Youth in Kenya Working to Address Climate Change

23 December 2010 | News story

Grace Mwaura, IUCN Councillor and CEC member, reports on numerous activities by youth in Kenya. She notes action by groups such as African Youth Initiative on Climate Change and the Kenya Youth Climate Network.

A new focus on climate change responses has arisen in Africa since 2006, when the involvement of young people was recognized and appreciated through the founding of the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC). The network brings together youth organizations and movements working on climate change and sustainable development. It provides a platform for youth to build their capacity, and engage in climate change policy and advocacy work from the grassroots to international levels, and at the same time implement adaptation and mitigation projects with their communities.

AYICC is currently present in over 25 African countries, all coordinated by young people and having national chapters’ and sub-regional coordinators and a Regional Coordinator.

National Youth Conferences on Climate Change and the Kenya Youth Climate Network

In Kenya, the youth focus on climate change has been taking shape through the national youth climate change conferences. First organized by Norwegian Church Aid, in collaboration with several youth organizations in Kenya in 2008, AYICC Kenya and other youth networks joined this partnership in 2009. In 2010, it became bigger and better, with over 100 youth meeting from 28 to 30h October.

The organization of the conference led to the birth of the Kenya Youth Climate Network, which now brings together all the youth organizations, students groups, individuals and community youth groups committed to working on climate change. More youth NGOs are involved with the support from government agencies, national and international institutions. The 2010 conference was mainly supported by the Government, Office of the Prime Minister, Oxfam GB and the Norwegian Church Aid, which has hosted the three conferences.

Why climate change?

In Kenya, climate change affects important sectors such as agriculture, tourism, biodiversity, water, health, security and others. It compromises the economic and development growth of nations and communities and increases poverty. The Kenyan youth recognize that urgent action is needed to address these issues for the benefit of present and future generations.

According to the Kenya Vision 2030 survey, 38 percent of the population is between 15-35 years (youth) and this youthful population is expected to last for the next 10 years. Some 72 percent of the unemployed in Kenya are youth, and 51 percent of this group are below 30 years of age. Youth are facing exclusion and marginalization from decision making on policies that directly affect their lives. They are also not included in the mainstream economic activities of the country and, while searching for a livelihood, this makes them even more vulnerable to social strife such as crime, drug trafficking and gender-based violence.

Climate change has the possibility of escalating conflict, causing food insecurity, increasing diseases social breakdown and creating widespread poverty; these are affecting Kenyan youth, and need to be stopped before we lose a generation with all the resources it has. In the face of climate change, young people are even more vulnerable and thus there is need to prepare this generation, not only to address climate change challenges but also other society challenges they are facing.

Why the youth conference?

The things that happen in far away capitals have a phenomenal impact on ordinary people in every village and hamlet in Kenya. The 16th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UNFCCC and the sixth Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) have been mainly focusing on the negotiations with governments. Most youth are not involved in the discussions, neither are their perspectives well addressed in such processes.

Building youth leaders to become more active and vocal in addressing climate change issues at local and national levels is paramount. Good, accountable, focused and strategic leadership will directly deal with youth unemployment, poverty alleviation, equality, equity, justice, peace and sustainable development. This is why we need the conferences. The conference brings together more than 100 youth leaders from all over the country and from diverse backgrounds including students, musicians, local youth groups, faith-based institutions, and environmental organisations.

The conference is a platform to sensitise Kenyan youth and build their capacity on a wide range of leadership issues starting from climate change, green entrepreneurship, governance, communications, environmental conservation and sustainability. It has been used to prepare the Kenyan youth delegation to national and international climate change policy meetings and as well inspire action across the country. The discussions are greatly enriched by the presence of the experts who share their vast knowledge on climate change as well as the enthusiastic participation of the youth gathered. This year’s theme was on Climate Leadership and Capacity Building among the youth, a major focus of the UNFCCC Article 6.

Who attends the conference?

The main target is youth from all over the country, selected from each county. The organization and facilitation is youth led: they design the programmes, agenda and invite speakers whom they feel will help them achieve their objectives during the conference.

Over the years, government officials, especially those who are involved in climate change work have been invited. These include the Ministry of Environment, UNEP, Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), Kenya Climate Change Working Group (KCCWG), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), IUCN - ESARO, the Scouts Movement, St. Johns Ambulance, Ministry of Youth Affairs, Women groups, Universities, the Private Sector among many others. This year’s conference was graced by the Office of the Prime Minister, Members of Parliament, the Mexican Ambassador to Kenya, IUCN, Norwegian Church Aid, Oxfam GB, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, and the Kenya’s top gospel artistes like Juliani and Achieng Abura.

Youth expectations from the conferences

Each year has had a theme for the conference, but all have been based on the fact that ‘ youth need to have a renewed mind, spirit and confidence on how to address climate change and other environmental challenges back in their homes as servant leaders of their country’. With the new constitution in Kenya in 2010, a new spirit has been born among the youth, and this conference was platform to help the participants discover and take up their roles to address the challenges ahead of them.

The conferences are a platform for sharing experiences, meeting new partners in the climate change work, and forging new partnerships in the regions.

What is addressed during the conferences?

Climate change policy in Kenya: The process of development of a national climate change response strategy had been completed and now needed to be embedded in a National Climate Change Policy, which should in turn be imbedded in a National Environment Policy. Such a policy should be inclusive and addressing the needs of all generations and groups including youth and children. “Appropriate engagement” in the implementation of the strategy is very critical, and youth should ensure they play their role.

As well the participants are brought to date on the progress of the negotiations, and Kenyan positions on most of the issues being discussed, they youth have a chance to interact with most of the government delegates during this conference and give their views on what Kenya should support and how they should go about it,. They also use this opportunity to lobby for youth participation in the government delegations.

Behaviour change: A major principle of the youth movements under the Kenya Youth Climate Network is essential even in addressing climate change in Kenya and worldwide. It needs to start from the individual to the society and a whole generation needs to change their attitude and perceptions towards environmental sustainability, and that’s the only way we are going to make an impact. In addition, there is need to diversify our economic main strays so that we are more versatile in responding to climate change impacts, but it also means we stay with those coping strategies that have served us well even if they appear primitive.

Climate change advocacy among youth: ‘Rauka Ama Hatutasurvive’ (wake Awake, lest we perish) a campaign initiated by KCCWG and Oxfam GB, to educate the Kenyan youth on climate change and help them be heard by Kenyan policymakers was used as a demonstration of advocacy work in Kenya. Organized around local hearings and national hearings involving the presentations of testimonies from the victims, the advocacy work has been a platform for enable more youth have their voices heard, while at the same time, using the local youth groups to reach out to more rural communities and help them adapt and mitigate climate change.

Showcasing the role of Kenyan youth in addressing climate change: Every time we organize youth centred events in Kenya, the main question for the larger public, is “What are young people doing differently?” Thus the larger proportion of this conference is spent showcasing youth actions across the country on climate change, which range from:

Advocacy work: Stepping into another’s shoe to speak on their behalf to people they have no access to. This has been a major focus of most youth groups in Kenya starting from the grassroots to the international levels.

Awareness creation: We believe that people are better able to understand your issues when they know you are doing something about it. There has been intensified awareness campaign from schools to rural and urban communities organized by various youth groups in the past years. Youth groups have adopted schools, local groups and institutions where they have designed projects to raise awareness on climate change issues.

Building youth networks and groups: You may want to read my previous article on building youth networks; it’s based on my experiences with most of these youth networks mainly the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC). In 2009, the Kenya Climate Youth Network was born, bring together all youth networks and groups working on climate change in Kenya, its under this platform we now organize the NYCCCs. AYICC Kenya on the other hand, spends a lot of time supporting youth groups engaging in projects at the grassroots level. Such is REEN – Renewable Energy Enterprises Network- which specialises in Rocket stoves, Jiko Kisasa, biogas and solar energy solutions. It’s a partnership of AYICC Kenya member organizations working on energy projects in Kenya. The network is a key organizer of the forthcoming AYICC Kenya Climate Roadshow Project in a carbon neutral way across nine Kenyan towns to share climate change solutions. The climate neutral Road show aims at creating climate solutions, sharing climate solutions and communicating climate solutions with communities in all these nine towns in Kenya.

You have a resource in YOU!: It’s a slogan and Do it yourself campaign among the youth which helps them recognize that they have the greatest resources within them; energy, time, and passion. Through the youth networks, we have helped them identify their potentials and channel this towards creativity and carrying actions for climate change and environmental conservation.

Action forums: Debates, seminars, workshops, leadership camps, conferences, social events competitions, expeditions and research work have been our avenues of working with youth on climate change issues. The NYCCC is just one of the forums.

Town Hall forums: With policy makers, government officials, business men, farmers, pastoralists and all other stakeholders to have dialogues on climate change. Kenya Young Greens has been spearheading such forums in the past to address emerging issues in the country relating to youth.

Social networks!: Explore, network, share and build a community of practise around you; this is all about how we have got the youth networks growing and being more visually visible.

Green youth entrepreneurship!: Utilise entrepreneurial skills to tap into climate funds like the carbon markets, the energy funds, among others. The Eco- Pesa Programme initiated by the AYICC Kenya Coast Chapter in partnership with the Eco Ethics International, is a type of local currency system in which a bill is created as a voucher to support a local community. The Kibera Community Youth Programme from Kibera slums in Nairobi, are involved in solar assembling and installations including the ones at Kogello, (Mama Sara Obama’s house) in 2009. During the 2010 World Cup, the group participated in a solar soccer project involving powering big screen TVs with solar for the community. Young Environmental Networks in Africa (YENA) activities range from working with boda boda operators (youth who ride bicycles as a means of transport), irrigation projects, and hand washing campaigns, reforestation and climate hearings with youth in Western Kenya. From Eastern Kenya, the Mully Children’s Family is one home that has transformed the behaviour of the children living there. They have been growing trees and creating awareness on environmental conservation in the Eastern province over the years. They believe that children must be nurtured, and this is a process that takes time, commitment and resources, just as tree growing is a process. As in planting trees, raising children calls for an understanding about where to plant, how to plant and being committed to seeing it live.

The major outcomes of the just ended NYCCC III

The Sagana Resolution on Youth Leadership in Kenya: The Adoption of Sagana Resolutions on Youth Leadership in Kenya which the youth had taken months to reflect upon and develop and which is now going to be their guide as they forge ahead. You can read this Resolution here. It expounds on the new commitments, new spirit, new confidence and new friendships and Kenyan youth are now embracing as a way to address their challenges.

The Back to Eden Tree planting: On the 20th of November, 2010, over 500 youths under the banner Kenya Youth Climate Network (KYCN) in partnership with the Mully’s Children Family (MCF) had a National Tree planting at Yatta, Eastern Province. This was a follow up to the new commitments (the Sagana Resolution on Youth Leadership) that young people had taken during the NYCCC III the previous month. You can read more about the day here.