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“We need concrete actions. We’re protesting for our future” – youth climate change activists

PRETORIA, South Africa -- Twelve-year old Yola Mgogwana’s face beams with excitement when she is asked to share what she is doing to mitigate global climate change.

“I [make] eco-bricks with rubbish and I would like my peers to do the same thing,” she says in a challenge to them. Yola had just made a riveting presentation at a symposium on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Gender and Climate Change Resilience, organized by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund in Pretoria, South Africa from 26-29 August.

A climate change activist, Yola is part of Earth Child Project, a non-profit organization operating in disadvantaged schools in Cape Town, South Africa. Working with children and teachers, their educational programmes focus on the environment, health and life skills.

Young people are owning the space of greening the planet and what they now need is for adults to support their initiatives.

“We need concrete actions. We’re protesting for our future,” demands Chiagozie Udeh, who is the 2019 Global South Focal Point for the International Youth Climate Movement, as well as a #TrillionTrees campaigner with Plant for the Planet.

Youth and Climate Change discussion_Safeguard Young People Programme
From left: Renata Tallarico, SYP regional coordinator; Xoli Fuyana, Chiagozie Udeh, Hussein Melele and Ahmed Makgopo with session moderator, Linda Lammensalo. © UNFPA ESARO/Lindiwe Siyaya

During a high-level panel discussion that included’s Ahmed Makgopo, AfriYAN vice president Hussein Melele, Environmental Educator at Earth Child Project Xoli Fuyani and UNFPA Safeguard Young People (SYP) Programme Regional Coordinator Renata Tallarico, it became apparent that young people need the following:

  • A centralized platform to secure momentum on climate change;
  • Support to upscale their programmes and innovations;
  • Concrete policy changes on environmental issues.

It’s time for political and legal commitment from leaders, they said.

“The perpetrators are not [being held] legally accountable for killing the environment. We need to localize climate change and empower people with knowledge on how climate change is (directly) affecting them and they will be rallying every day trying to fight it. We need to transform voters into climate change [activists]; everyone wants to be in power,” said Udeh.

SYP adopts the Climate, Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction Integration Guidance (CEDRIG) tool

In linking sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) to climate change, Ms. Tallarico said SYP had adopted an open-sourced tool developed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and known as Climate, Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction Integration Guidance (CEDRIG) to monitor what the SYP programme does for the environment and what, in return, climate change is doing for the programme.

CEDRIG is a practical and user-friendly tool for systematic integration of climate, environment and disaster risk reduction (DRR) with development cooperation and humanitarian aid to enhance the overall resilience of systems and communities.

CEDRIG helps with reflection on whether existing and planned strategies, programmes and projects are at risk from climate change, environmental degradation and natural hazards, and whether these interventions could further exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation and the risk of natural hazards.

Ms. Tallarico held an SYP coordination meeting with all countries present at the symposium on how to make SYP more eco-friendly to educate people on the effect that climate change has on their lives, to encourage them to become more eco-friendly.

“But this has to start from the basics. We can’t assume that people know [about climate change], so we need to do more at community and individual level,” she said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       - Lindiwe Siyaya

Read more about SYP.