Climate Change Literacy Among African Youth Requires Immediate Action

“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.” Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General – COP27 Summit, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt

Global development is seriously threatened by climate change, which also has a detrimental effect on people’s lives and means of subsistence. Studies show that for poor nations, whose socioeconomic standing hinges on powerful nations, climate change is not just a problem for food and nutrition security but also a problem for national security. It also presents other dangers like bad living conditions, lost revenue, a lack of irrigation and drinking water, decreased agricultural productivity, and ill health. Regarding climate change, Southern Africa is in the centre of the storm since it contains some of the world’s poorest and warmest nations. This is partially due to human activity, but the continent’s climate also leaves it quite vulnerable. 

Additionally, intensified heatwaves, droughts, and floods are already exceeding the tolerance thresholds of plants and animals, causing mass extinctions of species like coral and trees. These simultaneous weather extremes have cascade effects that are getting harder to control. They have caused severe food and water shortages for millions of people in Africa, Asia, Central, and South America, on small islands, and in the Arctic. The South African government recognizes that with this tendency, there are more risks of natural disasters and hazards such as floods, droughts, and sediment load because of climate change. To avoid further loss of life, biodiversity, and infrastructure, ambitious, accelerated action to adapt to climate change is required, as are rapid, deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. According to the new report, adaptation progress has been uneven, with increasing gaps between action taken and what is required to deal with rising risks. These disparities are greatest among lower-income groups. 

South Africa has experienced significant temperature shifts, extreme weather patterns, and damage because of global climate change. Human activities that have an impact on the environment have been the primary drivers of climate change. The advancement of industrialization has been accompanied by increased pollution and the release of large amounts of greenhouse gases. In the context of South Africa’s socio-economic development and threatened ecosystems, disastrous flooding in KwaZulu Natal in April 2022 was linked to the climate emergency, with over 400 people killed. This demonstrates the urgency of the situation in our country, as we can see and feel the consequences. Unfortunately, many still believe climate change will be a distant phenomenon. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that climate change projections for rising temperatures and extreme weather events are tied to future dates: 2030, 2050, or 2100. However, it is critical to recognize that we are already experiencing climate change and have done so for some time. Global temperatures have risen by about 1°C over the last century. Certain low-lying coastal communities are already feeling the effects of sea level rise. To summarize, the world is experiencing more frequent and intense extreme weather events. 

Despite the threats posed by climate change, climate change literacy is low in our society, with many people unaware of climate change and its anthropogenic causes. Uninformed mitigation and adaptation responses to build resilient communities contribute to this lack of awareness. As a result, citizens must become informed about the effects of climate change on the country and its biodiversity. As Africa Unite, we recognize that addressing this requires a profound shift in values and ways of thinking among governments as well as individuals, particularly young people. This is because young people are one of the most important target groups, as they are the generation whose lives will be affected by climate change the most than any other generation before them, and they will be responsible for dealing with the environmental, economic, and societal consequences of climate change. 

Even if the most ambitious temperature ceiling is met, adapting to a world that is warmer than today will be a massive undertaking. Climate change is causing millions of Africans to be uprooted or trapped in their current locations. Unfortunately, the world has yet to make progress in understanding what it takes to adapt to life on a warmer planet safely. We still lack the scale and urgency of collective and transformative action required to reduce greenhouse gases by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Climate change is a collective problem. These changes will exacerbate already existing inequalities and disrupt businesses in Africa. They will also jeopardize agricultural systems and decades of progress in health and education. Furthermore, the changes are expected to result in losses and damage to Africa’s unique heritage of exceptional and universal value. Climate change will have an increasing impact on those who move, stay, and communities that receive people on the move. The Africa Shifts report detailed the current realities of climate-forced migration and displacement in Africa. The report depicts potential scenarios for future population movements because of rising climate impacts. 

As a result, we urge all individuals, governments, and institutions to:

  • Open platforms focusing on climate change literacy as one of the strategies for raising awareness and encouraging communities to act against climate change. This is significant because, in many countries, a lack of proper recycling and disposal infrastructure means that waste – which contains a high percentage of plastic – is dumped, adding millions of tonnes to already massive waste volumes.
  • To educate and strengthen knowledge of basic science and climate change, so that people and organizations can make informed decisions and change our behaviour as part of climate change mitigation measures.
  • In terms of adaptation and mitigation activities, bilateral and multilateral agencies must align their climate change agenda with national development planning.
  • National ministries and departments must coordinate adaptation policies. For instance, Climate Resilient Debt Clauses or the African Climate Risk Facility must be implemented as part of overall adaptation strategies and measures to protectvulnerable groups from climate risks and impacts.
  • The government must ensure access to climate finance and make funds available for relevant climate change research led and disseminated at the national and local levels by African researchers.
  • Climate change mitigation institutions must be established in all African regions. These should provide the means for individual governments to train experts, facilitate technology transfer, and carry out mitigation projects.
  • National governments must invest more in research and educational institutions.

For more information, please contact: Lelethu Nogwavu, lelethu@africaunite.org.za, Human Rights Project Development Officer, 

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