‘If young people are not included, then what agency do they have in shaping the world they inherit?’
Risalat Khan, a young Bangladeshi activist, was part of a 100-strong expedition to the Arctic.
He was among 100 global icons selected across sectors and countries. Each participant a beacon of hope and effort towards a better world. The expedition was organized by FutureTalks, a global platform for the world’s young leaders.
FutureTalks is a brainchild of Silje Vallestadand and Camilla Hagen Sørli. In 2017, they had the crazy idea of inviting 100 brilliant people regardless of age, background, and nationalities on an Arctic expedition to raise awareness on global warming and climate change.
The enormous success of the first expedition warranted another one. And Risalat found himself part of a group of people handpicked for their capacity to change the world.
Risalat was featured by the Guardian as one of the “young climate campaigners to watch” in 2015. He co-led the million-strong campaign to stop the Rampal coal power plant in Bangladesh to try to preserve the Sundarbans.
In 2018, Risalat attended the “World Economic Forum” annual meeting in Davos as one of the 50 shapers selected from around the world. He spoke at the panel “Stepping Up Climate Action” with leaders from government, civil society and industry, including former American vice president and environmental activist Al Gore.
In a recent conversation with the Dhaka Tribune, Risalat Khan talked about his Arctic experience. He said:“The Arctic expedition experience was an emotional one, as we witnessed that Arctic ice is melting faster than ever before because of climate change-which is alarming because each melting drop is contributing to the sea level rise that threatens our country and other coastal regions around the world.”
“Our journey began on August 24, when we set sail on the MS Nordstjernen (“North Star”) from Svalbard, Norway. With no wi-fi or cellphone coverage, we engaged in discussions about the most important topics of our, like the polarizing information environment due to social media, climate and environmental challenges, artificial intelligence and biotechnology, human connection across divisions, and more,” he added.
They ventured far north till the 80th parallel north, and visited the International Arctic Research Center. On the voyage they saw reindeer, polar bears, beluga whales, and walruses, all threatened by climate change.
Risalat said what struck him most about the expedition was the number of young people who were included in the discussions. Nearly 30% of the delegates were under 30, and many were still studying.
“This is a model for how decision-making must be carried out, because most decisions have implications deep into the future,” said Risalat.
“If young people are not included, then what agency do they have in shaping the world they inherit?”
Addressing the issue of Bangladesh, he said: “This is especially relevant when we look at the current situation in our country, where young people have been silenced and marginalized after they came out in record numbers to engage in the important issue of road safety.
“Rather than celebrating this participation and making space, the government is making a major mistake by reacting with violence – and this’ll have dangerous far-reaching consequences.”
Risalat believes that this outpour of energy of youngsters should be utilized to activate a generation of civic-minded citizens, the government’s heavy-handed actions risk derailing them.
Therefore, he plans to employ his brainstorming experience at the Arctic to his campaign to protect our planet’s climate, biodiversity, and natural systems.
“If we can come together to demand from political decision makers the actions that we very well know are needed – such as transitioning fast to 100% renewable energy – then it’ll be possible, but time is running out.”