Climate from a youth lens

"Promoting a brighter future for children, essentially requires a greener planet in which they can thrive and reach their full potential."

By Kgali Tshelane, UNICEF Volunteer, North-West University, South Africa
Young person holding up SDG 13 sign on climate
UNICEF South Africa/2023
04 September 2023

I come from a broken family structure and my youngest years were lived in extreme poverty. Today, I call myself a humanitarian who focuses on improving social services for children and the fulfillment of their rights. I know how important access to child protection, health and other essential child services are because I struggled to receive them as a child.

Through this journey so far, I’ve largely overlooked climate and environmental issues because my priority was everyday survival and safety. It was like Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 on climate action was lower down the ranking of importance of the 17 SDGs. But my mentality towards environmental issues changed during recent extensive research on Greenhouse gas emissions. Borrowing from the words of Truman “It is ignorance that causes most mistakes”.

Disinterest in climate change could mean I am indirectly contributing to the horrific climate incidents in my country.  This became my “aha” moment because I realized that the urgent calls for climate action and advocacy for child rights is an inter-linked social cause. Promoting a brighter future for children, essentially requires a greener planet in which they can thrive and reach their full potential.

I was born and bred in South Africa, a beacon of hope for Africa due to its powerful regional economic role and membership in groups, such as the BRICS society.  With an overall population of nearly 60 million, young people constitute some 63% of the population, and the same youth are affected by high unemployment rates. It is challenging to spark advocacy and interest towards climate issues when they are already tackling pressing problems such as poverty and how to afford University fees and find jobs.

So how do we bridge the gap between responding to the needs of young people and involving them in raising awareness that leads to climate action?  We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that climate change is severely affecting our planet. It is one important topic that I have subconsciously studied from a distance, while actively following the national news reports about the disastrous Kwa-Zulu Natal Province floods, wildfires, tropical cyclones in the Southern region, heavy rainfalls, and strong winds. Most importantly, it was saddening to realize that these environmental crises result in deaths, and expose children to risks such as diseases, suffering and household displacement.

A group of youth volunteers
UNICEF South Africa/2023

Recently, I attended a UNICEF South Africa workshop on social behavioral change on how to lower the risks of non-communicable diseases. I had the opportunity to learn about the importance of changing the narratives surrounding healthy-eating lifestyles and amplifying nutrition advocacy.

However, efforts to eat well may become pointless because research presents evidence on how climate factors such as rising temperatures and an increase in greenhouse emissions can negatively impact and reduce the nutritional value found in food, causing malnourishment and deficiencies.  So, the penny dropped! It is not only about eating healthy but having access to healthy food that is not contaminated or stripped off nutrients due to environmental factors.  

The Africa Climate Summit Week (04-08 September) brings to my attention and understanding that young people like me have the capacity to act and contribute to the fight for climate justice.  It’s like a puzzle set, and the pieces slowly coming together because the existing knowledge I have about the protection of children has exposed me to the climate sector which plays a key role in that. 

African leaders will be gathering in Nairobi to unpack climate issues and I will be following the debates online, learning about international relations and gaining insights on how to start and implement green initiatives that can protect the environment from a small-scale capacity, with the hope to inspire other young people to follow suit and mobilize for climate change.

About Blog

The UNICEF South Africa Blog promotes children’s rights and well-being, and ideas about ways to improve their lives and the lives of their families. We bring you insights and opinions from the world's leading child rights experts and accounts from UNICEF's staff on the ground in more than 190 countries and territories. The opinions expressed on the UNICEF Blog are those of the author(s) and may not necessarily reflect UNICEF's official position.

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