Strong policies are needed to mitigate climate change

Universities in Africa struggle to offer the academic background required to contribute effectively to the climate change discourse and activities aimed at addressing climate change, which is why many postgraduate students seek climate change expertise, both in teaching and research contexts, outside the continent.

This is according to Dr Wafa Misrar, a climate researcher at the University of Cadi Ayyad in Marrakesh, Morocco, and a youth focal point for the PanAfrican Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA).

During an interview with University World News, Misrar shared her perspectives on the youth’s participation in climate action in the region as well as her experiences at the recent COP27 climate conference in Egypt.

UWN: What is your main field of expertise and how did your work in climate change begin?

WM: I recently graduated and earned a PhD in materials and environmental chemistry. My work is essentially based on the elaboration of ceramic membranes that are used in the purification of industrial wastewater. The latter is supposed to be reused in irrigation as a new source of water and as a way to adapt to the scarcity of water that Morocco is suffering from, in particular due to climate change.

My professional experience and my encounters with several communities lacking clean water have shown how climate change has come close to home.

During my postgraduate studies, I was inspired to lead the change in my local community, so I joined climate change panel discussions for young professionals to talk about local and global issues, and reached out to local communities to raise awareness about drought and water scarcity.

We also taught communities about the benefits of the implementation of low-cost technologies and solutions for sustainable development.

UWN: What are some of the challenges your region faces due to climate change and how are they being addressed at an institutional level?

WM: Morocco’s climate varies considerably from north to south. Rainfall and temperature are strongly influenced by the Atlantic Ocean in the west, the Mediterranean Sea in the north, the Sahara Desert in the south and southeast and, in particular, by the position of the Atlas and the Rif mountains.

This geographical and topographical characteristics of Morocco determine the distribution of rainfall over the country. But, due to climate change, episodes of drought and flood that Morocco experienced in the past years had repercussions that were felt, and continue to pose, serious problems for environmentalists, as some of the affected lands have practically become desert.

Moroccan agriculture is also extremely vulnerable to climate risks – such as recurrent droughts and floods – and water scarcity which are expected to intensify in coming decades. These challenges will also have negative impacts on potential agricultural yields, employment opportunities and the purchasing power of rural people.

The Moroccan government and companies are increasingly adopting various strategies and related actions to combat climate change, which can be costly, demanding substantial investments from these actors.

Morocco has adopted ambitious sustainable energy targets and has built one of the largest concentrated solar plants in the region in its attempt to create job opportunities, affordable energy and energy independence.

At an institutional level, fewer efforts have been made. I believe awareness campaigns, alone, are not enough to train people at the educational level, because, when it comes to economic interests, there is a tendency to ignore the risks and implications.

We, therefore, need to put in place strong policies and regulations to mitigate climate change and support climate action.

UWN: What has been the focus of your work at the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance?

WM: At the regional level, through the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, my work includes building the climate justice advocacy skills of rural women and girls to enable them to demand inclusion in the national climate change response strategy for Morocco.

I have been a mentor to young climate activists, especially girls and young women, and helping them to uphold advocacy amid the pandemic programme. I also used social media to create awareness on the need for inclusion of women and girls in climate action, especially in their response to disaster and risk reduction in Morocco.

We are also working to build the capacity of young climate activists on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) with the aim of integrating WASH in the Nationally Determined Contribution processes for Morocco, including adaptation and mitigation efforts to tackle climate change as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

UWN: What would you say is the importance of climate justice in the context of the climate action debate and how can African youths contribute?

WM: The idea of climate justice became important and it must be at the forefront of the climate movement.

Climate justice fundamentally is about paying attention to how climate change impacts people differently, unevenly and disproportionately, as well as redressing the resultant injustices in fair and equitable ways.

The goals are to reduce marginalisation, exploitation and oppression, and promote accountability, and enhance equity and justice. Applying a climate justice approach is an intentional process that involves carefully analysing those excluded or marginalised by climate change processes as well as any adaptation or mitigation interventions pursued.

Although these insights and debates are central in terms of decarbonisation, as youth in climate science, we argue that research has to pay more attention to the assumptions, world views and ways of knowing that predominantly inform and frame decisions related to climate change in global climate governance and discussions about climate justice.

Regarding young people who currently represent over 50% of the global population and 70% of the African population, they are the generation who will not only be most impacted by climate change but who will also inherit the responsibility for addressing its consequences.

This key constituency, however, is often neglected in policy processes and the design, implementation and monitoring of climate change response measures and initiatives that always adopt a top-bottom approach.

The question of youth agency is particularly acute in Africa, which is the region most vulnerable to climate impacts and also the region with the youngest population, hence there is a concrete nexus between youth participation and achieving climate justice for Africa.

UWN: What are some of the challenges faced by African students and academics in actively participating in climate change activities?

WM: Climate change education at universities has made noticeable progress over the past few years in response to the Paris Agreement stipulations about education. However, across the globe, universities’ commitment of time and resources to education aimed at climate change mitigation and adaptation has been very limited.

African students and academics find that academia may appear disconnected from the real world, and academic publications suffer both from a time lag between research production and publication and from not reaching a wide enough reader base to make a meaningful impact.

Being active in climate action needs a certain background that universities are not providing, especially in Africa as most students at post-graduate level still depend on seeking climate change expertise – both research and taught knowledge – outside the continent.

As an African researcher, instead of highlighting challenges, I believe it’s our turn to teach people on climate change. A quality education is a fundamental human right. It is also one of the Sustainable Development Goals [SDG 4]. So teaching can help mitigate these challenges through its potential multiplier effect.

It is also worth noting that an education model on climate change adaptation can be scalable to maximise the interconnection between scientists, educators and local people to enhance their capacity to share locally relevant knowledge through highly effective outreach and engagement efforts of an educational institution.

One option African universities can consider to the capacity of young researchers is the Accelerating Climate Education, or ACE programme, of the UFCCC that promotes climate education.

UWN: What was your experience of COP27 and what were some of the issues raised in the African context?

WM: Following the outcome of COP26, where Africa did not make progress and no concrete decisions were reached, apart from the Glasgow Climate Pact, civil society organisations coordinated by the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance gathered for COP27 with four key demands.

These included that Africa is a continent of special needs and circumstances. This is an agenda item that has been a key demand for Africa since 2015. Also, adaptation financing, loss and damage financing and a transparent climate financing mechanism were the demands brought forward by Africa through the African group of negotiators chair.

UWN: How best did COP help to empower universities and researchers to increase their impact on climate change?

WM: I was actually impressed at the number of side events hosted by different academic institutions at COP27. The COP27 presidency also provided a platform for researchers to meet with policymakers, sharing ideas with the most recent empirical evidence, including recommendations, while also exploring data from civil society organisations on the ground.