Achieving a more sustainable and healthier planet
Young people are central to achieving a more sustainable and healthier planet. They play a special role in instigating change and action on pressing global challenges. Children and youth are not just the future, but also actors of today, comprising over 40% of the global population. Youth engagement has become a high priority in multilateral systems in recent years, with intergenerational aspects being a key plank of the UN Secretary General’s “Our Common Agenda” report. Despite expert recognition that the future is particularly uncertain for children, youth and future generations, the most vulnerable groups to the impacts of climate change, not nearly enough is being done to assist them.
Young people are both beneficiaries of the SDGs and crucial enablers of them. They must serve as change-makers, communicators, critical thinkers, innovators and leaders because the “youth bulge” implies that they have a large stake in the present and future of the world. For that, they need recognition and the space to translate Agenda 2030 at the local, national, regional and global levels.
Youth engagement no longer an option
Engaging with the youth is no longer an option. Young people need support to be able to focus on making the world a cleaner and greener place. This can be done through exploring the most pressing environmental issues facing the planet, including climate change and pollution. They have the tools to work on actions through technologies such as social media, activism and policymaking.
One practical way of engaging young people towards the realization of the SDGs is to mobilize and sensitize them on the SDGs. This is necessary because many young people are primarily engaged in the daily business of survival and have no time to think about global issues. Consequently, if strategies aimed at involving young people include prospects of lucrative employment, they are much more likely to give their total commitment.
Young people are the foundation of development effectiveness. If they are engaged, they can help tackle worldwide challenges faced everywhere by linking policy to practice. A commitment to remedying the injustice of ignoring youth in development and promoting the Youth for SDGs will yield fruit: this commitment is best evidenced by organizational development. In addition, organizations and governments should work with young people in professional roles, youth networks, youth on boards, committees and action groups to achieve meaningful youth engagement.
SEI Africa support to young people
SEI Africa provides internships for early career scientists and researchers, enabling them to acquire skills and capacities in research and policy engagement in the fields of the environment and development. In addition, SEI Africa involves young people in research projects through reconnaissance surveys and as respondents (data and information providers) in research studies, as well as participants in data collection activities. Interacting and engaging with young people on SEI Africa research projects helps them gain confidence to work with researchers and other experts and has the added benefit of bringing their ideas and views to light in the policymaking process. It also enhances their capacity to learn more about the issues and become better communicators and actors on the environment and related social issues in their local settings.
An upsurge in youth initiatives for climate action demonstrates their deep concerns about the future and determination to prevent a climate catastrophe. Young people wield the power to drive policy discussions aimed at shielding humans and ecosystems from the worst collateral damage of the rapidly changing climate. It is their imperative to sift through the “prevailing noise” to pinpoint direct and even indirect paths in which young people can best contribute to interventions that combat the causes of extreme weather, pollution and other forms of environmental degradation.
SEI Africa research projects have involved working with with youth groups. In Mukuru, an informal settlement in Nairobi, SEI conducted a pilot study on air pollution monitoring, which revealed that the residents are exposed to high levels of toxins close to or above the 24-hour average recommended by both World Health Organization and Kenya Environment Management and Coordination Regulations guidelines. SEI’s citizen science approaches have seen local residents in Mukuru take part in many training and other research activities.
The research team trained groups that included young people on how to use air quality measurement devices and in understanding the value of good quality data. The group also worked with researchers and fellow residents to get a better understanding of commonly used types of fuel and the reasons why people choose them and how they contribute to local air pollution. The resulting data were analysed to give a picture of each individual’s exposure to particulate matter. Members of the group now work to raise awareness about pollution and other environmental challenges in forums within and beyond Mukuru.
Looking ahead to Stockholm+50
SEI Africa is also involved in the preparation of the Youth Science Report to be launched ahead of the Stockholm+50 Conference set to take place on 2–3 June 2022 in Stockholm, Sweden. A team of young authors from diverse backgrounds across the world are writing the report that aims to mainstream and represent youth perspectives on the critical environmental issues the world currently faces. If you are 18–30 and would like to join other young people from around the world in voicing your opinion, fill in this survey before 8 March 2022. The report will empower young people to present their own vision for a sustainable future and the actions needed to achieve this. The report was commissioned by the Government of Sweden and written independently by SEI and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water.
Jacinta Musyoki is a Communications Intern at SEI Africa.