Climate change is our youth's struggle

About 300 young people, mostly school learners, marched from Parliament to the City Hall in Cape Town to hand over a memorandum demanding government take “immediate action on the climate crisis” on Youth Day.
About 300 young people, mostly school learners, marched from Parliament to the City Hall in Cape Town to hand over a memorandum demanding government take “immediate action on the climate crisis” on Youth Day.
Image: Ashraf Hendricks

Climate change is not normally associated with Youth Day. However, young people across SA, are using the spotlight on the youth to demand climate justice - and they're calling everyone to join them.

The uprising of the youth of 1976 against apartheid and educational, racial and societal injustices was a historical lesson of the power of young people to shake the world.

Their actions rippled throughout SA, building into waves that would help liberate our country. Like many other social movements through history, it was young people who helped lead the call for radical change.

Today, our youth face an interconnected and compounding crisis of climate change, unemployment, poverty and inequality.

These four crises do not often get connected, and if we fail to act on climate change, we will deepen the other three crises - whereas if we act on a transformative climate justice agenda we can help alleviate the crises of poverty, inequality and unemployment, creating a more prosperous and equitable future.

A recent study showed that SA is already 10-20% poorer as a result of climate change, which has deepened the chasm of inequality in SA and across the globe.

Young people know that climate change is not a distant threat - it is already here in the extreme weather we face across SA.

The world's leading scientific bodies have warned that if we don't take action today, we will lock into a devastating future which could wipe out much progress on development and leave our youth an impoverished world.

Over the last few months, young people around the world have been leaving school and taking to the streets to demand world leaders to recognise and act on the real climate emergency and introduce a just transition.

Apart from the climate change, one of the gravest threats to our economic future is Eskom's precarious financial position. However, with renewable energy now much cheaper than polluting coal, fracked gas, or corrupt nuclear deals, acting on climate change by shifting to renewable energy can help salvage Eskom from financial ruin.

By building a low carbon future, we can also create millions of new jobs by staying locked into our current polluting paradigm.

SA's pledge under the Paris Climate Agreement is ranked as "highly insufficient", such that if everyone followed our example, we would be heading to a calamitous world of close on 4C warming rather than the Paris Agreement's safer target of keeping warming to 1.5C. Youth will no longer accept this path to a calamitous future.

United under the banner of #YouthDemandClimateJustice, there was over a dozen actions taking place across the country around Youth Day.

To end, let me quote from a letter that the South African Youth Climate Change Coalition recently wrote to the president: "The youth of 1976 fought against the apartheid educational system, and today we stand with pride to say we are benefitting from their struggle. The fight against ecological apartheid and climate change is the current generation's struggle. We and the unborn generation deserve a better future."

*Dr Lenferna is a young South African and Mandela Rhodes Scholar who works as climate justice campaigner for 350 Africa

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