In their words: Africa’s young innovators and advocates on the climate crisis — and our best hope to address it

Record-breaking heat waves. Deadly storms. Mega-droughts on every continent.

As the impacts of the climate crisis only grow, countries are urgently pursuing all avenues to realize their climate ambition. A key step is putting younger people at the forefront of climate action, and helping them realize their full potential.

Hosting the world’s youngest population, this is more important in Africa than anywhere else.

Now, with nations across the region pushing for a greener, more sustainable, and more inclusive future for all, Africa’s young innovators and advocates are increasingly speaking out. Here is what they have to say.

The future of humanity and of our planet lies in our hands. It lies also in the hands of today’s younger generation.— 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, paragraph 53

Brittany Bull, 23

Brittany Bull joined the pre-COP26 Youth Climate Tour, sharing her journey in STEM including interning with tech startup XinaBox and studying space systems engineering in the United States.

Photo: Karl Schoemaker

“The effects of climate change in South Africa can be seen by the increase in extreme temperatures and weather events like the floods in the KwaZulu-Natal province. This is drastically affecting our agricultural sector, which in turn affects our food security.

“The future may seem bleak at first glance, but being a mentor and facilitator with MaxIQ Space and working on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes where I get to guide younger minds towards designing and innovating possible solutions to these problems gives me great hope for the future. Seeing school kids come up with even more creative innovative solutions using the Internet of Things, which targets problems close to home for all of us, is remarkable.

“My journey started similarly to most learners I work with now, and for me it’s coming full circle. With more opportunities for students from all backgrounds to be able to have the access to innovate sooner, I’m optimistic that climate action will be on the rise.”

Kevin Ossah, 24

Kevin Ossah, with his youth network Ojedd International, is working to address the affects of climate change at a local level.

Photo provided by Kevin Ossah

“Climate change affects Togo through coastal erosion, drought and flooding. At the local level, the loss of natural resources, biodiversity and the impact on agriculture — the main source of income for communities — is enormous.

“We must act as young people because we have an obligation to leave a sustainable planet to future generations. Right now, we cannot be satisfied with the progress [on climate action] because there is still a long way to go. But we can still hope for a better world — there are solutions. State actors need to take decisions and put in place a favourable framework for climate action. Non-state actors (NGOs, associations, foundations and so on) can implement projects for vulnerable communities, especially young people and women. In this, youth organizations must be supported more than ever.”

Watch video (in French)

Kiadiatu Sheriff, 25

Kiadiatu Sheriff and her youth-focused nonprofit LYCA work to assess green job potential in Liberia with a focus on youth participation and reducing forest degradation.

Photo: UNDP Liberia

“Liberia is one of Earth’s lungs… Almost the entire population depends on the forests for charcoal use and other purposes. This is a problem because burning charcoal releases high levels of carbon dioxide, and it is a main driver of deforestation.

“Action on climate change is an emerging issue for Liberian youth — who make up more than 54 percent of the population. And I believe our role cannot be overemphasized.

“Right now, we need strengthened capacities in all climate-sensitive sectors and an assessment of green jobs potential across our economy. This will help address high unemployment among youth, including those with disabilities.

“We need curriculum in our schools to incorporate topics surrounding climate change, environmental degradation and related issues, and we need it paired with hands-on knowledge to prepare young minds for green jobs upon graduation.

“Finally, we need youth to be included in academic research and in climate-related decision-making processes. Knowledge and innovation must be boosted by mentoring, finance and support for implementation.”

Martin Tumusiime, 25

Martin Tumusiime put his education and entrepreneurial skills to use to create Yo-Waste, a mobile app to connect garbage generators with garbage collectors.

Photo: Yo-Waste

“In Uganda, we are seeing a change in weather patterns due to the climate crisis, which is immensely affecting the livelihood of millions of Ugandans involved in agriculture. In Kampala, there has been an increase in floods in some parts of the city making the areas more dangerous to live in when it rains.

“Climate change is real for us. We are already seeing its impact on our communities and that’s why we are acting. A lot of youth are coming up with groundbreaking innovations and forming social enterprises to address some of the contributors to climate change in our communities.

“At Yo-Waste, we realized that when people’s trash or garbage is never collected on time, people tend to resort to desperate mechanisms to manage and dispose of their waste: things like dumping their waste in water channels or burning the waste in the open, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental hazards like flooding.

“We have built a mobile app to connect garbage generators (i.e households, and local businesses) to local waste collectors in their communities for efficient waste collection and proper disposal in ways that do not harm our environment. Some of our success stories include the Entebbe municipality where over 1,000 households are now using our app to manage and safely dispose of 10.5 tons of municipal solid waste per day, hence eliminating over 300 tons of waste that would have ended up on streets, water channels, or burnt in the open contributing to climate change.”

Elizabeth Gulugulu, 31

Elizabeth Gulugulu is active in the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change in Zimbabwe and works to make climate change information available to the public and hold governments accountable for climate action.

Photo provided by Elizabeth Gulugulu

“Zimbabwe heavily depends on agriculture for household and national food security. The sector provides employment to 70 percent of the country’s population. Prolonged shortfalls in rainfall have resulted in droughts, severely affecting food production and people’s livelihoods. Heavy rainfall between some seasons (for example in 2019) contributed to massive floods which destroyed infrastructure, has led to climate migration and contributed to a number of deaths.

“It’s important to disseminate information on climate change — an educated community is an empowered and resilient community.

“There is hope if world leaders are committed and if the general population understands that they too can play a part by reducing their carbon footprint and holding governments accountable for climate action.”

Ange Imanishimwe, 36

Ange Imanishimwe joined UNDP’s Youth Climate Tour in the lead up to the 2021 UN Climate Change conference (COP26), sharing his experience in forest conservation and community development in southwestern Rwanda.

Photo provided by Ange Imanishimwe

“Local farmers near Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda live in extreme poverty due to acidic soil and climate change, which result in low crop yield. Poor farming conditions have led to illegal activities, such as poaching and deforestation, as a means to survive. These activities damage the environment, so our organization is trying to preserve the forest, while simultaneously influencing the economic development of the people living near the national park.

“Rwandan youth are working towards integrating biodiversity conservation, farming, nutrition, environmental management, climate change mitigation and adaptation, community health and ecotourism to positively affect the local economy. These practices help save the forest too because the resources are unharmed, and the park helps attract tourists, which creates revenue for the local communities. BIOCOOR has launched projects to promote youth entrepreneurship, safe water and sanitation practices, agro ecological practices, the removal of invasive plants that damage the forest, as well as soil improvement and composting. Our organization has created more than 3,800 jobs for the local people.

“Our goal is to create 15,000 green jobs within the next five years by restoring 2000 hectares of forest and planting 100,000 indigenous tree species in the communities.

“Ultimately, climate protection and biodiversity conservation are intertwined and we are all responsible.”

Shamiso Winnet Mupara, 38

Shamiso Winnet Mupara and her Trust are working to protect the future of young women and girls through advocating and working towards sustainable development, land restoration and creating better environmental working practices.

Photo provided by Shamiso Winnet Mupara

“I grew up in Marange where we always experienced droughts and unreliable rainfall. In times of disaster, a girl child is used as currency to put food on the table or to support a family by means of marrying her off. Issues to do with poverty, environmental degradation, climate and food insecurity are intertwined in our social life and there is a need for a solution to that.

“To care for the environment is to care for humanity. As a climate justice advocate, I want to see sustainable development that is profitable to everyone. I want to see livelihoods being improved by land restoration, not wealth built on the abuse of natural resources at the expense of local communities.

“Efforts being made by local grassroot organizations, communities and international collaboration in line with climate action including education and awareness and capacity building are the hope we live for. We can only fully tackle a problem we know of. Knowledge will help change attitudes and attitudes will change our practices.

“I hope to see more women, youth and children being included at the climate action decision-making table, because they are relevant stakeholders, and their views matter.”

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