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Among all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the thirteenth goal has a unique significance. It gives a clarion call to “Take urgent action to combat climate change”. And no, Climate Action is not complete till the time the voices of children and the youth are heard while crafting climate change and environmental strategies and plans. It is time we recognise children as “Agents of Change”, more so because Climate Change will drastically impact them in times to come.

This is the story of 18-year-old Utpal Hazong from Assam, who has been striving to bring about community-level changes while furthering the agenda of Climate Action and has joined his peers in the youth-led international climate movement #FridaysForFuture.

The state of Assam is highly vulnerable to extreme climate events. Dhemaji and Nagaon districts in the state are vulnerable to extreme floods, droughts and cyclones, research conducted by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) had said. The study also said that the frequency and intensity of extreme climate events in India has increased by almost 200% since 2005.

Utpal hails from Azarbari village of Dhemaji district. He lives with his parents and three siblings. His father is a migrant worker who barely earns a sum of INR 6,000 per month. His mother works as a cook in a school, drawing in INR 1,500 per month. Utpal and his friends are no strangers to extreme climate events. Every year, Assam faces the fury of the river Brahmaputra, bringing heavy floods and disrupting lives. Annual floods have also eroded the topsoil, making the surrounding land infertile and increasing the risk of further flooding.

Azarbari is one of the locations where Bal Raksha Bharat has been responding to annual floods. Bal Raksha Bharat is also engaged in Child-Centered Disaster Risk Reduction (CCDRR) related activities. Our team has worked towards implementing resilience-building interventions among youth and groomed them as Climate Champions. Utpal has been one of the key stakeholders in this process and is also an active member of the School Disaster Management Committee.

Utpal is the president of the newly formed AK-Young Star Youth Club in his village, where he leads the youth to take action against the usage of plastic and any other hazardous material. To prevent soil erosion, Utpal and his youth club members have initiated tree plantations in and around the village. He also motivates his friends and people of his village to celebrate occasions like their birthdays by planting saplings.

And all this has borne fruit. Taking inspiration from Utpal, the Panchayat leader announced during one of the village meetings that people should give each other saplings instead of giving valuable gifts. The youth club now wants to plant saplings around the river banks to prevent soil erosion in future. “Due to alarming extreme climate change events, we have taken steps and acted locally to plant saplings in the villages and river banks to reduce soil erosion and increase green cover,” says Utpal.

Apart from plantation drives, Utpal and his friends have conducted cleanliness drives in the village. They also promoted the practice of adopting locally available materials, such as homemade bags for shopping and using organic manure in backyard kitchen gardens.

Utpal is committed to continue his work relentlessly. He wants to leverage the potential of social media to generate awareness on the club’s work. He believes generating awareness, and building capacity on climate change adaptation at the district-, block-, panchayat- and community-level are essential to building a mass movement towards limiting global warming and climate change. “The much-needed impetus towards achieving net-zero carbon emissions status by 2070 has to come from the country’s youths”, he says.

Are you a young person looking to make a difference in your community? Ready to do your bit to drive change around you? Join our YOUNG CAMPAIGNERS programme today.

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