Contributing to climate action
Young people can make significant contributions to addressing environmental problems since they are the most affected by these problems and can drive solutions that contribute to sustainable development.
In research projects that involve fieldwork, policy engagement and the dissemination of findings, SEI Africa Research Fellow in Water Sanitation and Hygiene George Njoroge usually employs various ways of engaging with young people. While undertaking individual field projects or working on research teams, he recruits young people to be involved in reconnaissance surveys at the start of a project, for example, to appraise socio-economic and ecological issues in their communities.
Young people also participate as respondents, providing data and information in research studies, in data collection activities, including surveys, interviews and focus group discussions and are involved in the dissemination of research findings. Engagement with young people is a two-way affair and Njoroge also receives invitations to participate in environmental conservation and management projects, and awareness raising and advocacy activities undertaken by young people.
An important benefit for young people from engaging in research projects is that it helps them to gain confidence to work with researchers and other experts, who they may initially perceive as belonging to ivory towers. The engagement of young people also has the benefit of bringing their ideas and views to light and enhances their capacity to keep track of issues and become better communicators as actors on the environment and related social issues in local and national settings.
Unfavourable policies for youth
The “Landscape analysis on young people’s engagement in climate change and health in six LMICs in Africa and Asia” study undertaken by SEI and Save the Children International revealed that policies in six countries pay little attention to the links between health, climate change and youth engagement.
“As a matter of fact, some policies factor in the health impacts of climate change on young people or mention the roles of young people in protecting the environment, but most still see young people as a vulnerable group in a changing climate. The policies provide little details as to how young people can act on climate and health issues”, the authors wrote.
In the three African countries that were considered, Ethiopia, Kenya and Senegal, the study found the presence of various legislations, regulations and policies addressing climate change, health and young people. However, a key gap appears to be the lack of a multisectoral approach. It also emerged that even though climate change is often framed as a cross-cutting issue, policies give limited attention to the links between the health impacts of climate change and young people.
Young people are without a doubt shaping climate change and health action on different scales across Africa. However, in order for young people to be effectively engaged around the topic of the health impacts of climate change, greater recognition and more concerted efforts from the public and private sectors are required.
The report had far-reaching recommendations, including mainstreaming youth engagement in sectoral planning, policies and implementation. This can be in the form of mandated youth consultation in policy processes or institutionalized youth constituencies in government agencies. The Youth Environment Assembly is a perfect example and testament to how multilateralism can contribute to youth empowerment.
Participatory co-design of projects
Non-governmental organizations and institutions need to co-design and implement projects and initiatives in partnership with local youth-led organizations, ensuring the sustainability of young people’s engagement. SEI has taken the lead, demonstrated by its citizen science engagement with the residents of Mukuru, an informal settlement in Nairobi. They have now taken the lessons learned from the projects across to other areas that have a high presence of young people. Young people wield the power to drive climate action and policy discussions aimed at shielding humans and ecosystems from the damages of rapidly changing climate.
It is imperative to sift through the “prevailing noise” and pinpoint direct and even indirect paths that young people can best contribute to interventions for combating the causes of extreme weather, including pollution and other forms of environmental degradation. Inasmuch young people are a force for fighting climate change, it is important to recognize that those from poor and marginalized communities in the Global South suffer more severe effects than their socially and economically advantaged counterparts in the Global North. The situation is urgent to inject increased attention on shielding the most vulnerable young people from the consequences of climate change.