Youth profile #6: Meet the African coalition that brings together 54 countries to tackle climate change

By Tierney Smith

Africa is the world’s second-largest and second most populous continent.

It’s host to 54 countries, but despite its size and the number of voices it represents Africa struggles to get its message heard at the major climate meetings.

Developing links between civil society actors across the continent is seen as a crucial step in building their capacity – and that is exactly what the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) aims to do.

In the latest of our Youth series, I’ve been speaking to their Deputy Executive Director/Programme Director Justine Braby.

What is your group doing and what areas do you focus on?

The AYICC is an umbrella youth network. It is a network of African based youth organisations, university groups, groups within schools and so on and it acts as a network for country chapters. We have 31 member countries and there are basically two things that we focus on. One is that we are the youth voice at the international foray and then also we do on the ground, country-based grassroots projects.

We have a series of aims and a strategic plan for the next five years. The leadership has just been elected this year. Our objectives are very much focused on increasing the capacity of youth on climate change mitigation and adaptation, influencing policy dialogue and giving youth a bit more of a voice.

We want to build a generation of people who are passionate about the environment and sustainable development and to basically make better choices than our predecessors have.

We have just gone through elections and in March the new leadership was announced – for 2012 to 2014. And we have a strategic plan of what we need to do.

We do a lot more advocacy in the past two years, from 2009 to 2011 so basically more along the lines of creating partnerships with groups like the African Union, the Africa Adaptation Programme, the UNDP and also in the international forum, so the major meetings representing the youth voice.

This new leadership is much more focused on grassroots projects facilitation. We are more focused on over-seeing a lot of the stuff [happening at national levels] and we are also hoping to become a channel of funding for grassroots projects and an information portal for countries which are under us, acting and doing best practices.

Our country chapters do the underground work and we facilitate the process and share the international stuff.

What results have you seen from your work so far?

So we are just about to share the strategic plan for the next five years, that’s about to go out. And we are looking more at communication, capacity building and grassroots projects on adaptation specifically – I am sure you know Africa is prioritising adaptation – and innovative systems, for example the Gross National Happiness index which is looking to measure economic and system success and so on.

So that is the future. And we have all these pilot projects going on. I am coordinating in Namibia on the GNH concept as an entry point into development planning.

In terms of the past two years, what has already been done, one of the biggest achievements for AYICC which I think personally was the African Youth Climate Justice Caravan. It had 19 nations, 161 youths, six trucks travelling through six countries and they drove from Kenya to South Africa and they were basically doing advocacy. The campaign had three main components, one was the youth caravan and the petition drive, and then there was the link into the interfaith rally – in which Archbishop Tutu was involved.

They had all sorts of projects around it like concerts on the way and creating kind of a momentum around climate change with the youth all the way down. It was featured quite widely in the media all the way along the route and 300,000 petitions were handed over to the UNFCCC secretariat.

It was a big thing and was one of the biggest successes for AYICC I think.

AYICC has been around since 2006, and was founded basically on the basis that the COPs were largely devoid of African youth voices. They have had a lot of success. It was founded in Kenya at the COP there and they have had a lot of success in Kenya, especially with on the ground projects and it has kind of become this momentum for change where they have had a lot of countries getting onto the bandwagon. We have created this united voice.

For instance between 2009 and 2011, nine national chapters were included, we are now at 31 countries and are hoping to advocate so that we get full coverage in Africa so that we actually reflect all of the African youth voice. I know that is very optimistic considering African countries are having problems here and there and have their own difficulties, but we have regional coordinators for all of the regions in Africa and one of our mandates is to increase our representation in the countries.

What are the challenges you have faced in your work and what hasn’t worked so well for you?

There are some pending issues rolling over from the last leadership on strengthening national chapters and so on. I would say our biggest problem so far has been funding and creating a channel of funding for youth projects to make them a lot more effective. I am very much along for pushing for grassroots action. That has been a little bit hard to come by in terms of channelling but it is one of our big things that we are pushing forward and we have a fundraising person on the leadership team who is in charge of that.

So that is something we are overcoming.

The AYICC was created in 2006 at the COP12 talks in Nairobi, Kenya ©IISD

And also the fact that we all remotely working with each other which is something of a challenge, especially in Africa where we have internet issues and all these things so trying to get in touch with everyone and finding out how everyone is doing. So our leadership team we have people from Gambia, I’m from Namibia, the networks and partnership person is from Cameroon, the information and communications officers is from Morocco and the fundraising officer is from Nigeria, so you can imagine the link and the communication that goes between all of us.

So things can be a little bit slower than you want them to be. That is ones of the challenges I suppose, a problem when you have youth from various countries that are having issues and you don’t hear from them for a while. So it is one of those issues that we face but we strive to be a supporting network so we fight to overcome these things.

What support have you seen for your activities?

That is one of the things which we have in our five year plan – influencing policy through effective communication streams. And between 2009 and 2011 there were some key partnerships established, with the African Union, the UNDP, and various national governments. For instance I can speak for the Namibian side because we spearheaded the Namibian Youth Coalition on Climate Change last year which was actually funded through the ministry of environment and tourism as part of government. So there is government support.

Youth voices are becoming stronger and stronger. AYICC is becoming one of the networks through which you get a certain amount of respect in terms of speaking out and informing politicians in various national governments. In Kenya we have had quite a lot of success in terms of youth influencing policy making and fighting for some change along the sustainable development route.

And that is one of our challenges – one of our biggest things as part of our strategic plan – is creating that momentum of change towards sustainability. And just more innovative systems which really understand that we live within a system that is closed.

What impacts are you seeing locally from climate change?

As you know in Africa – this is something which probably gets played like a broken record – but we haven’t really contributed much to climate change and yet we are suffering a lot of the effects of it. In Namibia for instance, there are all these projections, unfortunately we are not specific projections to our country, and they are more regional projections.

But we are already seeing an increase in flooding, droughts in some areas – it is basically an extreme from both ends. And unfortunately we are in this position where – I am speaking from a Namibian perspective because I live here and was brought up here – we have these moments where we have all this water and we don’t know what to do with it and we are struggling and then we go to the other side of no water. We really need to learn how to harness it.

But the beauty about African countries, and a lot of African countries and this is something that the global arena seems to forget, is that for instance a country like Namibia we have coped with high variability of climate over yonks and yonks…many generations.

The capacity is there. It should be harnessed rather than just copy and pasting systems from elsewhere. So I think there is a lot which can be learnt from less resilient countries, from African countries which have already had a variable climate and have had to adapt within that system over long periods of time. For instance, Namibia has had drought problems for years and years. So there is that adaptive capacity which had to be built into communities.

What would be your vision for 2050? How do we get there?

In terms of our AYICC vision, our vision is for an African continent which is empowered and proactively involved in the decision making process and the adoption of sustainable options towards better climate and social equity.

In my personal view I would like to see a paradigm shift in thinking in terms of the whole world. Our ecosystems services have been totally biodegraded and have been replaced by anthropogenic systems. For instance looking at GDP and looking at alternative measures by which we define a successful nation, are we looking at the well-being of people or are we looking at pure financial gain? Looking at pure financial gain is one of the biggest problems with our civilisation.

We are creating destructive systems and are not including ecosystem services and basic equality and basic services for humanity like pure air, fresh water and all that stuff. We completely undervalue them. And we only value things which don’t have any value like coal for instance. Until we have that paradigm shift and start valuing those systems – which I think African countries like Namibia and stuff can start spearheading – then we can have a good head for change in which we actually appreciate and harness the environment over the monetary system.

Effective communication and strategic communication is one of the key tools for actually inciting change. It is a problem because we are all pushed into our own sense of convenience and there is almost despondency about it. But we are heading towards big problems so that is sort of a good push for all of us to step in the right direction.

I think it has a lot to do with a lot of advocacy and the youth standing up. The youth often spearhead big change in the world. I think with effective communication and actually replicating good actions and showing humility in good actions is really a huge step towards better changes.

And then all of that comes in then – sustainable development, lowering carbon emissions it is all basically connected to that paradigm shift.

What would help your own group move forward with your activities?

We have got our strategic plan of action drafted and we are about to send it out to all of our members for comments but after that we are going to start lobbying for funding. We have good intentions and good action plans we just really need the money.

And effective partnerships and effective sharing and communication of what is working and what isn’t working amongst Africans – looking specifically at the African continent of course.

Why did you get involved in the group? What unique voice do you think young people bring to the debate?

I have a great passion for the driving of change and the uplifting of humanity – we are living within a system where some people are ridiculously rich and then at the other end of the scale there are a billion people who don’t have enough food to eat. There is something really wrong in that sense and I really want to be part of that change and I think that AYICC is a really good platform for sharing and acting towards that change.

If you think about past interventions I think the youth have a very powerful and often unheard voice and we are enthusiastic and always striving and innovative and thinking in new ways so I think that those are really giving us a little bit of a cutting edge in that sense.

In Africa 60% of the population is under 24 years old – that is a massive demographic. That is a huge channel of influence and change.


17/07/2012 – Canada’s climate coalition on taking on the Tar Sands lobby and fighting for Kyoto

10/07/2012 – How PIDES are working on practical solutions to climate change in Mexico

25/07/2012 – How youth in Nepal fight for their Himalayan paradise

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