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‘Not without us’: Africa’s youth in the race for climate action

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Extraordinary floods in South Africa. Record-breaking temperatures in Tunisia. An unprecedented drought looming in the Horn of Africa.

Despite being responsible for a small fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions, African countries are seeing some of the worst impacts of climate change.

Africa’s mean surface temperature has risen faster than other continents, and so has the incidence of natural disasters, including drought. Projections for the region indicate the future holds more – more flooding, more drought and more heat.

The humanitarian and economic impacts will be devastating for least developed African countries already struggling to lift people out of poverty and ensure those most at-risk have enough to eat.

With low capacity to adapt, many communities remain acutely vulnerable. Hard-won development gains hang in the balance.


Keenly aware of the consequences of climate change for themselves, their communities and future generations, young people across Africa are stepping up and speaking out.

In many countries, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting governments to leverage their national climate pledges – commonly known as NDCs – as an opportunity to meaningfully engage youth voices on climate action.

For example, in Liberia – where young people are beginning to voice strong opinions on issues that matter to them, including climate change – youth played an active role in shaping the revised NDC. More than 60 youth organizations came together to produce a common position on the nation's climate goals for the country's political leaders. The government took notice and eight months later, at a national Youth Environment and Climate Action Summit the government shared the updated NDC and invited youth input on its implementation.

In Zimbabwe, more than 200 representatives from youth organizations from all provinces, urban and rural, fed into a policy brief to inform revision of the country’s NDC. Outlining the concerns of youth as well as key strategies for climate action – including ideas around green jobs in the energy sector; innovations in waste management; and sustainable livelihoods that also protect nature – the brief attracted the attention of the Minister of Environment who set up a Youth Desk within the ministry to ensure a youth voice not just in climate action but environmental issues more broadly.

As well as influencing policy, young people have also been mobilizing at the ground level to educate their communities, shift attitudes and change practices. Recognizing their contribution, many countries are taking steps to enable them as agents of change.

In Uganda, for example, a programme awarding climate grants (US$8,000 and $10,000) to women and youth-led initiatives has supported the uptake of more climate-smart agricultural practices, including water conservation; tree planting; solar PV for households; and energy-efficient cooking technologies such as briquettes.

Across the continent in Liberia, the government has been backing the next generation of environmental experts and disaster management specialists, supporting the University of Liberia to launch a School of Environmental Studies and Climate Change. More than 120 students have since enrolled in both the undergraduate and graduate programmes. Meanwhile, a new youth eco-brigades programme is set to mobilize, mentor and train more than 1,000 young men and women in environmental conservation and management.

In Kenya, where 75% of the population is under the age of 25, a Green Economy Youth Activation Programme is engaging young people in the green economy agenda by building the capacity of youth-led businesses and entrepreneurship in the forestry sector, while leveraging digital technology.

While in South Africa, more than 150 high school students have been trained in robotics and coding to empower them to solve local climate-related issues. The project is one of several initiatives towards youth-driven digital and sustainable development in the country.

Keenly aware of the impacts on current and future generations, young people and youth leaders from across Africa have the ideas, solutions and motivation to solve the climate crisis.

They recognize climate change as an emergency and are challenging world leaders to turn their words into action.

“If the system does not work for us, we will change the system.”
-Nisreen Elsaim, Sudanese climate activist and Chair of the UN Secretary General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change

UNDP is committed to amplifying young people’s voices in decisions on climate action and the future of their communities through capacity development, youth political participation and support to young innovators. To learn more, download the report 'Aiming Higher: Elevating Meaningful Youth Engagement for Climate Action'.

UNDP’s Climate Promise is the largest global offer on NDC support, covering over 120 countries and territories, representing 80% of all developing countries globally – including 40 least developed countries, 28 small island developing states, and 14 high emitters – to enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions under the global Paris Agreement.

Delivered in collaboration with a wide variety of partners, it is the world’s largest offer of support for the enhancement of climate pledges. Learn more at and follow at @UNDPClimate.