Malala Yousafzai has said she hopes the UK will use the Cop26 conference to highlight that girls’ education, gender equality and climate change are not separate issues.
Scotland is due to host the summit of world leaders later this year, described as the most important gathering on climate change since the Paris Agreement in 2015.
Nobel laureate and education campaigner Ms Yousafzai said her message to world leaders is: “Listen to young people who are leading the climate movements.”
The 23-year-old, who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman at the age of 15 after campaigning for girls to be educated in her native Pakistan, was speaking on a Chatham House webinar on Friday.
The online event – Building a Greener, Fairer Future: The Role of Girls’ Education in Climate Action – also included input from Cop26 president Alok Sharma.
Asked about what she would say to world leaders ahead of the summit, Ms Yousafzai spoke of the importance of listening to young people, adding: “I hope that the UK will use this opportunity and this platform to show other colleagues who will be part of Cop to prioritise girls’ education, and recognise how girls’ education, gender equality and climate change are not separate issues. They work together.
“Girls’ education and gender equality can be used as a solution against climate change, so we must ensure that our children receive quality education, that includes climate education too.”
Ms Yousafzai said women and girls in low income communities are disproportionately affected by climate change, and people who have contributed least to climate change are suffering some of the worst of the effects.
“My goal has always been a world where every girl can choose her own future and complete her education,” she said.
Ms Yousafzai, who studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University, said when families are affected by climate change disasters, such as floods and droughts, girls are the first to leave their schools.
She said they sometimes take on the household responsibilities, or get married to reduce the burden on their own family.
Ms Yousafzai said the Malala Fund has estimated that this year climate related events could prevent up to four million girls from lower income countries in completing their education.
She added: “So, girls are the victims, girls are affected by these climate change disasters, but also when we educate girls and we provide them with quality education, with climate education, they can become farmers, conservationists, solar technicians, and they can fill other green jobs as well.
“And critical thinking and problem solving skills can then allow them to help their communities to adapt to climate change and how to tackle the issues of climate change.
“Also when girls are educated and when they stay in schools they get married later in their lives and then they have less children, and that also helps us to reduce the impacts of climate change that the population increase brings.
“And when women and girls are educated, that brings stronger low carbon economies and creates more equal workforce.
“So, you know, just the connection between climate change, gender equality and education is why I’m here and I’m talking about it.”