COP23: African youth fighting for climate action | Africa | DW | 12.11.2017
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COP23: African youth fighting for climate action

Africa is harnessing the power of its emerging youth demographic to spearhead efforts to tackle climate change.

By 2050, UNICEF estimates that approximately two out of every five children on our planet will be African. Africa's rapidly burgeoning young generation is viewed by some as a precursor to a range of serious problems across the continent, ranging from unemployment to further migration crises. But they could very well be the key to confronting one of the biggest challenges of our time: climate change.

As delegates from across Africa gather for the latest round of international climate talks in Bonn this week, young African leaders and experts are hosting their own side-events to draw attention to their own fight against climate change, while highlighting the importance of African youth getting involved in the process.

The African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) was established back in 2006 shortly before COP12 talks kicked off in Nairobi, Kenya. Since then, support for climate change action among the African youth has grown considerably, as they actively work to raise awareness in their communities and hold their governments to account for inaction.

Young generation best equipped to tackle climate change

Maureen Sigauke is the co-founder of the community-based organization, Green Active Citizens Trust in Zimbabwe and was a speaker at WWF's COP23 Africa Day panel, Youth and Climate Change in Africa. She explained to DW why young Africans should act now to secure their futures, when the effects of climate change will be more clearly felt across the continent.

"I think that it is important to know that climate change is a threat to development; it is a threat to job security – if floods happen it can threaten your job – it's a threat to human rights, it's a threat to economic development, it's a threat to sustainable access to basic human rights such as food, shelter and poverty alleviation, particularly in the African case. So that's why people should care, because everything that we know could change if climate change continues unabated."

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Sigauke also believes younger generations are better prepared to lead the charge on climate change adaptation and resilience not only because of their numbers, but because of their tech-savviness.

"Climate action is going to be prioritized on technological advancement and infrastructure development, and who better understands technology and cyber space than young people? So its one of the reasons why I think we are most equipped to lead climate action, as we are already doing," she said.

Using new technology to build resilience

Sigauke's background in chemistry also means she has the opportunity to help develop new technologies which could make a real difference in safeguarding against the worst effects of climate change, especially in the field of agriculture.

"One university that I have been working with has managed to do scientific research on creating seeds which are climate-resilient, which can provide food security. [Zimbabwe] is a largely agrarian country, so that's just one of the projects that I'm very proud of."

Ultimately though, Sigauke acknowledges the role played by older generations in taking the first steps towards a climate resilient future. 

"It's also important to listen to our forbearers, learn what they have gone through, celebrate their successes and then seek ways to add value and improve their processes, because it is important that we have an intergenerational commitment and intergenerational continuity between the young and the old so that we can build something better."

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Why Africans should be concerned

Many African countries have already implemented policies designed to mitigate the effects of climate change and clean up the environment – most notably with Kenya's recent introduction of the world's toughest plastic bag ban. But some African observers at COP23 believe that the issue is still not being taken seriously enough.

Laurent Somme is the Director of Policy and Partnership at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Africa and is based in Cameroon. He thinks that more still needs be done.

"Climate change is a question of survival for Africa for many reasons. We are one of the most vulnerable continents. If [extreme weather events] were to happen in Africa, there would be many more casualties [compared to other regions] because we are not yet equipped to resist and adapt to climate change. Even in the tropical regions like Cameroon, we can already see the effects of climate change with less water in the rivers and how the change in rainfall patterns is affecting the agricultural calendar."

Somme views global climate conferences as an important opportunity for African nations to not only showcase their achievements so far, but to also play an important role in vital decision-making efforts which will impact their future.

"We have to be there. We have to be at the table to discuss, we should not miss this opportunity that is being offered, because if you are not at the table, decisions will be made without you and we don't want to see that happening again. We have already missed opportunities to influence [these kinds of talks] and we don't want to repeat the same mistake again."


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