Africa's youth need more than a seat at the climate table  

Last week COP27 host country Egypt, announced its COP27 youth envoy,  Dr Omnia El Omrani. The youth envoy represents the unique needs and perspectives of young people in a rapidly changing world. El Omrani will also be working toward raising awareness of climate change and related issues among young people. 

“I see climate change as a multidisciplinary crisis that can only be tackled with a systematic approach and I believe in our power, as young people, to move systems with our collaborative nature and practical solutions,” explains El Omrani. “That is why it is my absolute priority to break down the silos between the youth, policymakers and negotiators.” 

In Africa, young people are the continent’s largest population demographic. Including youth meaningfully allows future leaders to take positive action for an inherited planet while benefiting from the opportunities and renewed demand for innovative solutions. 

African youth at the frontline 

Youth climate movements across the continent are becoming familiar faces on global stages. Africa’s youth believe #TheCOPWeNeed must elevate and support the voices of African youth.

Among them is Vanessa Nakate, a 25-year-old Ugandan activist and founder of the Rise Up Climate Movement, which aims to amplify African voices in the climate change conversation. 

In a widely broadcast speech during COP26 last year, she told the United Nations climate talks that the millions of climate-hit people in the world did not have the luxury of time to phase out fossil fuels, driving climate change.  

“Let us be honest, we have been here before. There have been 25 COPs before this one and every year leaders come to these climate negotiations with an array of new commitments, promises and pledges and as each COP comes and goes emissions continue to rise. This year will be no different, CO2 emissions are forecast to jump in 2021 by the second biggest annual rise in history. So I hope you can understand why many of the activists who are here and millions who could not be here do not see the success that is being applauded within these halls.”

Like many African activists, Nakate is passionate about linking women’s empowerment to climate adaptation and resilience building. 

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Remy Zahiga’s book, The Bigger Picture, focuses on the intersectionality of climate change. His work includes planting trees in mining-affected environments and saving the Congo Rainforest while shedding light on the plight of indigenous people

His work continues to bring awareness to the effects of deforestation on the people indigenous to the lands, such as the Bambuthi people who live in the forest and who are being driven from their ancestral land. 

“We have had good draft laws aimed at protecting and respecting the rights of Pygmy peoples who live in the forest, which have been admitted to the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and which the United Nations has also recognised,” Zahiga said.

When she is not advocating and volunteering in the climate space, 31-year-old Winnie Cheche leads communications at the Kenya Environmental Action Network. She grew up close to Lake Nakuru National Park and developed a natural appreciation for the environment and its wildlife. Through her blog, which she established in 2018, Cheche teaches about climate change, sustainability and wildlife conservation. She also uses it to showcase climate change solutions relevant to her country.

“I grew up in extreme poverty and it silenced me. Defending our planet gave me back my voice,” she said in a recent post. 

Beyond the environmental impacts of climate change, we are also seeing the youth movement engage more with climate and development policy.

During the July 2022 South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) Young Leaders Conference, a delegation of about 60 of South Africa’s youth released an updated declaration that emphasised the importance of the youth in driving social dialogue and stakeholder engagement concerning climate change. They challenged relevant government departments to collaborate with climate organisations and communities to create toolkits that provide career guidance for green jobs, environmental literacy, and policy implementation training for local governments. Africa’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, South Africa, can ensure that its energy transition births enormous opportunities to accelerate youth innovation and entrepreneurship in new and emerging value chains. 

Similar demands are being made by other youth movements and alliances in Africa, particularly on green jobs and economic opportunities. Among the largest youth networks on the continent, the Africa Youth Initiative on Climate Change highlighted the significance of youth making up 60% of the population to drive a campaign for inclusion: “African youth should be part of the climate solutions being conceptualised in rooms behind closed doors. Integrating African youth in the creation of climate policies, plans, projects and programmes at all levels is imperative. This is because African youth have the much-needed skill sets and are already leading climate action in their home countries.”

As Nigerian author, Moky Makura said: “Young Africans demonstrating for change should be holding up placards calling on their governments to provide ‘climate jobs’ and ‘climate opportunities’, rather than expecting them to ‘save the planet’. They should be pushing policymakers to attract the large-scale investments needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly and create the conditions for environmental entrepreneurship to flourish.”

The #TheCOPWeNeed is one which not only includes young voices but supports the youth voice to think about solutions beyond the environment. 

Clarisse Iribagiza, a member of the African Climate Foundation Advisory Council has stressed that “Africa’s youth are bustling with ideas and solutions, and if the world is to adapt to resilient and sustainable climate solutions, these conversations need to be inclusive. The voices of the youth on the continent need to be heard.”

COP27 can and must therefore drive meaningful inclusivity that puts underrepresented voices at the table for more than just a tick box exercise. Real inclusivity must reflect Africa’s largest demographic in climate change activities which must drive youth interests and participation. 


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