Climate education can ‘lure more youths into climate action’

Despite the compelling need to produce experts and specialists with the skills and competencies to contribute to climate action on a greater scale, the uptake of climate change education at learning institutions across Africa was slow.

Young people, who could be instrumental as the engineers of transformative climate solutions, therefore, are not yet benefiting from climate-focused education. Instead, they are experiencing challenges such as skills gaps, inaccessible climate finance, as well as the lack of mentorship and networking platforms which limit their active engagement and participation in the climate change discourse.

But, notwithstanding these deficits, the youth has a voice and wants to be heard – a message that came through loud and clear as a central theme during Africa Climate Week 2022 held in Libreville, Gabon, from 29 August to 2 September.

The event was attended by about 2,300 participants and 1,000 delegates, many of whom emphasised the role of the youth in the green revolution, particularly the transition to clean energy, resilient food systems, innovative approaches to agriculture and the creation of climate-smart cities.

A series of workshops and roundtable discussions were held, aimed at pushing Africa’s needs and priorities to the centre of the global climate conversation ahead of the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 2022, or COP27, that will be held in the Red Sea city of Sharm el-Sheikh, South Sinai in Egypt, from 7 to 18 November.

More than 15 sessions focused on the inclusion of the youth in climate action, which could be achieved through innovative volunteerism, spearheaded by the uptake of climate change education from primary levels through to higher education and research.

Climate change education

During a workshop at the event themed, ‘Climate change education, the pathway to resilient development’, Tamo Stephane, a Cameroonian environmental scientist and founder of Environmental Education for a Better Earth, a youth-led, climate centred, non-governmental organisation, highlighted the importance of climate change education.

He stated that the knowledge and information gap hampered young people from contributing effectively during climate conversations, debates and negotiations.

“Despite the prevailing impact of climate change, young people, especially those in vulnerable communities such as the Global South, are not fully informed. That is why we see young people in this part of the world [Africa] are less active in demanding climate justice.”

Stephane, who has created a curriculum on environmental sustainability and climate change in Cameroon, stressed that climate change education must go beyond developing intellectual capabilities to include practical aspects such as the application of nature-based solutions that involve working with communities.

“As African universities, if we develop the right approach and methods in building our curriculums, climate change education will provide practical steps that can lure more youths into climate action. The upcoming UN Conference of the Parties [COP 27] must have a great focus on this,” he said.

“In Cameroon, very few universities have incorporated climate change as a field of study. The majority are focused on environmental sciences. However, climate education must capture the norms and practices of different communities, from mitigation to adaptation, climate justice to climate science.”

Climate justice torch

Lucky Abeng, digital activist on climate justice and the Africa grassroot and engagement participation chairperson of the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network, reiterated the importance of young people in pushing for climate justice in Africa and the importance of climate education in preparing youths to participate in climate action.

Abeng was a participant during the launch of the climate justice torch campaign held as part of Africa Climate Week, aiming to bring visibility to the plight of African communities in the face of climate emergencies.

“The growing calls for climate justice, especially from Africa, are fuelled by the lack of commitment and sincerity from numerous pledges and conventions. The role of young people is very critical in pushing and calling for climate justice because of the numerous challenges facing the continent,” he said.

He added that African universities must lead more students to meaningful climate action by introducing relevant climate curriculums and incorporating the element of climate change across different faculties such as engineering and governance.

“In Nigeria, out of over 150 universities, both public and private, less than five offer climate change as an undergraduate programme, and only a handful offer environmental sciences at post-graduate levels with limited capacity to fully teach the course. Some of the challenges include outdated curriculums and lack of capacity from lecturers to engage students on the cross-cutting topic of climate change,” he said.

“Policymakers and duty bearers have a lot to do, from amending already existing policies to captured treaties, protocols and conventions to mainstreaming young people as relevant stakeholders in the implementation and monitoring of climate policy framework performance at both national and subnational levels.”

While a majority of African universities are lagging behind in designing and implementing climate curriculums, some countries have introduced climate education as part of the education system.

In 2021, Stellenbosch University in South Africa launched the first school for climate studies in that country and the University of Cape Town, in partnership with the Southern African Regional Universities Association, or SARUA, under the African Climate and Development Initiative, developed a masters degree in climate change and development.

The curriculum aims to train a new generation of researchers, practitioners and decision-makers in climate and sustainable development in the region.

In addition, universities in Kenya, Egypt and Ghana have established undergraduate degrees and courses in climate change adaptation and sustainable development. For example, Kenyatta University has run a Nairobi summer school on climate justice attracting more than 500 students since 2021.

The role of climate finance

One of the major points of discussion during the hybrid event was equitable access to climate financing which was needed to advance climate research, aid green entrepreneurship and allow for the adoption of new technologies in climate action.

During a workshop, ‘Climate finance for the future’, the youth constituency for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, YOUNGO, highlighted the correlation between climate finance and active participation of youths in climate action. Capacity-building in climate finance was essential for developing expertise among youths.

YOUNGO also launched a report on young people’s needs for climate finance, which highlighted that, at grassroots level, the majority of youths from the Global South were unfamiliar with climate finance activities. In addition, youths lacked the skills and exposure for grant-writing, a prerequisite for accessing climate finance.

During an interview with University World News, Nomhle Ngwenya, a climate risk analyst and researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, stressed the importance of climate finance in the development of green economies and jobs; however, the field was still relatively undeveloped at African academic institutions, she said.

“This is a ripe opportunity for African universities to be key stakeholders in the ever-growing space of climate finance. Lots of African youths are venturing into agricultural projects, [but] climate finance can not only support start-ups but also assist young farmers in adaptation and mitigation strategies,” Ngwenya said.

“Climate change is an interdisciplinary subject and should not be limited to geography or environmental science programmes. Importantly, climate finance is an integration of climate science and economics. Hence, this should be incorporated into courses such as economics and development studies.”

“For climate change to be relevant and embedded across a range of scales, partnerships become critical. These include public and private partnerships that can expose students to tangible practical challenges as well as innovative thinking on how to turn climate finance challenges into opportunities,” she said.