Youth should lead the fight against climate change

lamu coal plant

A woman takes part in a Greenpeace and environmental activists' demonstration in Nairobi against the construction of a coal plant in Lamu, June 12, 2019.

Photo credit: Photo | Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Kenya has come a long way with regards to environmental and climate policies.
  • The country has indoctrinated the protection of the environment in both international environmental treaties and national laws.
  • However, this has not shielded Kenya from adverse effects of climate change such as droughts and floods.
  • We can harness the energy of the youth in developing and reviewing climate change action plans.

The last several months, young people all over the world have taken up the fight to mitigate climate change, quite personally staging school boycotts under the FridaysForFuture banner that morphed into a global climate movement. Their rallying call has been that those making decisions to harm the planet are most likely not going to live long enough to witness the consequences of their choices.

Today a number of activities are taking place despite the restrictions caused by the pandemic because the youth in Kenya are also aware that their future is at stake despite the fact that our President appears to say all the right things when it comes to issues climate change.

At the launch of the African chapter of the Global Center on Adaption (GCA Africa) at State House, Nairobi a few days ago, the President said, "Exacerbated by climate change, the desert locust invasion of Kenya and other Eastern Africa countries has devastated livelihoods of farmers and poses an unprecedented threat to food security’’.

Despite the reassuring statements by the president, there are plans to build coal plants that are now considered the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gases. This has made the youth a little sceptical about the seriousness of the leaders and indeed the adults to safeguard their future.

But one might be wondering what all the hullabaloo about climate change is.

Most scientists agree with the working definition that climate change is a shift in global or regional climate patterns and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels. This is one of the biggest environmental problem that is facing the world today.

Unscrupulous entrepreneurs

Kenya has come a long way with regards to environmental and climate policies. From a time when the environment was considered a nonessential privilege that should give way to any development project that was conceived by the government and a few unscrupulous entrepreneurs to developing a climate change policy. It’s although debatable how much of this policy informs development projects.

We have now indoctrinated the protection of our environment in both international environmental treaties and our national laws, including the Constitution of Kenya 2010, Acts of Parliament – including the Climate Change Act of 2016, Regulations of the same Acts and laws passed by some of the 47 county assemblies.

Despite all these excellent laws that should have put Kenya on its way into a green pathway, we are still experiencing adverse effects of the climate crisis, including regular droughts and floods which affect about two million people every year.

A study commissioned for the Marrakech UN climate conference in 2016 concluded that eight out of ten youths in Africa are convinced that climate change is affecting their lives negatively and are willing to take action. Some of these effects include displacement of people (climate refugees), food insecurity due to dependence on rain-fed agriculture, floods, droughts, locust invasion, and disease outbreaks. This already confirms the zeal we’re now witnessing with our youths who are refusing to be impressed by flowery words about climate change. However, there’s a need to expand this conversation to be more inclusive and have more diverse youth. In Kenya right now the conversation is dominated by the youths in Nairobi and few in urban centers in rural areas.

About 80 per cent of Kenya’s population is below 35 years, making the voice of the youth important in this discourse as they are the ones who will inherit every mistake the adult population makes with regard to the planet.

Win-win situation

Involving the youth in this climate discourse will be a win-win situation for all since they have been leading the way in coming up with innovative ideas and measures to curb carbon emissions. Lately we’ve seen the reviving of bicycle riding culture – where driving would have sufficed. We’re seeing them engaging in discussions around single plastic products and the need for recycling and this is a good thing. Also, noting that they will be the majority voters in the next elections, perhaps it’s time they concretised these ideas in a way that politicians can’t ignore if they want their votes.

Already in Ghana youths are making headlines with an innovative ideas – using bamboo to make bicycle frames instead of steel thereby reducing carbon emissions, while students in the Bahamas, trailblazed the way mobilising and planting oats after a hurricanes impacted the sand dunes in 2005 – holding the dunes in place when the next hurricanes hit in 2011. These examples of youths leading the way in innovation to reduce carbon emissions are many.

The development and review of climate change action plans should therefore involve all youths, including youth organisation representatives, young green campaigners, innovators and entrepreneurs with the best innovative ideas on best practices and information towards achieving environmental sustainability in the country.