Ashley-Lashley: The health of our people and our environment are all interconnected

Climate activist Ashley Lashley leads a movement called the HEY (Health and Environment-friendly Youth) Campaign - where she works with young people across the Caribbean to help to foster sustainable lifestyles and understand the impacts of climate change on our health - and the health of our planet.

The health of our people and our environment are all interconnected. I believe that the wealth of our nation depends on the health of our environment, and our people, says the 22-year-old who became a UNICEF Youth Advocate in 2021 to promote social development issues such as health and the environment particularly among children and young people.

The spaces that we cherish and enjoy with our friends and family for example, or ports or schools and our community centers they are also at risk of becoming totally non-existent as we know it, says Ashley, who is from Barbados, one of the many islands in the Caribbean bearing the brunt of the climate crisis disportionately - despite being responsible for less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. So how can we thrive for a healthier planet when many of our children or young persons are exposed to at least one climate and environmental hazard which are creating incredibly challenging environments for our children to live, play, thrive and survive?

The World Health Organization calls climate change the single biggest health threat facing humanity. Major health concerns such as air pollution, extreme weather events, heat stress, food insecurity, diseases and pressures on mental health  - that kill an estimated 13 million people needlessly every year - are some of the many impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and a changing climate.

This fight for climate justice doesn't extend to our physical environment alone but also impacts negatively on our children's and our young persons mental health environment, adds Ashley. Latest data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability shows how mental health challenges, including anxiety and stress, are expected to increase under further global warming, particularly for children, young people, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. Such conditions are often associated with increasing temperatures, trauma from weather and climate extreme events as well as loss of livelihoods and culture, particularly among communities, countries and regions most vulnerable to climate change.

Today, sea-level rise poses an existential threat for Small Islands. In very low-lying places, extreme sea level rise, which has been occurring about once a century, will happen more frequently by 2050. Climate and weather extremes such as hurricanes and floods are increasingly driving displacement in these areas. And people are reaching limits in their ability to adapt to climate change. We are being severely impacted by the effects that climate change is having on our lives and livelihoods and our economies and our countries by extension.

We truly believe that there must be far greater support by the international community to us within Small Island Developing States and helping us to become more climate resilient and adapt better to the impact that the climate crisis is having on our lives today, says Ashley. But Small islands are not only on the frontline of climate change, they are also at the forefront of climate action. Countries like Barbados are determined to power their islands fully with renewable energy and reach zero carbon emissions by 2030. They are rising to the challenge every day despite the turmoil. Because we are at the forefront and at the end of the day, we can't depend fully on persons to take action for us and it needs to come from the individual within itself in order to assist with the averting of this climate crisis globally and within our regions today, adds Ashley.

My message of hope would be to don't give up. Every day, millions of persons worldwide are taking action for our environment. Each and every one of us have a role to play in averting the climate crisis. And we just need to gather. We need to join hands, work as one to ensure that our plight in this climate crisis can be averted and we can't do it alone but we need to join hands together and create a global movement in averting the climate crisis.The power of change starts with us.