Apart from focusing on young children as we did in an earlier blog post, engaging the African youth demographic is a critical move for climate advocates. There is some overlap within a particular age range since Generation Z ranges from as young as six years old to early twenties. Generation Z is set to work alongside Millennials in addressing climate change impacts, hence the sooner they are mobilized the more effective the solutions will be.
It needs to be cool. Although structures such as education and corporate institutions can engage the youth, young people care about social interaction. This is something that should be leveraged in climate change focused initiatives and studies. The University of British Columbia in Canada for example, used the desire for interaction with neighbors and facilitated connections as a way to pathway to generate interest around the Neighbourhood Urban Forestry Coolkit. This is described as ‘a visual guide for people to engage with family, friends, and neighbours on issues and solutions related to urban forestry and climate change on their block.’ The program got people’s attention around something they cared about and made it cool. A model such as this could be applied to African youth and communities alongside income generating activities.Tools such as Google, video games, and social media platforms can also be leveraged to meet people where they are. This an approach in marketing and communication strategy that has become been amplified with rapidly changing communication channels. Large development entities got the memo. The UN Economic Commission and the African Union developed Climdev, a platform for young Africans to enhance their abilities and skills required to support climate actions. Unlike children who are still dependents, youth tend to be proactive self-starters who have agency, but it needs to be supported and sustained.
Talking points and messaging around job creation as a motivator for engaging in climate action, as a form of economic development should remain at the top of the priority list. One other challenge is particularly relevant to most African youth — political instability. The culture of activism or lack thereof, even around the seemingly non-political issue of climate change, can be discouraging. This is an area that requires research and policy action.
The cultural shift or idea of going ‘green’ and encouraging sustainability should be promoted as the social norm; whether is it going vegetarian, recycling, switching out light bulbs, or purchasing biodegradable products. It is a start to making people more aware of the human impact on the environment. Studies around pro-environmental behavior can be applied to future generations now. Organizations such as ISNAD-Africa are working to bring together the kinds of partnerships that can produce such material, with a focus on scholars in African universities.
You cannot communicate without a universal language
Climate change is not a term that exists in most African dialects, and the majority of people especially in rural communities do not understand what entails — even if they speak languages that do. A new vocabulary could be developed around climate change and then taught to children and youth. Researchers and government entities need to develop resources such and this and this, that address the unique challenges of communicating to a variety of audiences. Climate change can initially seem nebulous, or at best, not as critical as putting food on the table (which we know is some cases is interconnected).
Traditional mass media channels such as the radio, television programming, newspapers, and billboards are still very widely consumed and effective despite the advent of the internet. These tools should be maximized in reshaping and reconfiguring the climate conversation — in addition to legislation. Groups such as the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) Support Unit are tackling this issue to get a better foothold when it comes to climate change negotiations. In both casas experimenting climate change and the nuances involved in layman’s terms is critical.
On the other hand, it has been argued in a number of studies that mass media alone is not sufficient or effective enough to raise engagement in the African context and that it may need to be integrated with indigenous media and communications that more closely consider local factors and culture. An understanding of social science and human behavior is an important element as well, aside from the climate science itself. Journalists, in particular, are in a unique position when it comes to handling the climate change messaging, balancing the facts without being alarmist while reporting what is relevant and covering solutions that are locally relevant and evoke efficacy.
Climate change communications and engaging children and youth needs to be made a priority as African countries strive to cut emissions. Investing in tomorrow’s generation and setting up a framework with goals around active, engaged citizens is key.
Communications Associate, ISNAD-Africa