By David N. Munene
Yesterday, in Durban, South Africa, the Ministers of Environment and other delegates including those from the African Major Groups and Stakeholders (MGS) participated in the high-level ministerial segment of the Seventeenth Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). In the meeting where incessant reference to the youth and youthfulness of the African continent and the need for youth to take lead on environmental action were resounding, the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA) was represented by its Programs Manager, David N. Munene. The meeting was also attended by two assistant Secretary-Generals of the UN, Ms. Joyce Msuya (Deputy Executive Director, UN Environment Programme – UNEP) and Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw (Executive Secretary, UN Convention to Combat Desertification – UNCCD).
In her address, Ms. Msuya stated, “There are more young people in Africa today than any other region on earth…” and that the ability of AMCEN “to set the environmental agenda for Africa is so crucial to the economic health of the continent.” While crediting the implementation of previous AMCEN decisions to the environmental successes already registered in Africa, the UNEP Deputy Executive Director highlighted the need for many more success, quickly and the need to scale them while ensuring that they are just. “Whether we achieve this will depend largely on our ability to tap into two of the continent’s greatest strengths – its young people and its natural riches,” said Ms. Msuya. Despite lamenting the worrying statistics of a third of the young people in Africa being without jobs, Ms. Msuya sees hope in this worrying numbers because they represent “a massive workforce whose energy and dynamism could transform the continent in the coming decades.” Calling on collective action and support, Ms. Msuya underscored, “at the end of the day, young people are holding us to account and we are seeing them on the streets of our cities, from Nairobi to Accra. They know what’s at stake, and we simply cannot fail them.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by the current President of the AMCEN, Ms. Barbara Creecy, South Africa’s Minister of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs who assumed presidency from Minister of Protection of the Environment and Natural Resources, Forests and the Sea, in charge of Climate Plan of Gabon, Prof. Lee White. Ms. Creecy noted that 30% of Africans are under 25, which gives Africa a dividend advantage in the years to come. Representing the CEO of the African Union Development Agency (AUDA – formerly NEPAD), Ms. Estherine Fotabong the Head Programme Implementation and Coordination Directorate, noted that the African youthful population will more than double by 2050 and the need to provide sustainable jobs is critical. The Director for Climate Change and Green Growth at the African Development Bank (AfDB), Prof. Antony Nyong, reiterated that the youth population is a good laborforce, which has informed the institution’s youth skills initiative to equip 20 million youth with skills for the future by 2025. Decrying the current trend by many young people to seek better lives and livelihoods outside Africa, Prof. Nyong stated, “The future of African youth does not rest in Europe or in the Americas and certainly not at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea where many of them end up when attempting to cross to Europe.”
During the same segment, the Sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO6) for youth was launched. In her remarks at the launch, Dr. Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo – the Regional Director, UNEP Africa Office – lauded the more than 100 youth from Africa who worked together to produce the report. “The youth have clearly articulated the strong correlation between the thriving green economy and decent jobs,” stated Dr. Biao. She pledged support for the youth and whom she is confident “will play an instrumental role in pursuing the green grown agenda.” In his speech, Victor Mugo, a lead author of the Report described the youth as “a group with a demographic dominance in Africa” who have come together to build the “sustainable, low-carbon, prosperous Africa” they foresee.
Mr. Sveinung Rotevatn (Deputy President of the Fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA5) and Norway’s Deputy Minister for Climate and Environment), Ms. Tehri Lehtonen (Finland’s State Secretary, Ministry of Environment), and Ms. Astrid Schomaker (Director for Global Sustainable Development, DG Environment, European Commission), and Ms. Naoko Ishii (Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility – GEF) also spoke during the session.