For three Chennai students, R.S. Anand Kumar, Saleem Khan and Ajai Prasannah, next month’s climate change negotiations at Copenhagen are about the survival of India’s future and the hopes of their own generation.
Anand and Saleem will give voice to those hopes as part of a 20-member Indian youth delegation to Copenhagen, brought together by the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN). Meanwhile, Ajai will organise a “base camp” here in Chennai with awareness workshops, seminars and regular videoconferencing sessions to keep Chennai’s youth connected with their representatives in Copenhagen.
The trio come to the climate change issue from different directions. Anand, a final-year BE Electrical and Electronics Engineering student at St. Joseph’s College of Engineering has a knack for energy innovations, while Saleem, who is doing his doctorate at Anna University’s Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation Research is keen on translating scientific solutions to action. Ajai is an MBA student at the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM) in Chennai, and hopes to bring management skills to environment conservation.
Saleem became interested in environmental issues while doing his Masters degree in Biotechnology at New College. “I didn’t want science to remain as a thesis,” he says. Doing his project on mangroves, he worked with slum-dwellers to protect and plant the groves in the Adyar estuary. At IYCN, he’s been involved with the political strategies team, documenting and reviewing the political statements made by India and other parties. He’s helping to prepare the youth agenda and declaration which will be presented at the summit.
“It’s important to take science to the policy level,” he says. Now doing his doctoral thesis on the impact of climate change on coastal biodiversity, Saleem wants to make sure there is enough focus on the adaptation aspects of climate change, not just the mitigation proposals that grab the headlines.
“I did an energy audit on my own campus, because I thought technology wasn’t being used the right way, people did not have energy efficient habits. I thought it would be better to go to the institution’s management with some hard data and numbers and then they will take action,” says Anand. His audit has convinced authorities to install energy-saving measures, including solar power, and propelled Anand to take an interest in the wider issue of climate change.
As part of his preparation for the summit, he networked with international youth groups, and helped coordinate an IYCN team from other South Asian nations such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan.
Ajai spent his MBA internship with the Jeeva Karunya Trust, involved in conservation and tribal development in the State, where he discovered just how climate change issues are affecting nature and those who depend on it.
He will set up a base camp in Chennai for eight days of awareness programmes and video-conferencing links to those at Copenhagen. “We want to take the streets and the rural areas around Chennai with a handycam. We will talk to farmers, fishermen, young people, all those who are affected and send their videos to the summit. Their voices must be heard,” he says.
“The big push must come from the grassroots level,” says Saleem. “The bottom-up approach is needed to pressurise the top-down approach at Copenhagen.”
Anand says it is important for national negotiators to know they are speaking on behalf of their youth. “We’ve had this crazy idea that if nothing is decided at Copenhagen, we will form a human chain around the conference, and won’t let them [the delegates] out without a deal. Our voices can’t be ignored, we will show them youth power… In 2050, how many of them will be around? We are the ones who will have to deal with it.”