Thursday, November 10, 2011

Climate Change Education, youth-focus Action on mitigation and adaptation; the challenges and good practices

Ebrima Dem
In this interview with Mr Ebrima Dem, national coordinator, Global Unification The Gambia (GU), the youth activist talks on the involvement of his youth-led organisation in climate change education, mitigation and adaptation as well as challenges and good practices.
Mr Dem is a social justice activist specialised in women rights and climate change.
He was twice in row been the official youth delegate of The Gambia to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties.
You have been involved in youth activities for many years. In fact you are a pioneer of GU-The Gambia. Could you explain what Global Unification is all about?

Global Unification The Gambia (GU) is a youth-led, community-based, research and development organisation. We work with young people and local communities in The Gambia, supporting their efforts to move out of poverty, access quality health care services and adapt to the impact of climate change.

Your organisation had been involved in women’s rights and good governance. Are these still your focus, or have you now shifted entirely to environment and climate change issues.?
Women rights and good governance is still a central in our work. At Global Unification, we have four priory areas of intervention: health, women’s rights, education and environmental protection.
However, since 2009, we have redirected our efforts towards creating awareness on environmental protection and climate change. We developed a five year strategy (2009-2013) that is dedicated to climate change and biodiversity conservation
Why is this change?
The change as you call it, is as result of our concern about the effects of climate change among local people. People in the country, have for far too long been affected by climate change in form of floods, uneven pattern of rain fall resulting in poor harvest, rising sea level etc.
So what we do is to work directly with local communities and to create pro-poor projects. There is no shift or change in our programs. In fact, climate change in global perspective encompasses all aspect of human security
Apart from climate change advocacy, what other work are you doing with respect to climate change?
In addition to engaging young people in the Gambia and other parts of the world on climate change and lobbying policy makers, GU is also actively involve in community-driven adaptation projects.
We have developed a mangroves restoration project to support certain communities at serious risk to coastal erosion.
The aim of this project is to enhance community participation in climate change adaptation programmes through preservation, protection and propagation of mangroves plantation, thereby ensuring livelihood security and reduction of the risk to survival posed by climate change. We also have a project call Green School Initiative, where we engage students in tree planting in schools.
What has GU done for youth activists in climate change?
GU is continuously training youth leaders on climate change advocacy, which we believe is paramount if young people are to become change makers on climate changes issues.
We organised in-house training for our volunteers on the science of climate change, its effects and strategies for youth-led actions. These trainings improve their understanding on climate change issues and hence enable them to engage government and other stakeholders to shift from business as usual.
In 2009, we led the organisation of the National Symposium on youth engagement climate change, which brought together many youth leaders in country to discuss climate change issues.
We developed national youth statement, which we were delivered at COP 15, Denmark. In 2010, we lobbied for youth participation in the regional workshop on the implementation of article 6 of the UNFCCC, held in the Gambia.
Youth at the workshop made a presentation, calling for leaders to increase more youth participation in the UNFCCC process, support youth efforts especially on non-formal education on climate change issues in the country. This year, we organised the National stakeholders’ workshop on community based adaptation to Climate Change. Youth were the major participants at this workshop. We discussed and share ideas on how to enhance community based adaptation to climate change in the country.

With regards to the Advocacy Strategy, what stage of implementation are you currently in?
GU has since 2009 been lobbying for inclusion of youth in major policy discussions on climate change in country. The responses so have been encouraging. Youth were included in our national delegation to the COP in 2009 and 2010. Youth were also invited in a number of climate discussions in the country such as preparatory meetings prior to the COP 16. We are also lobbying for the inclusion climate change education in our national education curricula from primary school to University level.
With support from Action aid, we have just finished a 12 month radio advocacy project on climate change call climate talk. This program promoted climate education, public access to information on climate change issues, using languages as medium of the communication. The full report of this project will be available soon in our website.

What are some of your breakthrough?
GU has worked hard for the past 5 years to maintain itself as a committed, focused youth-led organisation. We continue to motivate policy makers to take a decisive actions to stop the climate crises. This year, we organised the earth day and Climate Education program at the University of the Gambia, in partnership with student union.
The National stakeholder’s workshop on community based adaptation to climate change we organised in February is also an important breakthrough on climate change education efforts as it brought together for the first time, policy makers, politician, UN agencies and local people such as women farmers, fishermen and youth to discuss and together map-out strategies for effective community driven-climate adaptation programs in The Gambia.

Does GU has good practices of climate change advocacy which will be important to share with organisation working in the same field?
GU good practices on climate change advocacy are active grass-root involvement. We believe that gone are the days when climate change solution was seen as too scientific that only experts can bring about change. Local communities, who live with problem, have the best answers to all the problem cause by the changing climate.
Another GU good practice in its advocacy efforts are the use of local languages in climate change communication and information sharing. This we found is very important, since many people in the Gambia don’t speak English. GU has also recognised the use of social media as a tool to reach to more young people. By using facebook, twitter etc, we share a lot of relevant information on climate change issues young internet users in the country and beyond.

Who, in your opinion are the key stakeholders for moving forward towards climate resilience in the country?
To me, the major stakeholders for effective climate change action and education are not only policy makers. It should include teachers, youth, women groups, faith leaders and traditional leaders. These are groups that deal directly with the communities and know a lot about effect of climate change.
For climate change education to be successful in the country, development agencies should consult and work directly with young people and local communities.

Has climate change education been integrated into our national education plans or climate change adaptation strategies?
So far, we have made some gains in climate adaptation. However, climate change education in schools, though, accepted as a good approach, is yet to be operationalised in the country.

In November/December, the world will converged in Durban for yet another Conference of Parties (COP 17). Are there any plans to increase youth from Gambia to participate?
There are plans to increase Gambian youth participation in COPs and all policy discussion. However, this plans most of times never materialise due to lack of fund. This year, since the COP will be held in Africa, we wanted to increase youth voice in discussion and each African country has plans to increase number of youth participants.
In the Gambia, we develop a fund raising strategy were we wanted to involve GSM companies in the country to organised raffle by SMS and then donated part of the money raised to support youth participants at the COP.
However, this did not go well. None of the companies we contacted responded our request. We also wrote funding proposals, but none is approved yet. The tradition here is funding for youth participants should always, come from outside, thus, we also look into this avenue to see if we can get international support where local support failed.

How important is the participation of youth in COP 17?
The participation of young people in the COPs has been and will always be very important. All the discussions and negotiations on climate change are for safety and risk reduction of the present and future generation.
And young people represent this future. They are to inherit whatever agreement that our leaders arrived at today. As such it’s important, they are involve now, that, they will from now know how to take responsibility and lead the planet to safer level and avoid disasters cause by climate change
At the COP 17, The Gambian youth will join their counterparts around the world to lobby for the enforcing the 2020 targets (25-40% at least), technology and finance transfer from Annex 1 countries to support developing countries, like ours, communicate and disseminate the Gambia’s efforts, work and good practices on climate change mitigation and adaptation. They will also lobby for the extension of Kyoto protocol to second commitment period, instead of new climate deal. They will also network and build partnership with other youth climate leaders.

What are the challenges in getting funding?
I think one of the serious barriers for youth-led climate action projects in the Gambia is lack of private sector support, unlike in other countries.
Also, where fund is available, support adaptation by development agencies, this fund normally target works at the policy level. Young people cannot access this fund. The criteria for accessing this fund are not flexible.

Could you highlight the opportunities and challenges in moving forward with a youth-centred, climate change education program at the National level?
One of the major opportunities for youth-focus climate change action in the country is the increase in number youths interested on climate change issues. Many young people in the Gambia are now aware about climate change and are ready to contribute their time, innovation and skills in order to bring about solution.
However, some the problems negating these youth-led climate actions are the low level of recognition of youth efforts. Many development agencies are yet fully recognised youth as important stakeholders and hence do not want to invest their resources in support the youthful population efforts to climate change solution.
This leaves many youth-initiated projects without funding. In addition, many of youth, despite having interest, lacks the technical knowledge and skills to do their work better, hence the need to build their capacities.

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