The urgent need to protect the planet
and health of our young people

AstraZeneca Chairman Leif Johansson recently joined leaders in academia, business, government and philanthropy at UNICEF’s Global Forum for Children and Youth (CY21). Leif spoke alongside Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, and Angelique Kidjo, four-time Grammy Award winner and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, exchanging ideas on ways in which we can collaborate with young people to solve some of the biggest challenges facing our planet today. The new inaugural CY21 forum aims to accelerate solutions to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Below is a summary of some of the key points discussed during this high-level session. 

Young people are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change

The impact that the climate crisis is having on young people is all too clear, especially in vulnerable communities around the world. According to the UNICEF Children’s Climate Risk Index, one billion children live in countries with extreme climate risk.1 This impacts their health and wellbeing in many ways – physically and emotionally. A newly released study of more than 10,000 young people aged 16-25 across 10 countries, conducted by the University of Bath, found that 75% of respondents believe that the “future is frightening”.2 58% of the young people surveyed said governments were “betraying me and/or future generations” and 64% said their governments are not doing enough to avoid a climate catastrophe. So, how can we help to address this?

I have always firmly believed in the role that business must play in shaping a sustainable future for young people.

Leif Johansson Non-Executive Chairman of the Board, AstraZeneca

Collaboration is key

We are committed to reducing our environmental footprint. Industries such as healthcare contribute towards the climate crisis and it’s our duty to ensure we are continually taking necessary steps to reduce that burden. We must also take holistic action, which is why we are focusing on how to reduce, recycle and reuse resources – to become more circular in our approach and thereby increase the long-term resilience of our supply chains. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, our facility was severely damaged, impacting our ability to produce medicines, as well as the broader community who rely on our employment. To prevent a similar disruption in future, we invested in onsite energy generation that includes solar power, improved our water storage to reduce the impact of flash floods, and have enhanced our planning to strengthen our resilience for future climate events.

We are also a founding member of the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI), convened by HRH The Prince of Wales. Our Chief Executive Pascal Soriot champions the SMI Health Systems Taskforce which aims to accelerate the delivery of net zero, patient-centric healthcare, and includes representatives from the World Health Organization, UNICEF, NHS England as well as health industry leaders, policymakers and academia.

The climate crisis has demonstrated that our society is fragile, and it is often the most vulnerable who are the most affected. The world must come together to overcome these challenges, investing in resilience and adaptation to build a healthier future for all.

Engage young people in solutions

It’s critical that we continue to give young people meaningful platforms such as UNICEF’s CY21, to effect change for the planet and generation. By engaging youth activists and young leaders, we strengthen the awareness and capacity of individuals and their organisations to develop youth-focused services and sustainable solutions. For over a decade our Young Health Programme has been a hallmark of our commitment to communities around the world, empowering voices of young people with the knowledge to make informed choices about their health. It’s crucial that young people are part of the solution to the climate challenges we face. 

We are delighted to be part of this week’s CY21 and are energised to continue our commitment to improve the health outcomes for young people around the world. Click here to learn more about the inaugural forum.


1. UNICEF. The Climate Crisis is a Child Rights Crisis: Introducing the Children’s Climate Risk Index - UNICEF DATA [Internet]. 2021. Available from:

2. Hickman C, et al. Young people's voices on climate anxiety, government betrayal and moral injury: A global phenomenon. Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon. 2021.


  • Sustainability