Africa Climate Summit: Youth and children demand climate justice, call for action now

Africa Youth Climate Assembly emphasises need for collaborative and immediate action in a declaration, reflects urgency echoed in international climate agreements

By Tony Malesi
Published: Monday 04 September 2023
Africa Youth Climate Assembly Lead Coordinator Elizabeth Wathuti with President William Ruto at Africa Climate Summit. Photo: @AYCAssembly2023 / X, previously known as Twitter__

African youth and children demanded climate action and justice at the Africa Climate Summit (ACS23), which began September 4, 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya. 

The official youth engagement mechanism, Africa Youth Climate Assembly (AYCA), called for integrating their voices in handling climate change, an issue that has the biggest impact on the continent

Over 250 children were also present at the three-day ACS23 and read out a memorandum to leaders and policymakers on how climate change affects them and how to formulate strategies that protect children against climate shocks.

The assembly’s secretariat presented the youths’ declaration to President William Ruto, the brainchild of the ACS23 and chair of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change. 

“Young people have been on the periphery for long. We get invited to conferences but are excluded from the decision-making processes. We are now not just calling for inclusion of young people but integration,” said the AYCA Lead Coordinator Elizabeth Wathuti.

The declaration focused on six thematic areas: Climate finance; adaptation; sustainable land use and blue economy; renewable energy resources and tapping Africa’s vast natural capital (investing in nature and biodiversity). 

Drafting the youth declaration was in the works for a few months and captured the desires of young people across the continent, said Lumumba Kimathi, an official at the secretariat.

“We began drafting the youth agenda early this year during the African Union town hall meetings. We held consultations with youth from five regional blocks, capturing their goals and desires for countering the effects of climate change,” said Kimathi.

The youth were concerned that Africa has the biggest population of young people in the world and bears the biggest brunt. Things can only get worse if no immediate climate action is taken.

While calling for the embedment of their agenda in climate frameworks, the youth emphasised the need for collaborative and immediate action, reflecting the urgency echoed in international climate agreements.

Ruto congratulated the youth for taking the lead in innovating and finding solutions to climate change crisis despite limited resources and support.

“The youth assembly is significant for it represents the stakeholders with the greatest stake in the planet's present and future. You must continue pushing to have a seat to the decision-making table,” he said.

The president outlined the great potential of Africa’s youth, stating that by 2050, the continent will comprise over 25 per cent of the global workforce and nearly 40 per cent by 2100.

The United Nations’ Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the youth in a statement and lauded them for their contribution to ongoing global climate action. Guetteres was not in Nairobi at the time of filing this report, but is expected to attend the summit. 

“The determination of young people worldwide is responsible for much of the Climate Action that we have seen. Ahead of the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, I ask youth everywhere to turn up the volume in calling for change. Together, let’s fight for a better, brighter future,” Guterres said.

In attendance was a continental-wide high-level representation, including the African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, African Development Bank (AFDB) President Akinwumi Adesina and African Union Youth Envoy Chido Mpemba.

While acknowledging and highlighting the importance of the African Youth Climate Assembly and their agenda, Akinwumi assured them of the support of AFDB.

“We have launched the Africa adaptation acceleration programme, which is the largest in climate adaptation in the world, to mobilise ($25 billion) to support adaptation in Africa, build resilience and support young people in the green economy,” said Akinwumi. 

The assembly brought together a diverse cohort of young leaders, activists, innovators and change-makers from across Africa. Under the theme ‘African-led Solutions to Global Challenges’, the AYCA will serve as a regular rallying point, drawing attention to the unique climate-related vulnerabilities faced by African countries.

The youth assembly is touted to influence climate discourse and African youth agenda at several upcoming events, including the UN General Assembly, the Guterres’s Climate Ambition Summit, the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the African Union Heads of States Assembly in February 2024, according to the youth and their secretariat.

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