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Remarks by Dr. Carla Barnett, Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community at the Opening Ceremony of the Climate Change and Health Orientation and Training Workshop for CARICOM Youth Ambassadors and Youth Leaders, 23 April 2024

 Honourable Frank Anthony, Minister of Health of Guyana;

 Representatives of International Organisations;

 Ms. Alison Drayton, Assistant Secretary-General, Human and Social Development;

 Other Members of Staff of the CARICOM Secretariat;

 CARICOM Youth Ambassadors and Youth Leaders

 Young People of the Region.

I am pleased to speak with you today as we convene the Climate Change and Health Orientation and Training Workshop for Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Youth Ambassadors (CYAs) and Youth Leaders, to address the intersecting challenges of climate change and public health. This Workshop will seek to strengthen the platform for knowledge exchange, capacity building, and, most importantly, collaboration among CARICOM Youth Ambassadors and Leaders. It is an invaluable opportunity to deepen our understanding of the links between climate change and health, explore innovative solutions, and strengthen our collective resolve to address these pressing issues.

Climate change is not a distant threat, it is a present reality with profound implications for human health, livelihoods and well-being. From rising temperatures and extreme weather events to changing disease patterns and food insecurity, the effects of climate change are far-reaching, disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations, including young people, indigenous communities and marginalised groups.

Our young people will have to grapple with the consequences well into the future if we fail to take effective action today. We, therefore, need to ensure that young people are enabled to be agents of change, with the power to shape a more resilient and sustainable future. This is critical in our CARICOM Region, where young are 60 per cent of the population.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), climate change is already causing a range of health issues, including injuries, heat-related illnesses and mental health problems. Climate change is exacerbating existing health challenges, such as vector-borne diseases like Dengue Fever and Zika, which are more prevalent in warmer and wetter conditions. Rising sea levels and coastal erosion threaten the homes and livelihoods of coastal communities, while changes in rainfall patterns and availability of water contribute to food insecurity and malnutrition. Moreover, the loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems further undermine the resilience of our communities and ecosystems.

The CARICOM Secretariat plays an important role, providing leadership and guidance in addressing the complex challenges posed by climate change. We thank our partners, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the European Union (EU), for the financing under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) project and their ongoing partnership so that we can address some of these critical issues.

We have been making significant strides in advancing climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts within the Caribbean Community, including the establishment of regional frameworks and policies, and the implementation of community-based initiatives and awareness campaigns.

However, there is much more work to be done, and active participation of young people is essential to drive progress and foster positive change. I am pleased to see that young people have already begun to lead the charge. As we have heard, two former Youth Ambassadors have implemented innovative waste management projects. Commendations are due to Dwane Hendrickson from St. Kitts and Nevis, and Renee Atwell from Trinidad and Tobago, for their exemplary initiatives addressing climate change and health challenges within their respective communities. Their projects helped to raise awareness among their peers about vital waste management actions to conserve the beauty and bounty of the environment with which our Region has been blessed. As a result of these initiatives, some 40 young people in both countries were actively engaged in efforts to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. This has inspired more of our Youth Ambassadors to develop their own national projects, and this Workshop will help to share the information that is necessary to finalise the proposed projects.

The Declaration of Paramaribo on the Future of Youth in the Caribbean Community that was issued by CARICOM Heads of Government in 2010, focused on the critical need to engage young people in our national and regional development strategies, by fostering youth participation across all sectors. The Community clearly stated its intention to “support policies and programmes to engage the creative intellect and energy of a diverse youth population in facing the challenges of globalisation and the CSME, and to develop national and regional youth governance networks with clearly articulated roles”.

The need for collective action to address the complex challenges facing our communities, including climate change and health disparities. The initiatives of Dwane Hendrickson and Renee Atwell exemplify the spirit of the Paramaribo Declaration, highlighting the transformative potential of youth-led initiatives in driving positive change.

As we continue this journey together, I implore our older folk to harness the power of youth leadership, innovation, and collaboration to address the dual challenges of climate change and health. Let us amplify the voices of young people, who bring fresh and different perspectives, creativity and passion to the table. The Secretariat is committed to fostering meaningful youth engagement and empowering the next generation of leaders to act on climate change and health, and a range of issues with which the Community is challenged. We will continue to strengthen our own capacity to meaningfully work with young people. We will continue to create opportunities to bring young people together, not only to impart information, but also to listen to you.

Youth Ambassadors, Youth Leaders,

I encourage each of you to approach this Workshop with an open mind, a sense of purpose, and a commitment to action. Together, we can create a Region where every individual, regardless of age, regardless of background, can work together and support each other in finding solutions to the growing challenges to living healthy lives in a healthy environment.

This is urgent and this is imperative. Let us get to work.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

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