Role of Youth in Achieving a Safer Climate

The phrase “Africa is the world’s youngest continent” is by now something am sure you have come across. But being young is a contradiction; it presents both opportunities and challenges. With massive unemployment rates ever getting higher by the day, the youthful population in the continent has been severally described as a ticking time bomb, yet the political class of the day never seems to be paying any significant attention. But we need not be too pessimistic about this segment of the populace.

Youthfulness brings along some attributes such as innovation, enthusiasm and vibrancy. Here in Kenya, youths’ perceptions on issues of actual concern is changing. The recent Occupy Parliament protests were mainly made up of youthful figures who braved police teargas and their water canons in their first instance to pass their message across against the outrageous pay hike by the Kenyan Members of Parliament. While there may be one or two people who cannot perhaps agree with the symbolism of MPs’ greed with pigs employed by these concerned citizens initially or even the whole idea of protesting, the whole scenario was somewhat impressive.

Developing countries are more susceptible to the effects of climate change as compared to the developed world due to four main factors. First is their geography. Our location is along the tropics as opposed to higher and cooler latitudes where the first world resides. Second, most developing countries’ economies depend to a large extent on agriculture and since climate scientists have used models to project a decline in agricultural productivity and food security, poverty of households is predicted to increase. Developed states on the other hand have a smaller proportion of their economy in sectors sensitive to climate variability. Third, an increasing population growth rate implies that the strain on natural resources will be added thereby exposing a greater number of people to the effects of climate change. Developed states population growth rates on the other hand have largely stabilized. Finally, low income economies and underdeveloped financial markets contribute to our low adaptive capacity. Developed countries on the other hand have more flexible economies and well developed financial markets. Despite these disparities in vulnerability, both developing and developed states will suffer from extreme climate events that threaten past and future development gains. This was a key outcome in the recent 5th Tokyo International Conference on African Development.

For the youth, climate change is largely an inherited problem. While we did not make the decisions that have contributed to the current alarming atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations of 400 parts per million, the future seems more uncertain as the days go by. The United Nations has already recognized youth’s ideas, actions and influence to the climate debate by creating the Youth Constituency at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We have a responsibility to help create sustainability by joining our collective efforts and doing something about global warming.

In other regions of the world especially Europe and the US, young people are already at the fore front of the climate movement organizing power shifts that have reliably sustained pressure against non-climate-friendly projects with spectacular results. A perfect example is the continuously delayed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. This project seeks to transport oil for export from Canada’s tar oil sands but with devastating environmental impacts. Sustained youth advocacy against this project have so far been successfully spear headed with the assistance of organizations such as 350.org and its partners.

Here in Africa however, there has not been such high level of climate change activism. But the good news is that Zero Carbon Africa; an alliance of youth-focused non-governmental organizations and individuals, is building a grassroots movement of young people across the continent to help counter climate change and its effects. These efforts have recently culminated in the appointment of volunteer Country Focal Points across the continent who will help spearhead these efforts for the next two years from June 2013 to May 2015.

Areas of immediate actual concern include lifting our understanding of climate change – both climate change science and governance – through education and use of ICTs to access such information. Climate change policy advocacy targeting decision makers at both the national and local levels to influence the identification and implementation of adaptation decisions. Forming youth partnerships at the local, national and international levels will also significantly influence the climate change debate and help to promote the sub-national, national and regional actions to combat climate change. Active citizenship is another role youth can play to combat global warming. Through it, young people will become self-made community agents of change towards safe guarding and restoration of the environment as well as enable sharing unique experiences on how climate change is affecting them.

The World Bank Institute has recognized that climate action is pro-poor action, by nature. This is because climate change is poised to affect more disproportionately the rural and urban poor as it is the segment of the populace that depends to a large extent on public utilities be it for education, energy, health, transportation, recreation just to name a few. This is also the group that does not yield either political or economic power. Furthermore, the UN mediated multilateral climate talks have yet to deliver much for the world’s poorest people who are already struggling with the impacts of extreme climate events and rising seas.

While the international climate change negotiations have largely stalled coupled with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change goal of negotiating a new global climate deal by 2015, the stakes are at an all time high. Young people especially here in Africa cannot afford to sit back and watch as this long-term observable fact continues to threaten equity and sustainability for mankind.