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 what we do and effects such as extreme weather 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 of 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 produced tailored action plans to cut their share of emissions known as NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions). This is an opportunity for governments and other stakeholders to address their unique challenges around climate change. Africa in particular, is in a distinct situation with countries and small island states being some of the smallest emitters, but the hardest hit.
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 climate change in a comprehensible language. This approach should be incorporated into the NDCs and other development and climate action plan 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. 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 a large population of unemployed or underemployed young people. Ministries of education, economic development, and the environment and can work together on this. A top down education policy can be applied. For example, making it clear that climate change science and policy are viable career options; as well as ensuring educational institutions encourage students to pursue STEM courses and integrate environmental science into junior and senior school programs. These changes and edits to curriculums can be reinforced through state sponsored community clean ups, visits to power plants or renewable energy farms.
Being creative about how economic empowerment and climate action may include existing markets and other opportunities is another possible approach. For example, some farmers from countries such as Ethiopia grow and sell trees as both a revenue stream (an average 17% of a farmer’s income), facilitating sustainable energy use, and reforestation efforts.
Education policy would also need to go hand in hand with a culture shift across the nation. This could be 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 communication have an understanding of what climate change is and what they can do. From personal 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 have a greater impact.
Aside from finding assistance from institutions such as the World Bank; governments need their own 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
Environmental education is in many school curricula, but more specified, effective climate change education is required presented in a way children can understand. Additional activities and resources including vocational or after school programs can reinforce what is learnt 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 pro-environmental behavior.
Using unconventional ways such as the arts to communicate climate change to children is another strategy that can be employed. Human beings are visual and respond more to emotion; and since forms such as dramas and plays can evoke sentiments this can trigger action.
The Ghana Girl Guides Association in collaboration with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves has done a great job at educating adolescent girls about clean cookstoves. Namely, the impacts and the technology is a form of climate action which they then learned to spread across their communities. This is an example of empowering young people to make a difference and facilitate change through communication. The actions are considered to be a mitigation strategy, which empowers the adolescent girls to contribute to decision-making in their communities.
A 2015 UNICEF report explained why sustainable energy should matter to children and how it impacts their lives in various sectors including at the household, health, education, water, and infrastructure and transportation level. An understanding of what the needs of children across Africa are and how climate action can help 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 UNICEF Uganda’s Innovation Lab developing a ‘Youth Kiosk’ – and the ‘MobiStation’. It was highlighted in the report how clean, sustainable energy can improve education, and communicating these benefits could be an effective angle angle.This is information that policymakers can also use to inform their decision-making.
[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 cannot be understated, nor can the focus on children as the future generation. 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 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.
Communications Associate, ISNAD-Africa