Henry Otafire is an action/2015 campaigner from Uganda and co-founded a youth-led platform called Response to African Youth Dynamics to raise a young generation that is environmentally conscious. In this longer read for the #CoolerPlanet blog series, he details the impact that Climate Change will have on Uganda and what young people all over the world can do for the planet.

As I sit down to write this blog, it is raining cats and dogs in Kampala. Heavy rains accompanied by disasters such as floods and landslides have hit the country and are expected to continue in the coming months.

Uganda just like other African countries is not exempt from the effects of climate change. Kampala is already experiencing more rains and will see more rains, with increased risk of floods and drainage problems, causing outbreaks of cholera and diarrhoea.

The water levels of Lake Victoria will continue to go down, according to the report, leading to a reduction in power generation and affecting fish breeding grounds. This has already led to a reduction in fish catch, especially for fish which breed in shallow areas and use shoreline wetlands as refuge from predators.

Last month while attending a live TV debate convened by Oxfam in Kampala I painstakingly listened to Vicky Lukwiya, a small scale holder farmer from Northern Uganda. She explained her ordeal to the fully-packed audience of government officials, private sector and civil society leaders:

“I used to grow maize, beans, rice and vegetables twice a year during the rainy and winter seasons. In the past, I was able to harvest food with a lot of surplus which I could sell for income to meet other needs like sending my children to school.”

“Things have began to change and it gets worse when we experience frequent floods and droughts. These changes have disrupted my ability to farm.”

She is ignorant of the reasons that contribute to climate change – a change so drastic that has it has completely reshaped her life. For her, the reasons are simple – it is God’s wrath, a punishment for their sins. For her it seems no other reason could justify the agony in her life.

As world leaders convene in Paris for COP 21talks, I hope they will listen to the voices of Vickys of this world. That they would feel their pain, pay heed to their suffering and be motivated enough to come up with measures that cut the greenhouse gas emissions by adopting a legally binding climate agreement that keep 2Oc threshold.

Uganda is also likely to experience changes in the frequency and severity of climate events, such as heat waves, droughts, floods and storms, the report notes.  This will affect the country’s development efforts and cause shifts in the spread of diseases like typhoid, dysentery and malaria. It will also lead to soil erosion, land degradation and damage the infrastructure.

This situation compromises the country’s ability to meet its own development objectives outlined in its Vision 2040 and the Sustainable Development Goals. The Civil Society Position paper to COP 21 released last month, lists the risk posed by climate change as reduced agricultural productivity, leading to increased food prices and food insecurity, which in turn will cause malnutrition. Already, the report says, 40% of deaths among children are due to malnutrition.

Climate change is putting food production under threat. It is amplifying existing stresses and undermining vulnerable agricultural systems. Changing rainfall patterns and rising temperatures are already reducing, and will continue to reduce, the productivity of vital cereal crops. Production of high-value perennial crops such as tea, coffee and cocoa are also set to be negatively impacted, as well as livestock and fisheries.

Youth taking on climate change

With a generation like ours, saddled with responsibilities in the light of challenges the world battles, it is easy to be pessimistic and let the only form of action we take be to make complaints. But we can be inspired by John Kennedy’s philosophy of not asking what our country, and by extension the world, can do for us. Rather, we ask as youths, what we can do for our countries, what we can do for the world, how we can be included in policy making and be trusted to handle opportunities for sustainable growth.

Since then my passion for advocating youth issues in the new agenda has increased. I have just co-founded a youth-led platform called Response to African Youth Dynamics to raise a young generation that is environmentally conscious through raising awareness on the dangers of global warming.

We intend to bridge the gap between climate negotiations at the COP and youth in order to have a bargaining and negotiating edge to influence policy and decision making. We intend to foster education and action about climate change locally and create a grass root movement of change makers. That is us asking what we can do for the world and taking steps to tackle identified challenges.

Why it is important for young people in Uganda to take action on climate change

In 1992, thirteen-year-old Severn Suzuki spoke at the largest gathering of international leaders in history—the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—and she quickly became known as “the girl who silenced the world in five minutes.  Her words helped put the issue of global climate change on the UN agenda:

“Coming here today, I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future. Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market. I am here to speak for all generations to come. I am here to speak on behalf of the starving children around the world whose cries go unheard. I am here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet because they have nowhere left to go. We cannot afford to be not heard.”

It is against this background that young people must take lead in negotiating for spaces to address the challenge of their times. I challenge young people in Uganda to make a difference in climate change, the defining challenge of our times.

Young people like us, are the future leaders of our country, and the ones who will inherit the decisions of current generation. Our action should be motivated by the fact that our engagement is critical if the world is to transform our economy and avoid the worst of climate change impacts.

Post-2015 Development Agenda has come at a time when we are called upon to lead and act with courage and work together for sustainable change in our societies, in the running of our economies, in relationship between generations and above all, change in our planet on which we depend for survival.

This window of opportunity to work for change has also come at an important time when young people who are blessed with ideas and the energy to work constitute half of the world’s population. We have to seize this opportunity and let them be the torch bearers of the next Sustainable Development Agenda through 2030. The year 2015 offers a unique chance for young people to participate in creating sustainable change in the world and also be active in shaping their own future.

According to statistics, youth constitute 60% of the world’s 7.3 billion people. In Uganda alone, the young make up over 80% of the population. Despite interventions, youth unemployment, at 62%, still remains a big challenge in Uganda. Much as Climate change poises many threats to our generation, it also presents opportunities to create jobs for jobs.

I have a confidence in my generation and the world at this time, that we can unite to tackle the global challenge of our time together and ensure sustainable development – if we only give room for youth innovations to combat climate change.

Regardless of our desperate plight, the Post-2015 Development Agenda offers us all a window of opportunity that is inclusive, sustainable and participatory. We need to seize this chance and work together as we tread on the road to dignity and sustainable development in the next 15years.

 

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