Open Dialogues on Climate Change – On the ground with South African youth climate activists

Published Oct 8, 2021


The United Nations 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) is scheduled to be held in the city of Glasgow, Scotland between 31 October and 12 November 2021.

This meeting will be attended by numerous Heads of State, climate change scientists, activists, negotiators, media and delegates from around the world.

It will be the most important international meeting ever to be held for the decisions made within the conference rooms and hallways of the Scottish Event Campus will decide the future of the planet and every living thing on it and, for this very reason, it is extremely important that every voice is heard.

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The impact of climate change extends from small remote island villages to the entire planet. These impacts demand collective action by governments, industries, and societies at large.

COP25 President Carolina Schmidt noted, last year, the “importance of non-state actors as key players” and welcomed announcements and commitments on carbon neutrality from major economies such as China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. COP26 President Alok Sharma said that the “Climate Ambition Summit held on 12 December 2020 provided a platform for leaders to make announcements on mitigation, adaptation, and support.”

Sharma also called for long-term strategies towards net-zero emissions.

According to a working research paper commissioned by the World Bank Group in 2017 titled Dialogue for Climate Action: Designing Dialogue for Climate Change, “When governments establish inclusive dialogues with representatives of the private sector as well as international organisations, civil society, and communities, they can produce more integrated and comprehensive strategies for addressing this crisis.”

The Open Dialogues on Climate Change (ODCC) is an international project which aims to bring together different stakeholders in order to create a meaningful dialogue on the climate crisis. This is done both on regional, national, and international levels with a final summative event at the COP26 in Glasgow. The regional body responsible for initiating the dialogues in Africa is the African Network of Young Leaders for Peace and Sustainable Development.

The aim of the ODCC is to create a space and an opportunity for people representing each global region to voice their concerns and possible solutions concerning climate action. To achieve this, the African Network of Young Leaders for Peace and Sustainable Development have organised the events through specialised regional groups which consist of individuals who know their respective regions well on both a national and local level.

These individuals are able to network and gain the support of relevant stakeholders whose participation in the climate conversation is crucial to ensuring positive outcomes are achieved. These teams were selected through a strict application process.

According to their website, the African Network of Young Leaders for Peace and Sustainable Development (ANYL4PSD) is a network of Youth, Peace and Sustainable Development organisations from around Africa. One of the key aspects of the ANYL4PSD is the creation of partnerships with dynamic and diverse networks bringing together organisations from the private sector, civil society and philanthropic foundations.

I got a hold of the team working to put together the inaugural ODCC event for South Africa. This is who they are and what they had to say.

Shamiela Reid

Shamiela Reid. Picture: Supplied

Shamiela has a background in Environmental Science, Sociology and Gender Studies and is the Country Coordinator for the 16th UN Climate Change Conference of Youth.

"Young people are key stakeholders in South Africa's climate change response and just energy transition. They will not only inherit the decisions taken today but also implement them going forward."

Ashlin Naidoo

Ashlin Naidoo. Picture: Supplied

“In every action, I made throughout my daily life I always thought of the natural environment, it was like a whisper in the back of my mind, as I progressed through varsity and into the workplace this whisper turned into a prominent voice. Now I am adamant about seeing significant action taken by our world leaders to fight climate change. The most severe impacts of climate change will be experienced by the next generation, through no fault of their own.”

The ODCC, a YOUNGO affiliated platform, has great power in gathering experiences and perspectives of youth in a neutral space and thereafter forwarding these inputs from youth to COP26. furthermore, the ODCC is an extremely useful tool for instigating local awareness and facilitating the South African youth climate change movement.

“I am eager to get involved”, Ashlin continues, “and embed myself in the climate action movement that is shaping the world. Climate change is a global problem, however, solutions to this global problem cannot have a “one size fits all” approach. This further highlights the need for knowledge sharing amongst problem solvers as creative and innovative solutions will not only be derived but also be tailored to a country’s socio-political environment.”

“Climate change requires a robust knowledge-base that has longevity. Thus, today’s youth need to take responsibility for the previous generation’s mistakes and develop all relevant skills to deal with this global problem at a local level and be the leaders of today.”

Deanntha Kanniah

Deanntha Kanniah. Picture: Supplied

"Leave the world a better place than you found it.“

“This quote by Lord Robert Baden-Powell pushed me through my Environmental Science Degree and led me into researching solar technologies for rural development and its role in tackling climate change. I joined the ODCC because it is a platform for our youth to voice their concerns and share ideas on how to mitigate the impacts of climate change. I encourage those who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves to join.”

Deanntha became involved in climate change activism after learning about and understanding the extent and severity of the impacts of climate change.

“It felt like my responsibility to make good on a quote that had stayed with me from an early age. ”Leave the world a better place than you found it. I joined because I felt compelled to be doing something more meaningful and proactive after completing my Masters” said Kanniah.

“It is especially important for youth to be involved because we have a dual role in the fight against climate change.

The first is that we are a generation that has the greatest ability and potential to change the course of our future by changing energy behaviours and adopting measures which have already been identified to mitigate the impacts of climate change.”

“Our second role is that we are the generation that will inherit the decision-making processes related to climate change from our current leaders. So why not start making a difference now and let our voices be heard.”

Lesego Thinane

Lesego Thinane. Picture: Supplied

Lesego Thinane holds a BA in International Relations and is a research activist with a focus on gender and development. Lesego works toward ensuring that half of the population is not left out of rebuilding a better and just society.

She says that “it is important that young people place themselves at the centre of climate recovery and the sustainability of our circular economy. Activism is more involved with me than I am with it, the need to be active in steering our social standing comes from being impacted by decisions made on our behalf.”

“Being a part of formulating the engagement at the ODCC and how it will happen is most intriguing. Young people are usually called in to just have a little input in such discussions, so this was a fantastic opportunity to be behind the scenes and creating the kind of dialogue that focuses on the thoughts, concerns & solutions of young people.”

“The youth has already inherited our emitted environment as it stands. It is important that they bring their energetic and innovative solutions to problems that affect them. Mitigation for our climate can only be successful and sustainable through young people.”

Shavona Moodley

Shavona Moodley. Picture: Supplied

Shavona is an Earth Scientist with a specialisation in Hydrology. She says that “the ODCC promotes inclusivity in environmental decision making, which I strongly advocate. Climate change has an impact on us all, therefore we should all be given the opportunity to contribute to positive climate action. Education and awareness created through climate change dialogues is a step towards a more sustainable future."

Being involved in climate activism was something Moodley was naturally inclined to. “I watched a documentary on global warming when I was younger and instantly knew this was something I needed to create awareness of.”

After her studies in Environmental Earth Science, Shavona began working in Environmental Consulting which was a completely different ballgame. “I saw, first-hand, the disconnection between those working in the environmental sector and communities are to the actual environment itself. I think that a bottom-up approach to all environmental issues is key to making a change.”

“When people are educated on climate change or given the opportunity to work on solutions, they become more connected to the environment. They are equipped to make the necessary changes and can identify environmental injustices on their own. I joined the team because the ODCC is an amazing platform that promotes inclusivity. It facilitates this bottom-up approach and gives people that unfortunately don’t usually have a voice, the opportunity to join the conversation.”

The climate change conversation isn’t only for governments and scientists. “We need to know that we have a responsibility and that we play an extremely important role in mitigating climate change. Values of sustainability need to be instilled in the youth to ensure that the fight against climate change is continued with greater momentum,” says Moodley.

Ryshan Ramlall

Ryshan Ramlall. Picture: Supplied

Ramlall has been interested in environmental issues since a very young age. Ramlall, like Moodley, studied Environmental and Earth Sciences and holds a Masters Degree specialising in Hydrology. Although he has always preferred the scientific approach to solving the climate crisis, Ramlall soon came to realise that politics is both the biggest hurdle and the best pathway to achieving positive climate actions.

“I am a long-time colleague of one of the COY16 Country Heads for South Africa, Ashlin Naidoo. When spoke to him about being selected for organising the event, I offered my assistance. I believe that it is a good opportunity for enabling conversation between decision-makers and those who will be affected the most if radical climate change persists.”

“The people who are currently in power and responsible for making important decisions will not likely be alive in 20 – 30 years when the worst effects of the current rate of climate change will be felt. Therefore, they don’t have as much to lose from continuing to make bad decisions.

“Young people are the ones who inherited a system geared towards increasing environmental degradation and for many years, they have been excluded from decision making. While it is unfortunate that we inherited this bad state of affairs, we have no choice but to stand together and convince those in power to make decisions that will reduce degradation and radical climate change. By the time we inherit political and strategic power on this planet, it will be too late to make changes.”

Certainly a passionate statement from Ramlall.

The South African Open Dialogues on Climate Change event will take place online on October 14-15 from 15:30 to 17:30 this year. Head on to their Facebook page for more information on how to join the event.