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Road to COP27: Why young African activists are key to addressing the climate crisis


Ayomide Agbaje is a ONE Activist in Nigeria using advocacy journalism as a tool for policy change.

In September 2021, I visited the Tse-yandev refugee camp, located in Makurdi, Benue State, Nigeria. This camp offers refuge to internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are one of the most vulnerable people in the country. Most of them migrated to the camp after fleeing the herder-farmer conflict in their region, another consequence of the climate crisis in Nigeria. Worse still, flooding and government neglect is affecting the IDPs and their camp. So, I did a feature story of how climate change is worsening the already tough crisis in the camp to highlight possible solutions and spur the relevant authorities to address the challenge. The stories were disheartening. One of them, Esther, recounted her experience about how floods always wash away and destroy her household items.

I often wonder what becomes of people like Esther, who are the worst hit by the climate crisis but least likely to have their stories told and to call for the much-needed interventions from leaders. That made me believe it’s critical to amplify the voices of people in African underserved communities who are at the high risk of climate emergencies. It’s now time for their voices to be heard. Furthermore, leveraging policy advocacy through storytelling about the impacts of climate crises can help governments and stakeholders better understand these issues and how they can be mitigated. For example, my story made the concerned state government emergency agency give urgent and immediate attention to the camp. Also, the national government accelerated action plans and prioritized progress on meeting Nigeria’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC)

Still, according to the Verisk Maplecroft’s Climate Change Vulnerability Index, Nigeria is one of the top 10 most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. According to Carbon Brief, the world faced a cascade of climate extremes across the globe including wildfires, storms, drought, changing weather patterns, and flooding. 2021 was one of the top seven warmest years ever on record. World Bank research also projects that 216­ million people could migrate within their own countries by 2050 because of climate change. 

Over the decades, climate change has become a challenge of greater concern around our world.Its present and future impacts will influence our decision-making about national and global development. These impacts are felt across our economy, politics, public health, and ecosystems. This is largely because of increasing human activities such as population expansion, deforestation, mining, and infrastructural development. And this also makes climate emergency more of a collective issue that emanates from our social fault lines. So, we cannot continue with the inertia of our national governments and world leaders. I daresay, concrete actions are long overdue!

 How youth activism in Africa can spur action

Although Africa contributes very little to greenhouse gas emissions, it is the most threatened and affected by the climate crisis. Africa is often overlooked and given little significance when it comes to impacts of the climate crisis. But my experience of being a ONE Champion has shaped my perspectives on ways we can respond to this great threat through policy solutions fueled by the advocacy of young people. I believe young activists in Africa can coordinate and advocate impact-oriented policies to ensure concrete climate responses to protect our people and environment.

As we draw closer to the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, our leaders should create opportunities to involve young people. Leaders should listen to young people’s insights and expertise to devise solutions and advocate for policies that tackle our world’s most pressing and complex challenges like climate change.

Advocacy is one veritable tool young people in Africa can use to highlight the issue and pressure our leaders to take actions. Young people can inspire solutions to climate change’s adverse effects on our ecosystem and champion impact-oriented policies to achieve a climate-resilient economy. These beliefs are what made me choose to volunteer for the advocacy movement with ONE. I want to close the wide awareness gap by advocating around climate issues to hold authorities to account on policies that mitigate climate change.

Through advocacy, I believe we can better understand the unequal impacts of the climate crisis and hear the stories of those at the heart of climate emergency. In Africa, climate change disproportionately impacts communities living in poverty, marginalized groups, and girls and women. Advocacy will help us understand the various human dimensions and nuanced narratives by showcasing the intersection of the climate crisis with social issues like conflict, injustice, gender inequality, and poverty. We would also get to know those whose lives have been transformed, often irrevocably, by the climate crisis, and the resilience and resourcefulness of people and communities to adapt and survive. Advocates should also be involved in projecting in-depth narratives to the authorities that the climate crisis is real. And as a climate-vulnerable continent like Africa, it affects our environment and deserves urgent attention and investment in our recovery strategies.

 We must take conscious steps and recreate ways geared towards the mission of adapting and responding to the climate crisis in Africa. More importantly, we must explore climate solutions that have positive ripple effects on food security and water access, and bring about a sustainable environment for better livelihoods and socioeconomic prosperity. We no longer need to seek faraway solutions to protect the people and the planet against the crisis. The most effective solution lies within us. Changing our perspectives, committing to never stay silent on telling our stories, and holding accountable unethical environmental practices can transform our world in our response to the climate crisis.

As young people and activists, we must come together to advocate sustainable climate policies and demand leaders strengthen their political will to effectively respond to climate crises through climate frameworks such as carbon credits, NDC, and investment in renewables. It’s also high time we galvanized our leaders to put plans in place to tackle climate change and reduce global warming as a top priority. We have the power to pressure not only our leaders, but companies and even the average citizen in protecting our ecosystem. Amid this global climate crisis, we as individuals and communities owe it to future generations to bring ourselves together to act decisively. 

 COP27 is a platform for educating, informing, and connecting stakeholders across member-state governments, private sector, academia, civil society, and the young activists to partner to take sustainable climate actions with ambitions and finance for widespread impacts. And more than anything, young people and activists in Africa have a key role to play. Through the COP27, we can unlock climate solution ideas and local actions led by young people to facilitate accelerated response to the climate crisis and adaptation to the environmental realities. These ideas will also help our governments to adopt them into broader development strategies for environmental sustainability.

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