localized adaptive innovations to address challenges of drought-prone and flood-affected agriculture, which absorbs large cohorts of rural youth. Adaptive innovations in agriculture are more critical than in other sectors, such as infrastructure, since the impacts of climate change in the agricultural industry are a combination of climate, agroecological, and human-environment interactions.

Youth-centred adaptation actions are crucial to address the constraints that are having the most acute effects on young people. Development (or adaptation) programmes only promote youth opportunities if programmes allow meaningful participation (e.g., access to technology development and decision making) of youth. Youth-centred adaptation interventions such as on- and off-farm livelihood strategies, providing risks management skills and risk management financial services are useful in Bhutan, Egypt, Nigeria, and Viet Nam.

Access to capital—natural, human, physical, financial, and political—facilitates three foundations for rural youth development: productivity, connectivity, and agency. Access to ICTs have increasingly been used in technology promotion and information dissemination efforts that can enhance the potential to reach rural youth more effectively than traditional systems.

Investments in young people’s development of cognitive and non-cognitive skills are expected to equip them with the tools to understand, mitigate, and adapt to climate change and to innovate for tackling the current and imminent climate change challenges.

Ranjan Roy, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural

Extension and Information System, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural

University. E-mail:



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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