By Isolda Agazzi
December 11: While world leaders were wrapping up the United Nations conference on climate change (COP 18) in Doha, Qatar this past weekend with the annual vague promise to tackle the enormous crises brought on by extreme weather and global warming, a delegation of youth gathered far from the high-level conference halls to say “no” to advocacy without action.
At the invitation of the Club of Rome – a renowned think tank that turned heads 40 years ago with the publication of a groundbreaking report, ‘The Limits to Growth’, which brought the concept of sustainable development into mainstream discourse – artists, activists and representatives of major youth coalitions around the world flocked to the Change-Course-Conference in Winterthur, Switzerland, to discuss viable alternatives to the prevailing order.
Calling for a “change of mindset” to stop the warming of the planet, some 60 participants engaged in workshops from Dec. 8 to 11, stressing that high-level political summits such as the one in Doha have, once too often, proven the limits of their efficacy.
Fed up with politicians’ inability to reach binding agreements on carbon emissions cuts and find lasting solutions – beyond the paradigm of continued industrialisation – to the climate crisis, these young people have gone back to the basics, focusing on grassroots action to help communities adapt to climate change.
Referring to a pledge made by rich developed nations in Doha to provide funds to poorer states – particularly to the least developed countries (LDCs) – to deal with the loss and destruction brought on by extreme weather events, Ibrahim Ceesay, executive coordinator of the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC), asked IPS, “How do we make sure this is translated into practice?”
The answer, he believes, lies in young people, who have “an important role to play in adaptation and mitigation because they are innovative, energetic and can make the bridge between those who make the policies and those who are affected by them”.
“When I go back to Gambia (his home country), my task will be to tell a woman in a village how she is going to be affected by the warming of the planet.”
The 27-year-old activist and filmmaker said that the AYICC, the biggest youth climate change network in Africa, comprised of 42 country chapters representing a total of 10,000 members around the continent, has done advocacy for the past five years.
“Now we want to stop and help the communities adapt to climate change. Practice what you preach and preach what you practice,” Ceesay added.
Africa currently contributes less than four percent of total global carbon emissions, but the impact of global warming on the continent is disproportionately severe.
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This, combined with industrialised nations’ weak track record in adhering to their own emissions reduction targets, has pushed the youth network to work directly with local communities to identify and implement long-lasting solutions to climate change.
“We want to come up with resilience measures and coping strategies, because adaptation funds are not trickling down to those who need them. We have to develop contingency plans and help people to tell their stories. People are dying, we have to move fast,” Ceesay stressed.
A young Namibian named Justine Braby, programme director of AYICC, told IPS, “The new generation is pushing for change because with the world leaders that are in place nothing happens, we are not moving forward.
“Everybody at this conference acknowledges that the current economic system is a problem. We need a global paradigm shift.”
She believes Africa is in a unique position to nurture just this kind of systemic change. “We can either copy-paste the industrialisation (model), which does not work, or we can come up with innovative (alternatives) at the country level.”
A small group of AYICC members recently conducted a survey in a former township in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, asking people about their values and what makes them happy – be it access to basic education or free time.
The results will feed into municipal and national development plans, in an attempt to move beyond gross domestic product (GDP) growth as the sole measure of a country or population’s wellbeing.
“We are not chasing financial growth, which is unrealistic, but the contentment of the people, the well-being of the society,” she explained.
Erdenechimeg Baasandamba, a 30-year-old biologist from Mongolia, is concerned not only about the rapid changes taking place in her country, but also the lack of awareness about the severity of the problem.
“The environment is damaged, rivers are shrinking, mining has become a big issue in my country. But since 60 percent of the population lives in the capital, they are not aware of the changes taking place in the countryside,” she told IPS.
In her opinion, the government doesn’t communicate effectively with mining companies, allowing some of them to wreak havoc on the environment, use up vast quantities of water and avoid conducting any rehabilitation work, thus fuelling conflict with the local population.
Through the People’s Centre for Conservation, a local NGO, Baasandamba has run a radio programme to educate listeners about individual responsibility in the face of a global climate crisis and the choices one can make: such as eating vegetables instead of meat; recycling paper; or riding bicycles instead of having two cars.
She also works with communities in rural areas and organises meetings between researchers and the general public. “Everybody is aware of climate change because it is obvious that it is happening, but most people don’t know how to solve the problem”, even though simple solutions are staring humanity in the face, she said.
Referring to the Mongolian government’s efforts to make changes in response to the climate crisis, she said, “We have wind and 320 days of sun per year, so we produce solar power and are even trying to export it to China.”