By Naza Alakija
Climate change and issues relating to it has recently been at the forefront of much public debate. Nations globally are implementing new policies to win the race against climate change whilst others (minority) neglect to acknowledge that it is actually happening. The United Nations has now intervened and has urged leaders that change needs to commence NOW. There is supporting evidence that implicates “irreversible changes in major ecosystems and the planetary climate system” awaits us if we do not begin to make changes promptly.
What is Climate Change?
From an increase in the earth’s temperature, to extreme weather patterns, and rising sea levels from melting ice caps, climate change is a global phenomenon that is caused primarily from the burning of fossil fuels; this releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere which in turn results in heat entrapment. Other causes include agriculture and deforestation. Furthermore, materials such as plastic are by products of the second industrial revolution that are causing damaging effects to the planet; The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum stated that by “2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans”.
Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time that has already had drastic effects throughout Africa causing problems such as desert encroachment, changing weather patterns, and prolonged droughts to name a few. These challenges amplify all types of inequality which include gender; women and children are amongst those affected especially those who have had to migrate as a result of natural disasters such as flooding. In Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, women are often victims of sexual abuse and children lack access to a proper education. Lack of access to education has been associated with early child marriages and children’s affiliation with terrorist and guerrilla warfare groups. Environmental degradation and issues such as plastic pollution and poor waste management are affecting countries all across Africa; not only will this negatively affect the economic development, but it will also create unhealthy and perilous environments for our children.
What can we do?
In my personal opinion, one of the first and most important ways in which we can make a difference is by taking accountability. Means through which this can be implemented is by harbouring proper waste management and recycling in our homes, be conscious of your carbon foot print, utilize public transport when possible and “do not waste”; this includes food, (precious) water, clothing, and other materials.
Talk about it and empower those around you. Especially children, nieces/nephews, and grandchildren. They are our future and it is our obligation to teach them about the importance of protection of our environment. Growing up as a child I recall one of the worst forms of punishment my mother bestowed was not permitting me to play outdoors. Now, imagine a time where a child does not have that option simply because we failed in providing them with a safe environment. Is this not the least we owe to our children?
Since ‘times and generations’ have changed drastically, it is imperative that we begin to make changes within the educational system. Governments and policy makers need to implement climate change within the curriculums, and they need to raise public awareness. Climate change is affecting most of the world’s population today, however, those living in poverty are affected first. UNICEF, the leading organisation in children’s rights, has stated that “climate change is a major factor driving migration in West and Central Africa….Severe flooding and drought is already causing the loss of livelihoods and displacement, while changing climate patterns are making some forms of agriculture increasingly unsustainable”. Currently, UNICEF is working on providing communities with tools and methods in which they can deal with environmental disasters and in addition to this, they are increasing opportunities within a sustainable green economy. These include development of cyclone and flood-proof schools, climate and environmental education, youth-led innovation hubs and climate resilient WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) systems.
Today, women all over the world are fighting for gender equality, women’s rights and equal opportunities. The climate change movement is no exception to this and as previously mentioned, the issues that come with this environmental disaster magnifies problems such as gender discrimination.
Women throughout Africa are now becoming a part of this movement and are paving the way for others to join. One example that caught my attention is Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an indigenous woman from Mbororo pastoralist community of Chad. She has been a part of international high-level policy discussions on climate change for over a decade. In 2017, she stated “Indigenous women are the most affected by climate change…they are the ones who are collecting food and water to feed their families…In my communities and in my regions, women have the knowledge of water protection, food collection, and land protection…The roles these women hold are very important at the community level….”.
Ibrahim has co-developed a 3D mapping project that aims to give a voice to the Indigenous People in national platforms, to promote cohabitation, biological conservation and peace during times of scarcity.
No matter what your mission in life is, whatever path you have chosen to create, will it not be important to implement this in a safe, harmonious and sustainable environment? At the 2019 World Economic Forum, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said “This is about being on the right side of history. Do you want to be a leader that looks back in time and say that you were on the wrong side of the argument when the world was crying out for a solution?”
It is not easy to change our daily habits, and from my own experience, it takes much time and effort to implement a conscious way of living. However, as citizens of this world, we must all take responsibility for our actions, and give back to the environment that has sustained us for millennia.