Over 700 Youth call for AU leadership to step up climate commitments ahead of COP27

Participants attend the 36th ordinary session of the executive council of the African Union Commission which in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, Feb. 6, 2020. The 36th ordinary session of the African Union (AU) Executive Council, which comprises ministers of the 55-member pan-African bloc, opened on Thursday in the framework of the 33rd AU summit at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa. (Xinhua/Michael Tewelde)
Participants attend the 36th ordinary session of the executive council of the African Union Commission which in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, Feb. 6, 2020. The 36th ordinary session of the African Union (AU) Executive Council, which comprises ministers of the 55-member pan-African bloc, opened on Thursday in the framework of the 33rd AU summit at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa. (Xinhua/Michael Tewelde)

In the lead up to COP27, the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Egypt in November, over 700 youth from twenty one African countries have signed a joint open letter calling on the leadership of the African Union (AU) to prioritize systemic change in the face of the worsening climate crisis.

The delivery and publishing of the letter is the culmination of the Africa’s Youth Voices Online conference series organized by the African Climate Alliance, a youth-led group acting and advocating for Afrocentric climate justice. The conference series brought together youth from across the continent to discuss pertinent issues arising in communities affected by climate change and to collaborate on the development of the open letter. The aim was to amplify messaging from communities across Africa whose voices are not always heard in the negotiations taking place at meetings such as COP27.

“This letter contains the messages and hopes that many youth and communities across the continent want the leaders in Africa to hear ahead of COP27,” says Mitchelle Mhaka, programmes manager of the African Climate Alliance. “We need to prioritize indigenous knowledge and to call on the global north to provide climate reparations to address the loss and damage facing communities in Africa due to climate impacts.”

In addition to the hundreds of youth who have signed on, the letter has been endorsed by 350 Africa, Don’t Gas Africa, Power Shift Africa, Khantsa Energy and Africa Climate Movement-of-Movements.

This is their letter:

Dear African Union Leaders,

This year an African country – Egypt – will host COP 27, where world leaders will come together to address how to limit global emissions and reduce the impacts of global warming and climate crisis. We believe that this is a critical opportunity for African leaders to showcase their leadership in addressing the climate crisis and safeguarding the people that they represent.

Many countries in Africa continue experiencing the escalating harsh impacts of the climate crisis and ecological breakdown to a massive degree. From torrential rainfall across Malawi causing flooding in areas that were already affected by floods due to tropical storm Ana, to thousands of livelihoods displaced due to floods in Eastern and Western regions of Uganda, to communities facing severe drought conditions across the Horn of Africa.

People are feeling the very real effects of climate change, made worse as there are insufficient adaptation systems or effective safety plans to reduce the damage caused by it. There is an urgent need for adaptation and mitigation plans to be financed. The detrimental effects of climate change are only set to worsen and will become unmanageable if we do not act fast.

We know that resources – including coal, oil and gas – were plundered from Africa and used by countries in the global north to build up their economies while destabilizing the climate, all on the backs of African people’s slave labour. African countries have not experienced the wealth made by their own resources, and still have to deal with the effects and harms of the way the resources were extracted.

Some may argue that African countries should now be given the opportunity to exploit fossil fuels but this is neither a path towards energy security, nor to a safe climate. History must not be misused as an excuse to build fossil fuel infrastructure and put the land and people in harm’s way.

Furthermore, if Africa develops new infrastructure for fossil fuels, these will become stranded assets in a few years time, as the world shifts to renewables, and countries realise the opportunity to go green. The people of Africa – especially those already living in energy poverty – cannot afford billions to be wasted. Therefore, due to the nature and urgency of the crisis, the development of renewable energy sources in Africa is essential, not only to reduce emissions but also to avoid economic hardships in the future.

Financing to develop infrastructure for renewable energy and alternatives is widely available for countries who wish to move away from fossil fuels. This will directly benefit African youth, affording us the opportunities to have financial stability.

As leaders of the African Union (AU), you are in a unique and powerful position to negotiate for climate reparations for loss and damage finance rather than loans that accrue interest. Climate reparations are essential to compensate for the loss and damage experienced by Africa due to the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. Reparations will also assist in building green infrastructure.

Renewable energy has also been proven to be cheaper and have a faster turnover period than fossil fuels, and has the potential to create thousands of jobs which can benefit African youth. This is in stark comparison to projects such as the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline, of which 70% of the profits will go to foreign companies.

We cannot stress enough the importance of and responsibility on the part of you, our AU leaders, to put systems in place that ensure that money earmarked for decarbonising African economies is used for its intended purpose – and that it benefits the people and not corrupt systems.

Renewable energy such as solar, wind and hydro electricity with current technology is not a perfect solution to our climate change crisis and energy poverty. We need to improve the ways in which renewables are procured and rolled out to ensure we are not repeating patterns of neo-colonial violence. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a major hotspot for battery mining projects, but mining operations are leaving people destitute and prone to diseases. Social and environmental impacts must be rigorously addressed as the transition towards renewables and alternatives is underway.

The expansion of renewable energy and alternatives brings an opportunity to change the way resource extraction is done, and is an urgent and essential step in the right direction. Only by abandoning and abolishing fossil fuel exploration can we make space for an African economy that causes less social and environmental harm and potentially unlocks better long-term solutions than what exists currently.

Importantly, the actions taken to address climate change and ecological breakdown cannot be done in isolation. Therefore we call on you, our AU leaders, to consider, strategise and implement practices with the help of experts that go beyond technical solutions. Practices that centre indigenous knowledge through consultation and collaboration with indigenous community leaders and knowledge holders.

Practices that work towards habitable futures and ecological sustainability through local methodologies like soil management, reforestation, climate-resilient agricultural practices, water catchment management, sustainable production, plastic reduction, waste management and more. Practices that also involve local people and centre-localised environmental literacy and education in schools, as part the work on the ground.

Indigenous African practices have always fostered a more sustainable relationship between people and the land. We, as people of Africa, must emancipate ourselves from the idea that this is ‘backward’ and that we should be aspiring to live like the global north.

Embracing the wisdom of Indigenous knowledge does not mean anti-development, but rather exploring innovative new solutions based on Afrofuturist principles rather than extractive principles; a world defined and measured by the well-being of its people and its land rather than GDP alone.

In this light we also call on you as our leaders to regulate the impact of big corporations and work in active dialogue with communities and companies to find solutions that put people and our only habitable planet over profit and greed.

Youth all over the continent have been rallying together to change our reality from one of hopelessness, to a more hopeful, sustainable and inclusive one. Please join us in envisioning a future where we move into a just transition under your leadership.

As youth in Africa, we acknowledge the power that you hold. It is time for you to take action to avert the climate crisis, to harness African innovation and indigenous wisdom to go far beyond the solutions developed already.

We need action that is smart, measurable and based on realistic timelines for goals to address the climate and ecological crisis. We need deep adaptation and mitigation strategies to ensure our future is secured, while we do all we can to decrease the effects of the crisis.

We need funding for sustainably developed environmental projects, as well as for you, our AU leaders, to put pressure on Western leaders to open channels for loss and damage finance. We need youth in Africa to be put at the forefront of consideration when taking on these actions so that there is a clear understanding of what the world and future will be.

It is time for a holistic system change. We say to all our African leaders “Don’t Gas Africa”, leave fossil fuels in the ground, and enable a rapid and just transition to 100% renewable energy. Please let us know how you intend to ‘leave no African child behind’ and how you intend to secure the future of youth in Africa, in the midst of climate and ecological crisis. We believe that COP27 – on African soil – is a great opportunity to effect the most impactful change any COP has ever had. Please do not waste it.

We look forward to your response.

Signed by over 700 youth from 21 African countries including Nigeria, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Eswatini, Senegal, Somalia, Cameroon, Togo, Angola, Algeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, South Sudan, Morocco

Collaboratively written by African Climate Alliance and supported by 350 Africa, Don’t Gas Africa, #StopEacop, Power Shift Africa and Khantsa Energy

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