West African youth speak out about climate change

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by Lucia Grenna

2014 has been crucial to creating momentum for a climate change agenda. More than half a million people took to the streets for unified climate action at the New York People’s Climate March, while policy-makers concurrently discussed the challenge of a changing climate at the United Nations Climate Summit. This week, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP 20, kicked off in Peru and world leaders are gathering to discuss a concrete agreement on the climate change agenda, making or reiterating their commitments to action, on the road to Paris in 2015. Aligning with the climate movement, Connect4Climate, a global coalition to raise awareness about climate change, amplifies global youth voices in the climate change conversation.

According to the World Bank’s recent report titled Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal, we are facing a 4°C warmer world marked by diminishing biodiversity, sea level rise, and declining food and water security. Particularly in Africa, climate change is far from abstract as it is already affecting the course of people’s lives. Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions. Increasing temperatures in the next few decades will worsen food and water insecurity, putting particular strain on Africa’s smallholder farmers.

West Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change, with temperature rising there, on average, faster than the overall rate of global warming. With a rapidly growing population putting additional pressure on its land and water resources, climate change threatens to make dry areas drier, wet areas wetter, and the rise of temperature could lead to longer and more frequent dry periods, encouraging the proliferation of pests damaging staple crops. The countries of the Sahel region, at the southern edge of the Sahara desert, are particularly vulnerable to rainfall variability, land degradation and desertification. Over the course of the second half of the 20th century, a decline in rainfall has already led to the loss of vegetation and animal life. This destruction could be accelerated. And poverty, malnutrition and the lack of mitigation strategies makes the people of West Africa particularly vulnerable.

Yet, actions and voices have kept the temperature down. From leaders to youth activists, Africans are speaking out against climate change. Their stories highlight the need for urgent action to respond to climate change – and show how youth and communities are already responding.

Through Action4Climate, our recent documentary film competition, Connect4Climate heard from young Africans about how climate change was directly interwoven into their lives, their communities, and their environment. West Africans featured prominently among the competition’s participants.

Burning waste, mining and deforestation are major environmental problems for Sierra Leone. The documentary Climate Change Sierra Leone shows how these activities accelerate climate change and bring adverse effects, such as seasonal droughts, heat waves, landslides, floods and changed rainfall patterns. The documentary ends with a message about the realities of climate change in Sierra Leoneans’ everyday lives. “These people might not know the expression or terminology – climate change. But they are aware that climate is going crazy.” 

Stop the Smoke is another alarming climate story from Lagos, Nigeria. Lagos’s population growth is one of the highest among cities globally. In fact, population growth has outstripped the city’s energy supply, and power outages are a frequent occurrence. Subsequently, the use of diesel generators is widespread. But air pollution from diesel generators is a dangerous source of carbon monoxide and black carbon, which critically affects the environment as well as human health.

While the film describes the significant serious impacts of the pollution, it also provides a positive, constructive solution – “to practice green energy for safety.” Green energy, wind and solar power would be pertinent alternative sources of energy that could go a long way towards solving Lagos’ air pollution and energy access issue. “It may take some time, but if we have to secure the green future for our children, we must stop the smoke now”, says the narrator of “Stop the Smoke”.

Such compelling stories not only tell us climate change is critically affecting West Africans, but also urge us to raise our voices. It is clear that, without action, the temperature will continue to rise. To confront the climate crisis, we all need to speak out, connect and take urgent action. We need everyone to be a part of this movement. Let’s act on climate change now. All Action4Climate films can be viewed at www.action4climate.org

Lucia Grenna is Program Manager of Connect4Climate, a World Bank initiative. 


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