Youth Leading on Climate: Interview with Zimbabwe’s Elizabeth Gulugulu

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UN Climate Change News, 28 April 2022 -Youth play an important role in meeting the climate challenge. Young people are among the least responsible for climate change and are often among the loudest calling for action.

With the UN Climate Change conference to be held in Africa this year, UN Climate Change recently sat down with environmental scientist, climate change activist and YOUNGO Global South Focal Point, Elizabeth Gulugulu, to discuss youth leadership and participation on the road to COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November.

Can you tell us about how you got involved with youth climate advocacy and the major challenges to youth climate action?

Elizabeth Gulugulu

There has been a huge gap in youth participation on climate change. Challenges to greater youth participation include lack of funding to implement a number of initiatives or projects, youth washing, access to climate finance and lack of inclusion and transparency in youth engagement which derails climate action. I hope to bridge that gap.

I want to make sure young people’s voices are not only heard but also being supported in their climate initiatives. I was involved in the registration of the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change in Zimbabwe and ever since it has been a platform for young people in Zimbabwe to be innovative, brainstorm on how to unlock green jobs and disseminate information on climate change.

Through this work, I learned about YOUNGO, the Official Children and Youth Constituency of UN Climate Change that serves as platform for youth engagement. After two and half years actively engaged as a member of the constituency, I became the contact point of the Agricultural Working Group.

We advocated for agroecology and addressed the vulnerabilities of agriculture to climate change. I also had the opportunity to join the Working Group on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. NDCs are national climate action plans. In the group, we advocated for just and ambitious national climate actions while making sure young people can contribute to the plans.

Why is youth leadership and youth empowerment so important for climate change?

We need to understand that youths are capable of leading and coming up with brilliant initiatives regardless of age. What youth need is space and a chance to show their maximum potential. However, most of the time, space and platforms are not given to them. Youth should be empowered. If they don’t know then they should be taught. If they lack motivation, then initiatives should be branded to enhance participation.

Empowerment is not only supporting young people financially, though this is critically important. Empowerment must include sharing relevant knowledge, teaching new skills, creating green jobs and above all accommodating youths and allowing them to organise, lead initiatives and co-create programmes. We definitely cannot do without youth leadership.

Youth are energetic, they are leading in technology and innovation. We know how critical technology is in combating the effects of climate change and the climate crisis requires innovation and new ideas to keep within the 1.5-degree target. Youth leadership is certainly a solution to the climate crisis.

What are the priorities for youth climate action in Eastern and Southern Africa?

African countries have experienced the worst effects of climate change. Africa has a lot of land heavily dependent on agriculture as a livelihood, whether for farming or livestock. Improving national and regional food security is a priority and this cannot be tackled if we do not address issues of droughts, water scarcity, floods and desert locusts – all linked to climate change.

Young Africans are in need of jobs, and of course we are not looking for any kind of jobs but green jobs. Sustainable jobs can be unlocked traditional areas of agriculture, forest and land use. There are also new green jobs in energy, industrial processes and waste management – all crucial for Africa’s development. Improving the capacity of young people in terms of skills development, making climate finance accessible to youth, and institutional and technical capacity are key.

In your view, what are the most important elements that need to come together to deliver a successful and inclusive COP27, the UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt later this year?

In terms of logistics, there should be a well-managed visa process by the host country, affordable accommodations and available transportation. Accreditation and funding for active youths from different countries has been a major challenge yet remains critical for participation.

There is also a need for coordination among governments, youth movements, private sector, NGOs and other groups. Working in silos will not yield desired results. Preparations for COP should start now to build capacity and familiarity with the UNFCCC process so they can make meaningful contributions. Paying attention to people with special needs, indigenous communities and vulnerable communities – all of them should be represented at COP27.

This is what will make COP27 inclusive. There is need to improve on accountability in pledges. People should come to COP with solutions that can be scaled up and replicated to address the climate crisis. Youth will be there, calling for action today that ensures we have opportunity and security tomorrow. Join us and chart the course forward for young people in Africa and around the world!