Youth leadership critical in climate change conversation

Youths are capable of leading the climate change conversation and can come up with brilliant initiatives regardless of age. What the youth need is space and a chance to show their maximum potential. However, most of the time, space and platforms are not given to them, says climate activist and masters student Elizabeth Gulugulu Machache.

“Empowerment is not only supporting young people financially, though this is critically important. Empowerment must include sharing relevant knowledge, teaching new skills, creating green jobs and, above all, accommodating youths and allowing them to organise, lead initiatives and co-create programmes.”

This is according to environmentalist and climate change activist Elizabeth Gulugulu Machache, who is also involved with YOUNGO, the official children and youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In an interview with University World News Machache discussed the importance of youth participation, the need for green skills and jobs, and the Global Youth Statement launched during COP27 in Egypt.

UWN: What is your area of expertise and how did you get involved in youth climate advocacy?

EGM: I am an environmentalist with a BSc in environmental science and natural resources management. I am currently pursuing a masters in biodiversity conservation at Chinhoyi University of Technology in Zimbabwe.

I was involved in the formation of the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change Zimbabwe (AYICCZim). It has been a platform for young people in Zimbabwe to be innovative, brainstorm on how to unlock green jobs and disseminate information on climate change.

Through this work, I learned about YOUNGO, which serves as a platform for youth engagement. After two and a half years of [being] actively engaged as a member of the constituency, I became the contact point of the Agricultural Working Group.

We advocated for agroecology and addressed the vulnerabilities of agriculture to climate change. I also had the opportunity to join the Working Group on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. NDCs are national climate action plans. In the group, we advocated for just and ambitious national climate actions while making sure young people can contribute to the plans.

UWN: Why is youth leadership and youth empowerment so important in climate action?

EGM: We need to understand that youths are capable of leading and coming up with brilliant initiatives regardless of age. What youth need is space and a chance to show their maximum potential. However, most of the time, space and platforms are not given to them. Youth should be empowered. If they don’t know, then they should be taught. If they lack motivation, then initiatives should be branded to enhance participation.

Empowerment is not only supporting young people financially, though this is critically important. Empowerment must include sharing relevant knowledge, teaching new skills, creating green jobs and above all, accommodating youths and allowing them to organise, lead initiatives and co-create programmes. We definitely cannot do without youth leadership.

Youth are energetic, they are leading in technology and innovation. We know how critical technology is in combatting the effects of climate change and the climate crisis requires innovation and new ideas to keep within the 1.5-degree target. Youth leadership is certainly a solution to the climate crisis.

In the Glasgow Climate Pact, there are two articles that support the participation of young people, including article 64 which urges parties and stakeholders to ensure meaningful youth participation and representation in multilateral, national and local decision-making processes, including under the convention and the Paris Agreement.

These articles have played a part in making sure that young people are part of the discussions and negotiation processes. We have been advocating and making reference to these articles. It has made a really huge difference because more than 600 young people participated at this COP compared to last year where we had less than 400 youths.

The youth participating in COP processes have also been active in their respective countries, especially in gathering other young people to be part of local climate youth conferences.

UWN: What are the priorities for youth climate action in Africa? What challenges do they face?

EGM: African countries have experienced the worst effects of climate change. Africa has a lot of land heavily dependent on agriculture as a livelihood, whether for farming or livestock. Improving national and regional food security is a priority and this cannot be tackled if we do not address issues of droughts, water scarcity, floods and desert locusts – all linked to climate change.

Young Africans are in need of jobs, and of course we are not looking for any kind of jobs but green jobs. Sustainable jobs can be unlocked with traditional areas of agriculture, forest and land use. There are also new green jobs in energy, industrial processes and waste management – all crucial for Africa’s development. Improving the capacity of young people in terms of skills development, making climate finance accessible to youth, and institutional and technical capacity are key.

There has been a huge gap in youth participation on climate change. Challenges to greater youth participation point to lack of funding to implement a number of initiatives or projects, youth-washing (lack of youth involvement in decision making), access to climate finance, and a lack of inclusion and transparency in youth engagement which derails climate action.

I have been working with different youth organisations to bridge these gaps and ensure that young people’s voices are heard and they are also supported in their climate initiatives.

UWN: What have been some of the key issues for Africa at COP in 2022?

EGM: The most critical issue at COP was loss and damage, especially from the African perspective. The IPCC report, which was launched in 2022, highlighted that some parts of Africa, including Southern Africa, will continue to be vulnerable to climate change if we do not take urgent action.

During this COP, Africa was advocating for a loss and damage facility and access to climate finance. This had been on the table since COP26 in Glasgow in 2021 where developed nations failed to commit to the US$100 billion pledge as indicated in the Paris Agreement. Considering the climate crises faced by African countries – for example Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique due to cyclone Idai, droughts and desert locusts – it became urgent to establish a facility to make sure that the vulnerable communities are considered and compensated for the damages.

Carbon credits highlighted in article 6 of the Paris Agreement and the Global Goal on Adaptation were also key issues for Africa’s agenda during COP27.

UWN: How will the global youth statement launched during COP27 help to amplify youth voices and needs?

EGM: The global youth statement, which was launched during the youth and science day at COP27, is important as it reflects the most critical issues that young people are facing around the world, and it is also a document that offers some perspective on urgent youth needs.

Some of the main issues highlighted in the global youth statement this year were on loss and damage, a just transition, mitigation, and the need to support sustainable agriculture and food systems. There was also a focus on health, climate justice and finance, particularly the importance of a youth climate fund to ensure that youth activities are well catered for.

Every year the children and youth constituency of the UNFCCC comes up with a global youth statement which is then submitted to the COP presidency and secretariat. This year the statement was also submitted to the secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, so that he may also continue to advocate for youths’ and children’s needs in relation to climate change across all regions.

The COP27 outcome document also acknowledged the outcomes of the Conference of Youth (COY17) and highlighted the importance of having young people as part of country delegations and negotiation processes.

UWN: How critical is science communication in climate action? Has this particular COP given more space for young researchers (early and mid-career) to be part of the bigger climate change discourse?

EGM: The conference of parties this year brought many early and mid-career researchers and climate scientists to be part of the bigger climate change discourse. Climate change is science. However, it becomes a political debate due to the issue of commitment to climate financing, or lack of it.

Communicating science has been challenging for researchers, and this is why we have article 12 of the Paris Agreement which talks about enhancing climate change education, training, public awareness and public participation, as well as public access to information.

Of utmost importance is how researchers disseminate information, especially to the most vulnerable communities or the front-liners of climate change, making sure the information is not only accessible but also relevant and applicable to them.

During the COP, youths came up with new innovative methods, tools and demonstrations such as games to ensure that climate science is well-communicated to communities. These innovations also provide solutions to the effects of climate change.

Climate science is important in the solutions and decision-making processes. The IPCC report, for example, gives us a sense of direction on what we should do, how we should do it, and the urgency with which we must apply the recommendations.

COP27 has been a platform for young people, researchers, business and indigenous communities to interact and exchange ideas, best practices, and an opportunity to negotiate on their needs and how they can be met.

There is a constituency for research at COP (research and independent non-governmental organisations) and this platform allows researchers to be part of [this] and exchange ideas, learn, build capacity on climate issues, and see how they can contribute towards climate action and research.

This article was updated on 14 January.