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The Role of African Youths in Climate Action

By March 21, 2016 No Comments

In today’s interconnected world, African youths are increasingly being given the opportunity to present their own perspectives in the presence of ‘elders’ who they were once told to only listen to. In the not-too-distant past, the ancient proverb; ‘Children are to be seen not heard!’ was a widespread parlance which adults used to put youths in their placeand that place being one of obedient silence.

But Africa is changing and its peoples are gradually adopting more progressive ideas. In the 21st century, we have witnessed teenagers speaking before their elected representatives in parliaments and twenty-something-year-olds starting businesses that have shaped the modern world like no one had ever imagined. Societies are gradually opening up to the idea of youths leading from the front rather than behind.

The complexity of the challenges of the 21st century has further lent credence to the fact that youths have a big role to play in shaping the world. Climate change has led to the call for young people to take charge in protecting our world and preserving it for the use of posterity. All international organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and supranational establishments such as the European Union (EU) have a youth-led agenda for almost everything.

But, what can or should young people do with these amazing opportunities which they’ve been given?

Two, nay, three things are essential!

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

It has been said time and again that all societies rise and fall on leadership. Countries rely on leadership to move forward but leaders themselves must rest on learning if they don’t want to falter. The information age has flattened the world so much that more and more people have access to up-to-the-minute data at the click of a button. A 5-inch smartphone enables easier access to knowledge than a 5-storey public library.

Learning has gone digital and youths must rise up to the tremendous opportunities this presents. The winner of the 2016 TED Prize, Sarah Parcak, a space archaeologist is leading the way by revolutionizing the practice of finding lost heritage. And she’s inspiring a whole generation to help her in the search too! Sarah’s leadership is legendary. Hence young people must leverage the freedom which the internet bestows on humanity to unlearn and relearn old ways of thinking and learn new ones.

The last century has made us complacent about our choices; we’re mostly interested in the costs of goods and services and how such utilities make our life enjoyable. But then, what about value? A plastic bag makes shopping easy and it costs almost nothing. However, that polythene package adds nothing in value to the product it carries. Yet carbon was released into the atmosphere to manufacture that almost useless material that adds limited or no value to our life.


Nigeria joins the world climate march in 2014. Photo from The Green Times.

Youths must rise to the challenge of climate change by creating actionable knowledge that can help drive society away from its old ways of consumption. We all know one or two recipes that have been passed down generations yet which still makes eating more enjoyable and less wasteful of resources than the fat-laden burgers which fast food chains serve across the globe. Can any of us create a platform that makes such information public knowledge? Can such model be deployed to reduce food waste? Can we replicate such systemic thinking in other areas too?

We must learn to resist the greed for the latest shiny aluminum crap that breaks down every other year for products and experiences that truly adds value to our lives. We cannot afford to wait for our elders; we must know the way ourselves.

“Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t so you can spend the rest of your life like most people cant.”

Warren G. Tracy’s student

In the resource-rich countries of the developing world, poverty and disease is a constant reality of everyday life because only a minute fraction of the population is directly involved in the creation of wealth. For instance, the oil industry employs about 0.01% of the Nigerian workforce but contributes the most to the country’s GDP. This arrangement leaves out much of the manpower to seek for work in other areas of the economy. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s over-reliance on crude rents has led to the neglect of other key sectors that could create jobs, boost taxes for government, and increase national output. In other words, only a negligible fraction of the entire population is needed to create wealth from oil and lesser people actually benefit directly from it.


Oil company Shell’s oil spill destroyed thousands of acres of mangroves in southern delta in Nigeria. Photo from AP.

But if Nigeria were to fully diversify its economy and move into a post-fossil one, the government will need more and more of the population to increase economic productivity. Thus, transitioning from a fossil-dependent economy into a climate-sensitive one would require a greater level of public participation and government transparency. In fact, more skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour would be needed to design, build, install and maintain solar panels, wind turbines, biogas stations, and recycling plants for the entire population. The business of the country would simply become the business of the citizenry and not just the elite. And this is exactly where the creativity and resourcefulness of youths are needed the most.

Whilst the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari is seeking to raise oil prices to meet budgetary expectations for the current fiscal year, Elon Musk is pioneering new technologies in the United States that will significantly reduce the world’s present dependency on carbon for mobility. Africa needs more people like Elon. Our youths have the numerical strength and intellectual vigor to challenge the old narratives of politicians like Muhammadu Buhari.

Nigeria, and indeed Africa, has huge development challenges that need to be overcome quickly. It is general consensus that we cannot tow the same path which the Western world used to develop their economy. As Africa strives to build new cities for its peoples and grow more food for its 1 billion and counting inhabitants, the youths must fill the leadership gap in climate action by innovating our continent out of poverty and disease using indigenous knowledge and easily accessible technologies. We cannot afford to wait for our elders; rather we must show the way ourselves.

And third, we can only make our elders know the way and show them the way if we grow the way ourselves. So, in addition to education and entrepreneurship, African youths must themselves be examples of climate action!

Kolawole Talabi

About Kolawole Talabi

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