Young activists are fed up with their climate views being ignored
The fact that living with climate change goes from being mildly uncomfortable to potentially life-threatening is finally sinking. climate change – is growing.
And the increasing disruptions caused by human-induced climate change are uneven. While devastating in Europe and North America, the prospects for life and livelihoods in low-income countries are much worse.
Thursday is International Youth Day, and she invites us to consider the challenges and opportunities for young people today. Youth climate activism has become a powerful force in recent years, but not all youth voices are heard well. It seems that those least heard will also be the most impacted.
The fact that some people are hit hardest by climate change stems from the highly unequal distribution of wealth, income, health care, education and infrastructure around the world. Development is bad for climate change, and climate change is bad for development as well. The large amount of greenhouse gases, today and historically, come from so-called more developed countries. Climate change has disrupted the development of low-income countries.
This tension is already playing out in the struggles of young people in Uganda, one of the youngest countries in the world, where the median age is under 17. Climate change prematurely interrupts their education, affecting their income and health.
Of all the continents, the United Nations Environment Program expects Africa to be the most affected by climate change. In Uganda, people are displaced, livelihoods disrupted, education prematurely ended and lives lost.
The Cop26 meeting in November will focus on adaptation. Moving away from conversations focused solely on preventing anthropogenic climate change, mainstream thinking now recognizes that adaptation is necessary. In fact, this is already happening with or without the support of governments or other agencies.
In Uganda, people have accepted the impacts of climate change. Some think there is nothing they can do about it and all they have to do is adapt because mitigation seems impossible.
It is increasingly important for policy makers to take into account the views of young people and to listen when they voice their concerns. Climate change and development are at odds.
Last month, several young people from the Global South shared first-hand experiences of the impact of climate change on them during a workshop organized by the youth agency Restless Development, the University of Cambridge and the University by Makerere. Ugandan chicken farmer Peace Mbeiza explained how climate change is destabilizing his business. As diseases in chickens increase, it requires the use of medication, but several birds still die every day.
Likewise, farmer Onan Olindi Felix described how disruptive the weather has become: “We plant, then the rain takes away what we plant”. As other farmers are affected, the price of maize to feed the chickens in Mbeiza is rising. She regrets that “agriculture is associated with many losses and minimal profit”.
When farming does not generate income, children are taken out of school and some are married prematurely. Other young people who predict rising food prices and hungry people admit they feel “scared, desperate and worried about their future.”
Ugandan youth are already responding to these changes. Harriet Akello founded Youth Advocacy Voices and describes how adaptation measures should also have a mitigating role – such as the tree planting and recycling initiatives championed by Emmanuel Oketcho of the scout movement. Yet, without proper awareness, sometimes these projects do not thrive in the long term. So far, village savings plans have played an important dual role as financial buffers and sources of investment capital. Planting fruit trees may prevent their subsequent felling, due to their role in food production.
We need youth-led research on the effectiveness of these measures to develop further mitigation and adaptation strategies. Activism can also help. The founder of the Ugandan group Fridays for Future, Hilda Nakabuye, underlines the urgency and the immediacy of climate threats.
Joining Uganda’s recent virtual workshop, which is currently under lockdown, she said: “Many are telling us, we young people don’t know what we want. But we know exactly what we want. We organize ourselves. We are connected, we are ambitious, empowered and unstoppable. We are stronger as we go into this fight. ”
However, activism does not stop and should not stop at young people. Its success depends on realizing the great potential of intergenerational collaboration. It is vital that more people understand what is happening in Africa and use Cop26 to encourage a meeting of minds across generations and across borders. As climate change takes place, people in Uganda and around the world are already adapting to its impacts, but the tension between development and climate change will not go away.
There is already a wealth of information on what works, what could help, and ideas on how to improve things. Right now, it makes sense to exceed our targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while also taking into account policy recommendations and advice from those facing some of the worst impacts of climate change.
Young climate activists are now tired of being invited to Cop26 to share their views, knowing that very few will be included in decision-making. They are tired of just being heard, they really want to be heard and their recommendations implemented.
Mollen Nyiraneza is a research assistant at Makerere University School of Social Sciences in Uganda
Dr Anna Barford is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cambridge in the UK.