Young Africans’ green fears grow
DESPITE surging climate change threats, from worsening storms to growing water shortages, young Africans see unemployment, corruption and political instability as the most pressing issues facing them, according to a first-of-its-kind survey.
But environmental and socioeconomic problems are often interrelated – with corruption and unemployment driving illegal logging, for instance, environmental experts noted. And when they were questioned on climate change exclusively, 80% of those interviewed for the African Youth Survey said they were anxious about climate change.
The survey, released yesterday, was based on 4 200 in-depth, face-toface interviews of Africans aged 18-24 across 14 countries.
“There’s a serious disconnect in how the West views climate change and the way this demographic in Africa views it,” said Ivor Ichikowitz, chairperson of the South African-based Ichikowitz Family Foundation which funded the study.
“Less than 2% identified the term climate change as a problem. But as we drilled down we discovered overwhelming environmental concerns linked to water, pollution and clean energy,” he said.
Confronted with an array of potential concerns, climate change ranked low on the list of priorities for youth, he said. But as researchers engaged in conversations with those surveyed, interviewees began expressing climate concerns. The problem is many people don’t necessarily group their environmental concerns – such as water shortages – under climate change, though the two are connected, he said.
“There’s a perception that people don’t care and are uneducable about climate change. But this is not the case,” he said. From lengthening droughts to stronger cyclones, worsening flooding and growing food insecurity, the impacts of the climate crisis are being felt acutely across the continent, African leaders say.
That is despite African countries being some of the least responsible for the carbon dioxide emissions driving heating of the planet.
According to the University of Oxford, Africa accounts for just 3%-4% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
In countries such as Chad, Niger and the Central African Republic, per capita emissions are more than 160 times lower than in the US, Australia and Canada.
Despite this, the Ichikowitz survey found 57% of African youth feel all countries have equal responsibility to explore and use renewable energy, no matter how wealthy they are.
Wanjira Mathai, a Kenyan environmentalist and daughter of Africa’s first woman Nobel Peace Laureate, Wangari Maathai, said she believed
African youth cared about the environment, but widespread corruption undermined environmental protection efforts.
“At the core of environmental degradation is a culture of corruption that facilitates the destruction of the natural world,” said Mathai in the report.
“We need to introduce environmental stewardship as a core part of early education, so children and youth grow up understanding and loving the natural world.”
When young people were questioned on specific environmental issues, strong opinions emerged.
For example, 86% of African youth worry about water shortages, 79% are concerned about plastic waste and 53% believe ecological preservation is more important than increasing farm harvests.
The raw data from the report will be made publicly available, said officials of the foundation.