South African youth ready to lead the battle against climate change
30 November, Durban...As world leaders gather in the city of 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.
In a special session organised by the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities and UNICEF, 43 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. Currently, Eskom – the country's largest power supplier – generates over 90 per cent of electricity using coal.
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.
"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.
"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 fae similar challenges," says Stuart Mbanyele from Mpumalanga province. "I've learnt that we need to engage more with our Governemnts but at the same time do more at grassroots level."
"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 are one of the social groups most vulnerable to climate change,” said Aida Girma, UNICEF Representative. “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 the youth are ready to lead the battle against climate change today.
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Children have the right to be heard on climate change and to be involved in the discussions and planning of mitigation and adaptation strategies, policies and plans. Hear the voices of a group of young people from KwaZulu-Natal about climate change and COP 17.