By Greg Odogwu
“If you choose to fail us, we will never forgive you” – Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old Swedish activist, talking to the United Nations General Assembly
As the world nears the implementation stage of the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed and sealed during the Paris Climate Conference, there is an urgent need to prod the developed world into fulfilling its pledge to raise the needed Green Climate Fund. Some of them seem to have developed cold feet. And in a situation where the funds are not raised and we float rudderless towards a climate-scarred future, Africa – to be specific – will be the first casualty.
For one, we do not have enough money to respond to emergencies. When natural disasters occur, we, like other underdeveloped regions of the world, always depend on the developed world to send help. For another, we do not have adequate infrastructure to cope with the pressure that will arise from climate change. We do not have enough power to cool our hospitals and primary health centres; we do not have roads to provide the required access to the hinterland; and we do not have the multi-faceted means of transport to adapt to emerging ecological scenarios.
On the same hand, we do not have the technological know-how to adapt to the needs of our citizens. Even when we have willing scientists and experts to do the work on the home front, they do not have the technologies required to downscale global technological trends. This is why, for instance, renewable energy is still unaffordable and out of the reach of the poor.
It is because of the foregoing that the situation at the global climate negotiations should be of concern to every African. If the world reneges on its promise to raise the needed 100 billion dollars from 2020, it could spell doom for us. Without mitigation, climate change would get out of hand, global temperature would heat up past the bearable mark, and ocean levels will rise above manageable threshold. The world would then face an irreversible tilt to the other side of organised Armageddon.
As we move towards 2020, there have been organised and unorganised protests from individuals and groups, trying to call the attention of the world to the urgency of present global climate needs, in recent times. One of such demonstrations was from the Executive Director of Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, Mithika Mwenda, who refused to celebrate his recent award for his global climate action efforts. He said he was worried about the way the rich countries dragged their feet in fulfilling pledges towards the implementation of the Paris Climate Accord.
But nothing sounds more promising than the ongoing youth-driven global climate protest known as “Fridays for Future”. The Fridays for Future movement was started by a 16-year-old Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, who has galvanised young people around the world with her activism since she began organising a weekly school strike and rally outside the Swedish parliament last year. In August 2018, when she was 15, Thunberg took time off school to demonstrate outside the Swedish parliament, holding up a sign calling for stronger climate action. Soon, other students engaged in similar protests in their own communities.
Together, they organised a school climate strike movement under the name Fridays for Future. After she addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, student strikes took place every week somewhere in the world. In 2019, there were at least two coordinated multi-city protests involving over one million pupils each.
Thunberg is known for her blunt, matter-of-fact speaking manner, both in public and to political leaders and assemblies, in which she urges immediate action to address what she describes as the climate crisis. At home, Thunberg convinced her parents to adopt several lifestyle choices to reduce their own carbon footprint, including giving up air travel and not eating meat. She has inspired many of her schoolaged peers in what has been described as the “Greta Thunberg effect”. In response to her outspoken stance, various international politicians have also acknowledged the need to focus on climate change.
Now, the global youth climate “Fridays for Future” is planning another set of international demonstrations on Friday, September 27, 2019 (that is, tomorrow), with protests set to take place in Asia, Europe and the Americas. According to a list update last Tuesday, September 24, strikes are planned in New Zealand, India, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Portugal, Germany, Chile, Argentina and Canada. It is interesting to note that there is no African country on this list. It is also troubling because our continent has the most youth population in terms of percentage ratio.
Last Friday, September 20, the youth movement held a climate strike that drew around four million people to the streets in cities around the world. On Monday, September 23, more than 60 countries pledged to increase their efforts to combat climate change at a UN Climate Action Summit in New York. This is as a result of the effect the Thunberg-inspired protests are having around the world, especially after he addressed the world body last year.
I am worried that we could allow such an important climate protest to escape us. We stand to gain more as these young people-led protests bear fruits. Moreover, we are already blessed with a vibrant youth population.
Nigerian youths, especially, have led global movements in the environmental sector. Our young people are full of ideas, exposed, and very vibrant. One of them, Hamzat Lawal, had won the prestigious ONE Award in 2017, and also, recently, an organisation he co-founded won the Sustainable Development Goals Action Mobiliser Award. Lawal was once the continental leader of the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change, a globally recognised negotiating platform for the African youth, recognised by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
What is more, a similar youth-driven platform for climate action was founded by two Nigerians several years ago. “Climate Wednesday” is an online live interface platform dedicated to creating global awareness on the world’s emerging ecological realities. It was founded by two young Nigerians, Esther Agbarakwe and Olumide Idowu.
It would be quite refreshing to see our teenagers join the Fridays for Future demonstrations. If not anything, it would show that our young people understand the fundamental environmental problems facing our land, which weigh like a deadweight on our shoulders, collectively.
At the beginning of the Thunberg-leg protests, I watched out to see whether the Lagos public secondary school students would join. The reason is that the Lagos State Government under former Governor Babatunde Fashola, had created a climate change curriculum for schools, which exposed the students to issues around global warming. There were also Climate Change Clubs in those schools, formed to help the young people internalise green lifestyles and then reproduce such in their communities.