Young African Lawyers backstopping African Group of Negotiators

04/12/2015
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A group of past and present members of the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) has called on African institutions to start offering courses in climate change to help them deal with emerging environment matters.

The speakers observed that Africa lacks experts in climate change and law related to climate change and youth should be trained to take over the role of finding solutions to the climate change effects.

Speaking at the Africa Pavilion during the ongoing Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, France, the speakers observed that for the continent to have a positive impact on climate change discussions, it must have a knowledge base familiar with issues of climate change. At the same time, the speakers did acknowledge the important role of Young African Lawyers (YAL) in discussions.

Wilbur Ottichillo, Member of Parliament for Emuhaya Constituency in Kenya and a member of the AGN, urged African universities to start graduate and post-graduate studies in climate change.

“Climate change is a new phenomenon and is a very important topic for the future. Just as the universities introduced environment studies in the 1980s, they should do so in climate change so that we have a team of knowledgeable experts like the YAN to steer the continent to finding solutions to climate change,” Ottichillo said.

“The young lawyers have helped us very much and, in Kenya, we have managed to draft the National Climate Change Response Strategy, the National Climate Change Action Plan and Climate Change Bill, all critical in addressing climate change,” he added.

Seth Osafo, former senior legal adviser of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat and lead mentor of YAL, noted the programme is critical to the African negotiators.

“I have been involved in the discussions for a long time and want to underscore the role the young lawyers are playing. Their contribution leaves the negotiators with time to fully participate in the discussions as the lawyers delve into legal issues,” Osafo said.

Fatima Denton, Director, Special Initiatives Division of UN Economic Commission for Africa, said that youth should be the focus of climate change initiatives.

“Humanity is becoming increasingly African. A recent UNICEF report found out that 16 out of 100 world inhabitants are Africans, the majority of whom are youth. Youth must be involved in interpreting and analyzing climate change issues because it affects them more. Africa must invest in knowledge,” she said.

Pa Ousman Jarju, Gambia’s Minister of Environment and former negotiator, noted that lawyers play pivotal role in any agreement.

“Negotiators are faced with many legal terms that they don’t understand. The YAL team has taken the burden from them as they now ensure all the negotiations adhere to Africa’s and international laws and processes,” the Minister said.

Matthew Stilwell, a climate change expert and legal adviser to the AGN congratulated YAL for a good job.

“The team is making laws for Africa on climate change. This team is creating a legacy as it helps AGN understand the intricacies involved in the negotiations,” Sidwell said.                  

Mithika Mwenda, the Director of Pan African Climate Change Alliance (PACJA), lauded the initiative, terming it timely as it will ensure smooth transition for Africa in climate change talks.

Members of YAL from Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda and Zambia who spoke agreed that the programme has enhanced their knowledge-base of the UNFCCC processes.

They thanked the sponsors and called on all African countries to ensure that they enroll a member in the programme.

The YAL is sponsored by the ClimDev-Africa Program, which is a joint initiative of the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Union Commission (AUC), and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) with African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC).

It aims at strengthening Africa’s negotiating position and ensuring Africa gets the best possible deal under the UNFCCC process.

Their role is advocating, educating and supporting the formulation and enforcement of multilateral agreements, policies and regulations cannot be over-emphasized and continued assistance to AGN and African countries post-2015 in the multilateral and national response to address climate change.