The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) held its 58th session in Interlaken, Switzerland on March 2023 to complete the Synthesis Report, a key document since the Paris Agreement. During the session, António Guterres, the UN secretary general, appealed to young climate leaders worldwide to step up their efforts and push for more action on climate change in 2023. He also stressed that the steadfast belief of young individuals is crucial in achieving climate objectives, breaking the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, and ensuring fairness in addressing climate issues.
It is particularly noteworthy that the UN secretary general’s Youth Advisory Group includes Fatou Jeng, a climate activist from The Gambia in Africa, as one of its seven members. This inclusion underscores the commitment of young people from Africa in the battle against climate change.
When compared with the challenges that young people from Africa are facing in their efforts to tackle climate change, such as insufficient resources, funding, and inadequate political backing, this action must be acknowledged as a victory. It also further demonstrates the recognition of the endeavours of African youth in the fight against climate change and hence, should be applauded.
The Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change set up by the Secretary-General aims to provide him with useful and actionable advice, a wide range of youth perspectives, and concrete recommendations that can help facilitate the implementation of his climate action agenda. The focus is to ensure that the outcomes that will make a real difference in the battle against climate change, with young people playing a central role in the process are achieved.
Therefore, the Group will be responsible for seeking input and gathering viewpoints from each member’s continent and various other global youth networks when providing recommendations to the Secretary-General. Joining the 7-member Group requires passing through a thorough selection process and meeting specific requirements.
Implications for Africa’s climate cause
Climate change impacts have been most heavily felt on the African continent, as evidenced by a range of statistics. Even though Africa has contributed very little to global greenhouse gas emissions, the continent is very vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change when compared to other continents of the globe. A report funded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) states that Africa may face the of costs of adaptation to climate change which could be as high as $50 billion (€44.2 billion) by the end of 2050.
With about 60% of its 1.25 billion inhabitants aged under 25, the African continent has the youngest population globally. It is then without a doubt that the youth are the ones who bear the real brunt of the consequences of climate change. Hence, it is crucial that African youth are engaged in conversations and decision-making processes. Their distinct views and experiences can be very invaluable in achieving a more sustainable future.
What must have certainly caught the eye of the UN secretary general among other factors, are some of the bold initiatives led by the young climate activist from the continent in a bid to stem the tide of the negative effects brought on by the changing climate.
Senegal’s Yero Sarr, South Africa’s Raeesah Noor-Mahomed, Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate, Morocco’s Fatna Ikrame El Fanne, Tunisia’s Ahmed Elhadj Taieb, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Remy Zahiga, Uganda’s Dixon Bahandagira, and Kenya’s Winnie Cheche are among the notable African youth who remain resolute in challenging the status quo with creative solutions that can boost development alongside sustainability endeavours.
This is besides the work of other established groups such as The African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) and African Youth Climate Hub. These initiatives are helping the young people in getting involved, feeling empowered, and taking action in their communities for environmental change. The programmes led by these groups involve training sessions, dialogue meetings, and distinct campaigns, that are aimed at achieving their goals.
Nevertheless, Fatou Jeng (from The Gambia), the climate activist selected to be part of the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, has her work well cut out. Notwithstanding, her very strong background and firm dedication to the climate cause shows that the call to become a member of the Youth Advisory Group is well earned.
Fatou established Clean Earth Gambia, in 2017, an organization focused on the climate that is led by young people with most of its operations at the local level. This organisation has inspired numerous young Gambians to take action and has mobilised them to support vulnerable communities in building resistance to the impacts of climate change. This has indeed further strengthened individuals in their efforts to overcome the challenges of cultivating sustainable lifestyles. She has acted as a Co-lead for the women and gender working group of the Youth Climate Movement, YOUNGO. Fatou obtained her MSc. degree in Environment, Development, and Policy from the University of Sussex, the United Kingdom. Fatou is also a climate negotiator for The Gambia with a focus on gender issues in the context of climate change at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Moreover, she was acknowledged as one of the TOP 100 Young African Conservation Leaders by World Wildlife (WWF) in 2022.
Support for the Youth Advisory Group’s representative
All relevant government bodies, political organisations, climate campaigners and advocacy groups in Africa must now rally to show some support for Africa’s representative and her team on the UN’s Youth Advisory Group. Notwithstanding, all forms of assistance must also be extended to the brilliant youth who are already demonstrating their commitment in fighting the cause on the continent.
African government and political agencies should help Fatou and her cohort of young climate campaigners to amplify the message and reach a much wider audience. This will help the young people in gaining visibility for the climate cause.
When called upon, sufficient funding should be provided where needed by government bodies to support the campaign and raise awareness on the frontlines. Capacity building and training is also required through mentorship opportunities.
Young climate campaigners who are already experienced in the game should share their knowledge and expertise on climate science, policy, and communication to enable the development of the skills of those new to the cause.
Conducive environments and platforms for engagement should be provided by political organisations, and advocacy groups for the young campaigners to engage with scientists, policymakers, and other stakeholders to share their ideas and concerns for addressing the climate crisis.
Dr. Eyo Eyo is a lecturer and researcher in sustainable geotechnical engineering at the University of the West of England, United Kingdom. He is a sustainability advocate and has been applying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to solve the challenges of climate change for nearly 10 years. He has many publications in top ranking journals on the use of AI to tackle issues of climate change and sustainability.