I stepped out of the plane for the ‘COY11’ Youth Conference in Paris, which took place just before COP21, not daring to imagine that the conference would achieve what many thought impossible.
That ‘impossible’ being a binding agreement to end fossil fuel dependency – by the end of this century. It also includes a drive to raise US$100 billion per year from 2020. The money will go to developing economies to enable a sustainable transition to green energy, reduce emissions and find ways to tackle the harm caused by climate change. These were the main demands of negotiators from African nations.
The feeling at the COY11 was energising. Not only because of the positive attitude of the participants but the glimpses of the many youth-led initiatives working towards shaping a more environmentally and socially sustainable world.
I met notable representatives from Espaces Verts du Sahel (EVS), an NGO from Chad whose members train young leaders to become knowledge coaches in the environment and climate change within their families, schools, communities and beyond.
The south to north knowledge transfer is not a myth.
A few days later, during a workshop in the Paris suburbs, a 12-year-old Chadian girl did a presentation on the environmental disasters in Lac Chad. A group of Parisian women from a variety of countries (as is the norm in the cosmopolitan city) were deeply impressed with the talk. It clearly brought home the impact of climate change on far away countries which they sometimes heard about in the news.
They were shocked; they instantly decided that these kinds of presentations should be done in their children’s schools. They asked for more training in concrete actions that they could take in their households to support the green transition. This shows that south to north knowledge transfer is not a myth and sharing knowledge is essential for cooperative action on climate change.
Preparing young people for the future should be made part of every curriculum.
There were many young African leaders at the events and negotiations during the COP21 compared to previous UNFCCC conferences. The growth was welcomed by many NGO leaders I spoke with in Le Bourget.
This larger presence was notably helped by the efforts of youth organisations like CliMates, which I was representing in the fringe events at the COP21. This ‘think and do tank’ has members worldwide and young CliMates leaders from many nations including Nepal, Mexico and Mali.
The CliMates representative from Mali told me that the education of young people in Africa on climate change and the environment is essential to enable concrete action, particularly given that African nations will bear the brunt of it, including droughts and natural disasters.
The time in Paris has shown the great power that civil society and especially youth work has to push governments to act on climate change.
Preparing young people for the future should be made part of every curriculum and there should be access to information for children and adults who are out of school. Organisations have requested this for a long time and NGOs such as EVS have pushed for this change.
The time in Paris has shown the great power that civil society and youth work, in particular, has to push governments to act on climate change. The motivation and energy of young Africans at the COP21 and fringe events were palpable and gave confidence for a greener future on the continent.