The African youth group driving climate adaptation in rural communities

By Tierney Smith

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

While sub-Saharan Africa – excluding South Africa – only contributes around 5% of the world’s carbon emissions, the continent is one of the most vulnerable to climate change.

Many African countries are already feeling the impacts of increased climatic variability, including flooding, droughts and desertification. Adaptation is now playing an increasing role in much of the continent’s climate planning.

Young Volunteers for the Environment (JVE) aim to tackle climate change in Africa, while also addressing poverty and access to energy across the continent.

What began in 2001 as a weekly meeting in the rural village of Tsiko in Togo, has now grown into a pan-African network covering 16 countries.

As part of RTCC’s youth series I spoke to Severin Apedjagbo, the group’s climate change officer to see what drives the volunteers and their vision for Africa in the future.

What is your group doing and what is your focus?

We work on three main activities; climate change, energy and sustainable development.

On climate change we are working with people in rural areas on adaptation and mitigation. We mainly focus on community-based adaptation but we are also working on sustainable energy in these areas to fight against the climate impacts.

We also focus on youth participation at the climate change negotiations. We have participated at the UNFCCC negotiations since 2006. We are following adaptation, mitigation, capacity building and finance. I follow two topics, adaptation and climate finance at the negotiations.

We have had a big project for the last five years, focusing on clean energy and climate change in Africa.

This project advocates for energy access in rural communities and for communities to be provided with the necessary resources to do their own advocacy, to make their voice heard on national climate and energy policies.

Also we are helping them with energy planning for five years or tens years – what they are going to do and what they want to have.

This project is being implemented in 16 countries in Africa including Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast, and Ghana.

We started this activity in countries in 2010. The first project was advocacy on climate justice which we ran for one year and repeated last year. We will work on the project for five years now because of the results it has already had.

What results have you seen from your work so far?

Our main success is what we have built with the communities. They are getting more and more involved in the politics of climate change and we amplify their voice on climate change.

We helped one community here in Togo to have their own Agenda 21. We planned and made the document – which is one of the best planning documents by the United Nations – so we helped them in plan their own one. We worked on water, energy, emissions reductions among other things.

In Benin, we helped one community with water problems and to get some answers from their mayor to provide them with clean and drinkable water.

In Ivory Coast we mainly work on Disaster Risk Reduction and climate change and today we are part of the global network on disaster reduction. We are also part of a network of French speaking countries on climate change, energy and development.

Also here in Togo we set up a network called Rosette. It is a civil society organisations network on climate change and energy. Also apart from that we have participated in the Cancun and Durban climate talks and carried out some actions there.

We mobilise a lot of youth and a lot of young people on climate change and sustainable development. This year we also participated in the Rio+20 negotiations.

What are the challenges you have faced in your work?

We have faced a lot of challenges. The first challenge is resources. Where can we find resources to run our activities?

The second challenge is with our advocacy work. We are not really accepted yet. When you are planning activities, here in Africa it can be very difficult to run advocacy work because of our politics. You have to face a lot of challenges, for example, you send a letter to try to organise a meeting, it is not uncommon for the application to be rejected.

JVE has volunteers in 16 countries across Africa including Cameroon (Source: JVE Cameroon)

We are still working to find the resources we need for the different activities in the different countries.

As a platform in Africa we need a lot of money to run our activities in the different countries where we are working. We just have one partner who can finance our activities – so that is a challenge.

The politics are not really on our side. It is like we are disturbing them with our activities. But we need to do that to change things in our communities. We have to do that because people are suffering from the  effects of climate, suffering for water and energy. Here in Togo the rate of energy access in rural areas is 3% – it is very low.

What support have you seen for your activities?

We have the support of a lot of civil society organisations.

Also the parliamentarians in Togo – we are working closely with them. Actually I am preparing a letter for them and am going to meet them to talk on climate finance projects we are running in West Africa. We have had a lot of technical support with discussions. We can make them change some things. We also have the support of the Environment Ministry here in Togo and the focal point of the UNFCCC in Togo; we are working very closely with them.

With do not have a strong link with politicians. The only link we have with the politics is the parliamentarians.

What are the impacts you are seeing in your country and locally from climate change?

I can say that the first problem that we have in Togo is the rain. The rainy seasons are not really what they were over the last ten years. Agricultural activities are really affected by climate change and here in Togo our main activity is agriculture. Agriculture represents 80% of our economic output and it is one of the areas where a lot of people can find a job and can work.

That area is really badly affected. Firstly the lands are not very productive. The seasons are not respecting the normal and also sometimes we are affected by flooding. In the coastal areas, the sea level is rising so we are facing that problem too. The disaster risks are becoming more and more important in our countries.

Also our forests are facing a lot of problems because people do not get what they need in agriculture – the results or the fruit of their activity – so they are cutting down a lot of trees to meet their energy needs.

The problem is similar in the countries where we are working. Another issue is desertification. In Niger for example they are facing a lot of problems with desertification and with fresh water too.

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

Our vision is that maybe it can be a world where communities are strengthened and they have the tools to adapt to climate change and to mitigate it. Also communities with clean energy and also where water problems are resolved.

To make this happen we need to work hard with those communities to give them the right tools, like the community here in Togo that we helped to get their own Agenda 21. We have to work hard with them and find money and resources to help them to have their own planning for the long term to face climate change impacts on their communities.

What would help your group to move forward with its work?

1000 students, children and women walked in the streets of Kara, Togo asking for drinking water as part of an advocacy campaign (Source: The World Walks For Water and Sanitation)

We need technical and financial support. We also need strong mobilisation of the young people in Africa to strengthen our fight and to strengthen our voice, to make an impact on the politics and to make changes in the politics, that match the challenges we are facing such as energy poverty and a lot of disasters.

We have to make it more than we are doing here now.

We need a lot of commitment and engagement from the youth, the African youth, and also engagement from the politicians to make change in our areas.

We need to be constantly on top of what is going on generally in the environmental and climate change domain – which is why we are participating in the UN climate talks – so we need financial and technical support so we can do that.

Why did you get involved in the group? What do you think youth groups’ role is in the climate/environmental agenda?

I got involved because we need to see things change in our area because we are facing a lot of the effects of climate change. Africa is the more affected continent. Things are not really going fine here so we need commitment and we need to be involved in the networks to fight against climate change and energy poverty. I think our group is actually like a big network in Africa on environmental and ecological aspects so we are dealing with it.

I think what we bring to the climate talks or debates are a lot of things to motivate our friends here in Africa as well as to change the minds of the politicians.

We usually produce a position paper when we are going to the UN talks or the national meetings. In this we have our position clearly laid out and our plan covering adaptation, mitigation, finance, capacity building, technology transfer.

More RTCC Youth Profiles:

Youth Profile #16: Inspiring climate change action through education in Africa

Youth Profile #15: Canadian youth rise above dirty domestic policies and push for climate action

Youth Profile #14: Costa Rica’s youth eye a carbon neutral future

Youth Profile #13: Giving youth a platform at the European Parliament

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Youth Profile #11: China’s young activists out to prove they do care about climate change

Youth Profile #10: Life on climate change’s frontline with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition

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Youth Profile #8: Why education is key to developing climate awareness in Ghana

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Profile #5: Bangladeshi youth fight to give world’s second most climate vulnerable country a voice

Youth Profile #4: Nepal’s youth fight to save Himalayan paradise from effects of pollution and climate change

Youth Profile #3: Canada’s climate coalition on taking on the Tar Sands lobby and fighting for Kyoto

Youth Profile #2: How PIDES are working on practical solutions to climate change in Mexico

Youth Profile #1: How Nigerian Climate Coalition are building green bridges ahead of COP18

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