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Africa's youth demand more climate action

Ngala Killian Chimtom | Silja Fröhlich
November 28, 2023

Africa is the most vulnerable continent for the effects of climate change, the UN has said. Young Africans are calling for urgent action and for ramping up funding for African-made solutions to tackle the climate crisis.

https://p.dw.com/p/4Z1cI
Afrika Umweltaktivisten | Kenia
Image: SULEIMAN MBATIAH/AFP/Getty Images

Africa contributes only 4% to global carbon emissions, paling in comparison to European and North American countries, as well as China. Yet, the continent is arguably the worst hit by the effects of climate change: sub-Saharan Africa continues to reel from a series of droughts, floods, cyclones and other climate-related disasters.

Africa's youth have said they have little to look forward to and are now demanding decisive action: Earlier this month, some 150 young people from across the continent met in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, at the inaugural Youth Forum on Adaptation Finance in Africa (YOFAFA). 

Many hope this conference will be regarded as a historic moment for youth engagement on climate action, where Africa's youth called on developed countries to make more funds available to help the continent cope with the effects of climate change.

Africa: A baking continent

Mitigating the effects of global warming is a particularly difficult uphill struggle in much of Africa: Temperatures in fragile states across the continent are already high because of their geographic locations.

However, the State of the Climate in Africa 2022 reportshows that the rate of temperature increases in Africa has accelerated significantly in recent decades, with weather and climate-related hazards becoming more severe each year.

By 2040, fragile states could face 61 days a year of temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) on average — four times more than other countries around the globe.

Bones of a dead cow in the desert
From Nigeria to Madagascar, severe floods and droughts now hit the African continent each yearImage: DW

Many African governments, meanwhile, have to rely on aid to provide even the most basic of services to their citizens. Tackling climate change, it would appear, typically falls by the wayside in this context.

Chronic lack of climate funds

This is why financing climate change adaptation projects in Africa has become a major priority for Africa's young people, with a focus on showcasing projects that will help people survive in the extremely hot future to come.

But the chronic lack of adaptation funding is making it increasingly hard to cope on the continent.

During the two-day YOFAFA conference in Cameroon, young Africans advocated for increased funding for climate resilience, calling on the international community to "commit to more than doubling adaptation finance in Africa," according to event organizers.

Local solutions in need of global funding

Meanwhile, there already are many ideas to champion climate adaptation in Africa. 

In Cameroon, Mbong Kimbi of the African Coalition for Sustainable Energy and Access has been working with farming communities to help them adapt to the realities of unpredictable rains and deteriorating soils.

"We teach farmers how to produce their own bio-fertilizers and bio-spray, how to use them correctly on their farms, and to follow up, because bio-fertilizers have many chemicals that will help the soil and consequently help their crops," Kimbi explained. "The result last year was very good for the pilot phase of the program. We are going to go into the next phase, but one of the problems we have is securing financing." 

People are seen shouting as they take part in a rally on the sidelines of the climate conference in Durban, South Africa in 2011
Across Africa, there are protests calling for more efforts to mitigate the effects of climate changeImage: dapd

Indeed, the shortfall to pay for the necessary projects is huge — and growing.

According to Augustine Njamnshi, the executive director of the African Coalition for Sustainable Energy and Access, Africa would need more than $50 billion (€45.5 billion) annually until 2030 to sufficiently deal with its climate adaptation challenges.

Yet between 2019 and 2020, the continent received only $11.4 billion in total to that end, creating a substantial backlog.

"Following the Adaptation Gap report that was published a few days ago, the current adaptation finance gap is now estimated at $194 billion to $366 billion per year," Njamnshi said.

In Africa, climate change is igniting armed conflict

Extreme droughts and floods

The effects of that dramatic shortfall can be felt across Africa. As the International Monetary Fund reported, fragile states in the Global South suffer more from climate-related shocks than other countries: Each year, three times more people are affected by natural disasters in such vulnerable states, with more than twice the share of theirpopulations being displacedby such events.

Kenyan climate activist Anna Shampi speaks openly about what an unmitigated changing climate has done to her community, painting a grim picture for the future: "We have had six failed rainy seasons, and this means that every year pastoralists have been losing their cattle, which is their means of livelihood." 

She said there is a need to come up with projects to enable communities to adapt to such cataclysmic changes, but, so far, there seems to be little initiative on the part of governments.

Artisans are shown wading through knee-high flood waters trying to save their products in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Floods are destroying livelihoods across the African continentImage: Amas Eric/DW

The fight for dwindling resources could also result in clashes between farming communities and the herders, Shampi said.

"Any time the rain comes — I don't know for some reason — it comes down so heavy," she said. "It's always flooding. If we have drought, it's extreme, if we have rain, it's also on the extreme side, on the flooding side. Most of our houses are temporary, so they end up being swept away."

Fighting for the survival of a continent

Shampi's scenario is one of countless similar narratives across Africa. The dire funding situation weighs heavily on the wallets of other African countries as well.

There is some change on the horizon — although it might be a case of too little, too late: 11 African countries are now spending five times more to cope with the changing climate than they spend on health care, said Njamnshi.

But with billions missing to meet targets, this might only amount to a drop in the ocean.

That is why the young people gathered in Yaounde said COP28, due to be held in the United Arab Emirates from late November to mid-December, should address these disparities and substantially increase adaptation finance for the continent least responsible for climate change but most affected by it.

Edited by Louisa Schaefer and Sertan Sanderson

DW - Silja Fröhlich
Silja Fröhlich is a German-born journalist.