Changing what we eat to help the planet

August 11, 2021

Climate change debates with youth - Selma Idić president of AIESEC in BiH

For 25-year-old Emina Kuhinja, choosing to change her diet came about after learning of the negative effects on nature engendered by meat production and other segments of the food industry that she sees as a burden to the environment.

“A plant-based diet in my head still seems abstract, but I consider it to be a beautiful future, because the people I am seeing on the internet, they all seem very positive, healthy, fit, and this seems like the future of food.”

For Emina, a researcher and activist in Sarajevo, just starting out on her career in the field of political science, she found a beautiful symbiosis for what works for her body as well as the environment.

Emina Kuhinja, youth activist Photo: courtesy of Emina

Transforming Food Systems

Emina recently participated in the Climate Change Academy organized in Bosnia and Herzegovina by the UNDP-implemented, Green Climate Fund-financed project, ‘Advancing the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) process for medium-term investment planning in climate sensitive sectors’.

Mingling with young politicians, activists, and journalists, Emina learned about the impacts of climate change on agriculture, water management, human health, and the economy. She found the experience a meaningful opportunity that got her thinking even more about what we do to nature and how our daily habits affect the environment and worsen the consequences of climate change.

Climate Change Academy group photo

For International Youth Day 2021, the theme is, ‘Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health’. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the UNDP NAP team knows that the success of such a global effort will not be achieved without the meaningful participation of young people. They know that when it comes to transforming food systems, youth are often ahead of the curve.

“I believe there should be more awareness, because a lot of people don’t understand the processes that are happening,” Emina says. “Firstly, we need education and then change of habits.

Informed decisions = healthy choices

During this year’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum, held in April, the young participants emphasized the need to work towards more equitable food systems and highlighted the need for young people to make informed decisions on food choices through increasing global education on the healthiest and most sustainable options for both individuals and the environment.

Counting the youth vote

According to UNDP's Peoples' Climate Vote,  the largest survey of public opinion on climate change ever conducted, 72% of under-18s in Bosnia and Herzegovina said that climate change is an emergency. It is evident that young people’s needs and aspirations should be heard, and their role as positive agents of change should be supported. To stimulate debate on climate change among youth in BiH and ensure their voices are heard at the 26th UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), the NAP project, in partnership with the Association Internationale des Étudiants en Sciences Économiques et Commerciales (AIESEC) - a youth led organization - organized debates on climate change in 2021.

No room for debate: we must change our habits

Whether it is about food systems, the environment, or the effects of climate change, 19-year-old Anastasija Đorđa Bosančić from Banja Luka is ready to discuss it. Highlighting the importance of changing our habits to be more considerate to the environment, and underscoring what Bosnia and Herzegovina’s institutions need to do in accordance with the Paris Agreement were central themes in AIESEC’s youth climate change debates.  

As a debate winner, Anastasija Đorđa is set to represent Bosnia and Herzegovina at COP26 in Glasgow.

“Even though we, the youth, are not directly responsible for climate change we are the ones to feel them on our skin,” says the 19-year-old international relations student. “In 10-20 years when the time comes for us to be successful businesspeople, have our families and careers, climate change will peak and whatever we do now will have an impact.”

Emphasizing how she was raised by her parents to be careful with discarding waste, and with an awareness of how nature is suffering from human impacts, Anastasija Đorđa carries this cognisance with her and tries to convey it onwards to young people around her. Through everyday conversations and through her own example via participation in the projects and events of international organizations dedicated to the field, she tries to make a change.

“I think that the responsibility is ultimately on the companies and governments – which is true – but I believe each one of us could contribute,” she noted. “Talking about climate change, people consider it to be the melting of ice in Antarctica or a polluted ocean far away from us, while our own rivers are polluted and full of garbage and no one seems to notice.”

Just like Emina, Anastasija Đorđa sees part of the solution in changing personal habits, with awareness of food systems among the top priorities.

“We are focused on the consumption, but no one wonders about everything that needed to be sacrificed so that food could come to us,” she says. “We should reduce the consumption of meat and dairy of animal origin. There are always healthy alternatives to one part of nutrition we can adjust, no matter the household budget.”

For Anastasija Đorđa, checking the ingredients and nutrition labels to see whether her food is natural produced or unsustainably processed is a trivial matter that does not take overmuch time.

Anastasija Đorđa Bosančić and friend Nikola Lukic. Photo: courtesy of Anastasija

Youth are central to BiH’s National Adaptation Plan

Within the National Adaptation Plan BiH, institutions plan to raise awareness and enhance education about the need to adapt to climate change and support the development of a sustainable, climate resilient and more responsible agriculture sector. The governmental institutions involved in the NAP project are the Ministry of Spatial Planning, Civil Engineering, and Ecology of Republika Srpska as the country’s UNFCCC and GCF focal point, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of BiH as a state-level ministry in charge of co-ordinating climate change adaptation activities throughout the country, and the Federal Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

In the face of a changing climate, NAPs provide a foundation for proactively adapting. Promoting ambitious climate action across the world, NAPs also ensure that countries are able to support their citizens.

Supporting the government to advance the NAP process and reaching the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Green Climate Fund (GCF) resources are being used to raise awareness of parliamentarians, young politicians, and youth about the importance of integrating climate change-related risks, coping strategies - and opportunities - into ongoing development planning and budgeting processes. Youth are central to this process. The NAP BiH team will continue to integrate the country’s youth, and applaud and amplify their efforts collectively and individually to restore the planet and protect life.