Nature and Biodiversity

This is what Africa's youth think about climate change

Young activists gesture as they take part in a demonstration during a global day of action on climate change in Khayelitsha township near Cape Town, South Africa

Young Africans are worried about climate change, but less convinced leaders are taking appropriate steps. Image: REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

Kim Harrisberg
Water Rights Correspondent, Thomson Reuters Foundation
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Future of the Environment

  • A new survey shows that two-thirds of Africa's young people are pushing for bolder policy action against climate change or trying to reduce their own carbon footprint.
  • New data from 4,500 in-person interviews across Africa has highlighted the concerns of 18 -24 year olds about climate change.
  • Their main worries are explained below.

As climate change takes a heavy toll on Africa, about two-thirds of the continent's young people are pushing for bolder policy action or trying to reduce their own carbon footprint, a new survey has found.

From locust infestations in the east to devastating droughts in the south, the impacts of climate change are being felt across the continent, which is responsible for only 3% of global carbon emissions.

Africa has the world's youngest population - 60% of its 1.25 billion people are aged 25 or younger - and youth activists from Sudan to South Africa were vocal in demanding bigger emissions cuts by rich nations at last month's U.N. climate talks.

New data compiled from 4,500 face-to-face interviews with 18- to 24-year-olds across the continent by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, an African charity, shines a light on the concerns of young people in 15 countries.

From Angola to Gabon, Uganda to South Africa, here are some of the main concerns highlighted by the African Youth Survey:

Taking action

While 70% of Africa's youth are concerned about climate change, less than half are satisfied with how their leaders are tackling it, the survey found.

Among those polled, 85% said their governments should be more proactive in addressing climate change, led by 99% of Rwandans, 95% of Ethiopians and 95% of Malawians.

Besides wanting bolder policy action, about two-thirds said they actively support, participate in or donate to environmental causes, while 64% are trying to reduce their carbon footprint.

a chart showing how many African men and women aged 18-24 responding to the statement
2/3 of African youth are taking personal steps against climate change. Image: Africa Youth Survey Wave II: Climate Change. Ichikowitz Family Foundation / PSB insights. Oct 2021

As climate campaigners such as Uganda's Vanessa Nakate become known in Africa and beyond, the survey shows Africa's youth want to be "global actors in environmental activism", said Ineza Umuhoza Grace, founder of Rwandan eco-group Green Fighter.

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Crop infestation

More than three-quarters of those surveyed said they were concerned that climate change would lead to an increase in infestation and crop destruction from insects such as locusts, with most worry in Ethiopia (91%), Malawi (91%) and Kenya (88%).

East Africa has been battling locust infestations in recent years that have ravaged crops and triggered food insecurity.

Hundreds of millions of locusts swept across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya last year in what the United Nations called the worst outbreak in a quarter of a century, with Uganda, Eritrea and Djibouti also affected.

Warmer seas have resulted in a rise in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean, and heavy downpours along the Arabian peninsula have created ideal conditions for locust breeding in the deserts of Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

It is estimated that a locust swarm of one square km (0.38 square mile) can eat the same amount of food in a day as 35,000 people, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Air pollution

About 78% of the young people polled said they were worried about increasing air pollution, with the most concern found among those in countries including Ghana (92%), Ethiopia (89%) and Rwanda (88%).

Air pollution from sources such as vehicle exhaust fumes, industrial emissions, fires and domestic heating and cooking causes the early death of nearly 16,000 Ghanaians each year, the World Bank has said.

Across the continent, such contamination led to about 1.1 million deaths in 2019, according to The Lancet medical journal.

Extreme weather events

In 2020, about 1.2 million Africans were driven from their homes by floods and storms - more than double the number of people displaced by conflict, according to a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report.

Even if global warming is kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius, climate experts project that heatwaves in eastern and southern Africa will become more severe.

From floods to cyclones to heatwaves or long cold spells, 72% of young Africans said they were concerned about the increasing frequency and severity of extreme environmental events.

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Among young Rwandans, 90% said they were worried about the impact of floods and cyclones.

Over the years, torrential rain and landslides have killed hundreds in Rwanda and disrupted agricultural activities where 90% of the population depend on the land for survival.

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Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityGeographies in DepthClimate Action
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