By Kate Pawelczyk
DURBAN, South Africa, 30 November 2011—As world leaders gather in Durban this week seeking a consensus during the 17th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (COP17), young South Africans have been asking tough questions about national responses to climate change and designing their own plans to make a difference.
|VIDEO: UNICEF reports on South African children who are advocating for their leaders to address climate change. Watch in RealPlayer|
In a special session organised by the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities and UNICEF, 35 children from seven provinces shared their ideas for addressing climate change with the Minister and Deputy Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities and the UNICEF Country Representative.
At the top of their list is increased use of solar power in schools and communities, particularly in areas that do not have access to electricity. While the learners welcomed the news that many new government houses are being built with solar-powered geysers, and that South Africa would soon be producing solar panels locally, they unanimously agreed that the country was too reliant on fossil fuels. Eskom—the country's largest power supplier – generates more than 90 per cent of electricity using coal.
Learning about climate change early
The children, who are members of Girls and Boys Education Movement (GEM/BEM) clubs, also felt that climate change needs to be included in the education curriculum from the foundation phase.
|© UNICEF South Africa/2011/Pawelczyk|
|In Durban, South Africa young people are meeting to discuss their own response to climate change.|
"Climate change affects us from a young age, so why is it that we are only taught it in secondary school? It should be part of life orientation studies so that everyone can learn about it," said Seipati Matlapeng from Gauteng province.
While the learners plan to lead environmental projects in their school communities, they would also like to see government officials and influential personalities leading by example and 'going green' and reducing their energy use.
The GEM/BEM members are attending a week-long workshop parallel to the COP17 where they have been learning about the causes of climate change, environmental degradation and designing their own action plans.
Doing more at the grassroots level
"My favorite part of this week has been the opportunity to interact with other youth delegates from South Africa and the rest of the world, to see that we face similar challenges," says Stuart Mbanyele from Mpumalanga province. "I've learnt that we need to engage more with our governments but at the same time do more at grassroots level."
|© UNICEF South Africa/2011/Pawelczyk|
|At a week-long workshop in Durban, South Africa Girls and Boys Education Movement club members are learning about the causes of climate change, environmental degradation and sustainable development.|
"I am grateful for the opportunity to have come here to learn about climate change. I can now go back and raise awareness about this amongst the deaf community who are often not reached by mainstream communication," says Melikhaya Kibi, from KwaZulu-Natal province.
The week-long workshop and interaction session with government representatives follows the launch of a study into the impact of climate change on children in South Africa, commissioned by the Departments of Women, Children and People with Disabilities and Environmental Affairs and UNICEF. Entitled Exploring the Impact of Climate Change on Children in South Africa, the study motivates for the inclusion of children in designing effective climate change responses.
Children most vulnerable
“Children are one of the social groups most vulnerable to climate change,” said UNICEF Representative in South AfricaAida Girma. “Effective participation by children on climate change issues can feed into, and strengthen policy and national response. It is our obligation as society, under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to facilitate participation and prioritise child wellbeing in climate change plans and programmes.”
And while the official discussions at COP17 in Durban will continue until 9 December 2011, it is clear that young people are ready to lead the battle against climate change today.