Let’s Talk Generation Z: Communicating Climate Change to Africa and its Youth (PART 1 of 2)

Part of what exacerbates the challenge of dealing with climate change in Africa is communicating the concept to the masses. Climate change communication is about crafting messages that increase awareness about the environment and our interaction with it, in order to bring about the necessary behavior change. In most native dialects, African languages do not even have a word for climate change, and the correlation between effects such as extreme weather events are not made. New and effective ways to convey climate change needs to be prioritized. Africa is also very young. With 60% of its population falling under the age of 25, and the world anticipating an increase by 2.2 billion by 2050, with more than half of the growth occurring in Africa.

About this time next month, the United Nations will be holding its annual Climate Change Conference (COP24), to discuss international actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions. As part of the Paris Agreement, countries were asked to produce action plans with tailored goals to cut their share of emissions known as NDCs (National Determined Contributions). This is an opportunity for governments and other stakeholders to address their own unique challenges around climate change impacts. Africa, in particular, is in a distinct situation with countries and small island states being some of the smallest emitters, yet many of them the hardest hit by global warming.

Children and the youth as the leaders of tomorrow are key stakeholders when it comes to the conversation around climate change, and how to communicate it moving forward. They will be responsible for devising and implementing adaptation and mitigation strategies. In order for this to happen effectively and at scale, they need to understand the basic science and the nuances behind it in a language they comprehend. Coupling this with that of ensuring they especially understand climate change, should be incorporated into the NDCs and other development plans and climate action strategies.

[Data – World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision ]


The government’s role is a focal point

Climate change threatens development progress that has been made across Africa, and clean, sustainable energy is one of the cornerstones of climate action. Energy is also a vehicle and accelerator of sustainable change, and needs to be an area of focus when communicating climate change causes and solutions. This is where using the messaging around job creation can be utilized by policymakers and incorporated into the NDCs and other economic development strategies, particularly for the youth—it is not secret that Africa has large population of unemployed or underemployed young people. Ministries of education and ministries of the environment and can work together on this. A top down education policy can be applied. For example, making it clear that the professional pursuit of researching and implementing the causes and solutions of climate change is a viable option as a career choice, as well as ensuring educational institutions not only pay attention and encourage students taking STEM courses, but ensuring classes such as environmental studies are integrated throughout both junior and senior school. These changes and edits to school curriculums can be reinforced through state sponsored community clean ups, visits to power plants or renewable energy farms.

Being creative about the how economic empowerment and development and climate action may include existing markets and other opportunities. For example, some farmers from countries such as Ethiopia grow and sell trees as both a source of incline (an average 17% of a farmer’s income), facilitating sustainable energy use, and reforestation efforts.

Education policy needs to go hand in hand with a culture shift across the nation –not just with the youth and children–encouraged and reinforced through mass communications and supported by entities such as the ministries of arts and culture. People need to shift the way they think about the environment, and through corrective and new colaimrt communication have an understanding of what it is and what they can do. From lifestyle choices to institutional company culture that invests in sustainable practices.this will make all other efforts particularly with younger people who are easily influenced by their surroundings and the greater society.  

However, aside from finding assistance from institutions such as the World Bank; governments needs support structures in place. The African Union’s Climate Change and Green Growth Department (PECG) created a continental wide platform to help keep countries accountable. Earlier this year, participants agreed that the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) and other partners needed to provide support for government efforts around climate change.


Get them while they are young

As mentioned above, environmental education is in many school courses but more specified, effective climate change education is required, with modules from mitigation to adaptation presented in a way children can understand. Additional activities and resources including vocational or after school programs can reinforce what is learned inside the classroom. This is also an opportunity to make the cultural shift, as children have the potential to influence their parents when it comes to practicing more sustainable behavior.  .

Using unconventional to ways such as the arts to communicate climate change to children is another strategy that can be employed. HUman being are visual and respond more to emotion, and since dramas and plays can evoke sentiments this can trigger action.

As an example, The Ghana Girl Guides Association in coronation with the global alliance for clean cookstoves has done a great job at doing this when it comes to educating adolescent girls about clean cookstoves impacts and how the technology is a form of climate action which they then learned to spread across their communities. Thay have essential given the girls the education, taught them how to communicate the the benefits and amplify the message in a community where they already speak the local language. This is an example of empowering young people to make a difference and facilitate change through communication. Though not directly about climate change, the actions are still considered to be a mitigation strategy, which emperors the adolescent girls to lead and contribute to decision-making in their communities.

A 2015 UNICEF report extensively utilized why sustainable energy, should matter to children – how it impacts their lives in various sectors including at the household, health, education, water, and infrastructure and transportation level.barriers identified to sustainable energy. A barrier that was identified the lack of participation of children when it comes to decision-making. And Understanding of what the needs of children across Africa are and how climate action can help meet these needs, would inform the  broader communication strategy. This would also need to go hand in hand with collecting data, to find out how climate change in africa is affecting children under a certain age in particular.

[Photo: Cookstove demonstration for Ghana Girl Guides]

Another example is a UNICEF Uganda’s Innovation Lab developing a ‘Youth Kiosk’ – and the ‘MobiStation’. It was highlighted in the report showed how clean, sustainable energy can improve education, and communicating these benefits would is a communication angle that be used. This is information that policymakers can also use to inform their decision making and development strategy.

[Photo: Digital Drum, a solar-powered computer kiosk, comes loaded with educational content. It is made of locally available oil drums and built to be durable against the elements]

When it comes to climate action the role of the government both at the national and the local level cannot be understated, nor can the focus on children as the future generation who are going to inherit these challenges. The best time for them to understand how integral the relevant changes and investments required are, is now. They need to learn what climate change is and what they can do about it in a language they can understand; as their values and who they are going to become takes shape. Distilling down climate science and its implications to children should be a priority. However, they are not the only group within Generation Z that require specific socio-political attention.



Maxine Chikumbo,
Communications Associate, ISNAD-Africa

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