The Road to COP27: Making Space for African Youth

For nearly three decades, world leaders have met to make progress on implementing the Paris Agreement at the world’s largest climate change convening, the Conference of the Parties (“COP”). Protecting future generations is at the heart of these convenings, thus naturally the priorities of sub-Saharan Africa, home to the largest growing youth population and humaniti’s future generations should be at the forefront of discussions at COP.

Yet year after year, Africa’s priorities are consistently overlooked and placed at the back burner. All while Africa and its bulging youth population bear the brunt of the adverse effects of climate change, despite contributing the least to global emissions.

The global climate narrative warns about the future adverse effects of climate change, but one does not need a time machine to see the disproportionate harm Africa is already experiencing from climate change. Between 2010-2022, 172.3 million Africans have been adversely affected by drought, this is more than double Germany’s current population, a country that is paradoxically one of the top five global greenhouse gas emitters.  Without the required climate financing pledged by high emitters such as Germany, many African countries will continue to have to redirect public and private financing from development needs such as education, health and nutrition to address climate adaptation and mitigation.

With such alarming figures and glaring disparities, it’s a wonder that high emitting wealthy countries continue to “dodge” their climate financing commitments. It is important to note that this climate financing is an obligation promised by historical emitters that have benefited economically from the exploitation of cheap fossil fuels and should not be frames as charity or a handout to vulnerable countries that did not create the climate crisis.

The inequity and the failings of the current global climate negotiation system to empower those most affected by climate change are clear. On one side of the negotiation table, sits the highest polluters dominating negotiations, on the other side sits low emitters and those most vulnerable to climate change fighting to have their voices heard, while outside the room you have African youth actors, the future generation completely excluded.

Addressing these injustices and creating inclusion and balance among all stakeholders must be at the core of the upcoming COP27 climate negotiations, taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. COP27, is rightfully being hailed as the African COP that will address the failings of past COP negotiations to empower stakeholders most vulnerable to climate change, by placing Africa and the priorities of all developing countries at the heart of climate negotiations and ensuring a negotiation model that provides true youth inclusion and representation.

While many reports have already presented recommendations, on how policymakers can bring Africa’s case for climate change to the forefront of the global climate negotiations. This op-ed presents three recommendations to ensure the inclusion of African youth voices:

1.       True Inclusion Requires a Seat at the Negotiation Table:  Welcoming African youth speakers to present their perspective at main stage events, while excluding them from negotiation rooms where climate financing solutions and climate action plans are developed does not constitute as youth inclusion. Activists have rightly termed this practice, as “youth washing” in which youth representation has become a box ticking exercise.

2.       True Inclusion Requires Recognizing Different Circumstances:  Although organizers have finally recognized the need to provide funding for youth to engage in global climate conferences, many still fail to address the disproportionate challenges African youth face when accessing visas to attend global conferences. Providing funding for youth attendees a mere ten days before a conference, excludes many African youth who are required to submit visa applications months ahead. Measures that provide active visa support and the distribution of funding within appropriate time scales are vital.

3.       True Inclusion Requires Capacity Building: Historically youth representatives have not been included in climate negotiation rooms. Youth must be empowered and given access to training that allow them to actively contribute and meaningfully engage.

Young African’s make up nearly 70% of the continent’s population and by the 2050 will make up 25% of the global population. Africa’s youth are the future of not only the continent but the world. The impact of climate change is going to have impact on Africa’s youth more than any of global stakeholder. Thus, for COP to be a success Africa’s youth must be meaningfully engaged in the decision-making processes.

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Africa is a continent in continuous transformation, with a sustained economic and population growth, a fast-paced urbanization and a young generation of talents who is leading its business revolution. This transformation requires energy and will require it even more in the next decades.
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