Each year, August 12 marks International Youth Day, with this year’s theme being Youth engagement for Global Action. Here, Sylvia Nagginda, the Nnabagereka (Queen) of Buganda, Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate change activist and Musonda Mumba, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Terrestrial Unit, reflect on some of the initiatives that are ensuring youth voices are heard in environmental decision-making.
The year 2020 has seen the world grapple with an unprecedented global pandemic as the climate crisis looms on. The impact of these is being felt across the African continent, especially by women, children and youth. Many parts of Africa have suffered extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, which disrupt lives and livelihoods.
The world’s youngest countries – in terms of the average age of the population – are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations’ World Population Prospects 2019. The Nnabageraka’s Foundation focuses on bringing the voice of Uganda’s youth to the forefront of global issues.
Established twenty years ago, the foundation embodies the philosophy of Obuntubulamu (similar to Ubuntu – “humanity towards others”). It encourages young people to anchor themselves in the idea of community rather than individualism, training them on societal engagement, environmental and economic issues, so they can become champions of sustainable development. The foundation works closely with UNEP and other UN agencies.
As the UN turns 75 years old this year, and with just under four months to 2021, when we enter the final decade of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there couldn’t be a more timely moment for Africa’s youth to speak up and mobilize to act. The continent’s youth is already working on notable innovations and embracing the power of disruptive technology.
African youth voices are also being heard in multilateral processes, especially around climate change. As such the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) comes into effect in January 2021, African youth were consulted extensively on their views. By 2030, many of these young people will be part of the decision-making processes within their respective countries and beyond.
It’s on the heels of this decade that UNEP’s multi-partner Network of African Women Environmentalists (NAWE) launched its Guardians4Earth and Landscape Guardian’s Campaign in April 2020. The campaign unites men and women from across the continent to work as ‘guardians’ of their landscapes, supporting restoration over the next decade (2021-2030). NAWE pairs a Landscape Mentor (with extensive technical experience) with the guardians to ensure knowledge and skill transfer.
One such Landscape Guardian is Uganda’s young climate change activist Vanessa Nakate. Vanessa advocates not only for her community in Uganda, but also speaks about pertinent environmental issues across the Congo Basin, a region that supports over 40 million Africans. Like many of her young peers, she is keen to shape decision-making on this important discourse.
As we approach the final decade of the sustainable development goals, we offer the following suggestions to Africa’s policy makers and youth, so both sides can work together towards a nature-positive future:
- Be Engaged: Both leaders/policy makers and youth need to engage at the community level, where most action is needed. African youth can no longer afford to be spectators of their own futures.
- Be Present: Both leaders and youth need to be present and understand that issues such as climate change affect ALL affected directly or indirectly.
- Listen: Listening is a skill to be practiced on both sides and critical for community cohesion and action, especially as it relates to restoration.
- Our actions matter: The pandemic is a reminder that action on the ground is truly dependent on Africans themselves, rather than on aid or external support. The continent’s true wealth of knowledge has been passed down over the generations, is often scientifically sound. Local knowledge and skills should drive our decision-making.
- Green Jobs are possible: Africa’s leaders and youth are increasingly embracing circular economies and restoration – seeing the environment as a creator of jobs and livelihoods. Policies to support green jobs will need to be relevant and inclusive of youth.
In the wisdom of the Nnabagereka – “When we lose the very core of who we are through the loss of sincerity, kindness and humanity – we cannot be giving and caring of the Earth.”
We urge Africa’s young people and policy makers to consider the environment as part of these core values. Conserving, protecting and restoring the nature we live in will ensure that we too can live healthy, fulfilling lives.