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YOUTH INVOLVEMENT AND PARTICIPATION IN ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE JUSTICE

By Lincoln Majogo

 “……no one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline; it is condemned to bleed to death”

Kofi Anan-Former secretary-general of the United Nations[1].

Introduction

Environmental and climate justice play a vital role in community development and the sustenance of life. With a wide range of disastrous effects of climate change already being felt in Africa, youth involvement and participation in confronting the intricately complex predicament facing the continent has never been this important. The United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has noted that “climate change is happening now and to all of us.”But what is environmental and climate justice?

Prominent writer Daisy Simmons defines “Climate justice” as a term, and more than that, a movement, that acknowledges climate change can have differing social, economic, public health, and other adverse impacts on underprivileged populations[2]

Similarly, in defining environmental justice the UNDP opines that

“At its core, environmental justice is about legal transformations aimed at curbing abuses of power that result in the poor and vulnerable suffering disproportionate impacts of pollution and lacking equal opportunity to access and benefit from natural resources[3].”

The worthwhile definitions reflect the core issues that underpin the present climatic change movements. The twin concepts of environmental and climatic change affirm the symbiotic relationship between human rights and environmental and climatic justice. The growing global momentum of youths’ involvement in Climate and environmental justice is a testament that youths hold the key to achieving sustainable development which remains the sole beacon of hope against severe poverty and its allies of human misfortune. The essay seeks to unpack concrete ways in which youth involvement and participation can be utilized to facilitate sustainable development and the protection of environmental rights as provided for under section 73 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

Undoubtedly, the ravaging covid-19 pandemic has worsened the existing social and economic inequalities all over the world.  It is for this reason that youth involvement and participation, with all of its vibrancy and intellectual arsenal, ought to be interrogated particularly on how improving such participation is essential in public civic rights education and lobbying for transparency and justice on climate justice.  Besides the fact that the UNDP estimates that youths (15-25) make up a fifth of the world population, Walker[4] opines that ‘young people’s engagement is important now, while they are still ‘young’, but as the timeframe for the SDGs elapses, today’s young people can develop into tomorrow’s active and engaged adults who continue to work for the achievement of the goals.

In summation, youths cannot continue to be sidelined in matters that hold golden keys in determining the quality of their future. In an astoundingly moving speech by Laframboise, K. the status quo cannot continue “because this is an emergency, and we will not be bystanders. Some would say we are wasting lesson time. We say we are changing the world so that when we are older, we will be able to look our children in the eyes and say that we did everything we could back then. Because that is our moral duty, and we will never stop doing that . . . (omitted) . . . We will do everything in our power to stop this crisis from getting worse, even if that means skipping school or work . . . (omitted) . . . …The people have spoken, and we will continue to speak until our leaders listen and act. We are the change, and change is coming[5]

The purpose of this essay is to offer ways in which youth involvement and participation in environmental and climatic justice can be facilitated in a manner that advances sustainable development. Thus, the overall objective is to proffer insights drawn from contemporary youthful experiences all over the world on mechanisms that can be adapted to facilitate the aforementioned involvement and propel Zimbabwe towards the realization of section 73 of the Constitution. To achieve this objective the essay will be structured as follows: first, it will unpack the relationship between education and youth involvement in climatic and environmental justice, second, it will proffer effortless ways to achieve such involvement after which it will do a comparative analysis of youthful experiences drawn from all over the world regarding the fight for environmental and climatic justice and lastly it will lay out recommendations to achieving these goals.

Nexus between education and increasing participation*

Youths play a very critical role in their participation in environmental and climate justice. But what is a youth? Or rather who are they? Whilst the definition of youth is not generic, the African Youth Charter classifies youth as any person between the age of 15 and 35. Similarly the Zimbabwean Constitution also defines a youth as a person between 15 and 35 years of age. The definitions shown above appositely confirms that youths form an integral part of the population. Remarking on the importance of education and the youth, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO reiterated that:

“Education is the most powerful path to sustainability. Economic and technological solutions, political regulations, or financial incentives are not enough. We need a fundamental change in the way we think and act. We know this is a tall order. This calls for revising curricula and learning objectives. This calls for teaching and learning about climate change, disaster risk reduction, about biodiversity[6].

Sadly, youths have been alienated, almost entirely secluded in key institutional discussions addressing this issue. Anthony Oyakhilome Justice aptly stunningly captures the horrible effects of this seclusion from an incident that occurred whilst she was taking part in a cleanup initiative with YALI. She recounts as follows:

“While we were working, a young man walked up to me and asked, “Why are you people doing this?” I told him that we were trying to keep the environment cleaner and safer. “Are they paying you guys to do this?”, he asked. “Plus, isn’t this supposed to be the job of the government?”[7]

The dialect resembles a quite self-detached view regarding the responsibility to demand environmental justice amongst the youths. Furlong & Cartmel attempts to dissect the reason for this harmful and toxic detachment by asserting that “On the one hand, a reason for the underrepresentation of young people in decision-making processes appears to be the lack of political awareness, knowledge or disinterest in politics by younger generations[8]. The remarks by the UN, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that “climate change is happening now and to all of us,” calls for collective responsibility. Education is key in informing youths about the importance of undertaking the collective responsibility of demanding justice and lobbying for policies that mitigate harm to the climate.

The extent of environmental harm occurring in Zimbabwe requires educating the youth about the effects of environmental injustice. CSOs have had to step in and bail out the endangered communities in Zimbabwe whilst incapacitated youths have hopelessly looked on. For instance Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association(ZELA) successfully obtained an order from the High Court interdicting Imani mine from carrying out mining activities without an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate. Whilst noble, this development goes to show an acute shortage of educational knowledge as to the importance of an EIA certificate, especially amongst youths.

Patently, the cogent rationale of making an EIA certificate mandatory before undertaking mining activities is to assess the impact that activities will have on the health, environment, and well-being of communities. This importance has been remarked by the courts for instance the High Court in Debshan Pvt Ltd v The Provincial Mining Director[9]in declaring that a mining company could not start activities without an EIA citing environmental and climatic concerns. The decision mirrors a plethora of decisions from progressive jurisdictions that recognize the importance of the preservation of the environment. For instance, in a landmark Philippines’ case of Oposa v. Factoran a group of represented minors filed lawsuits on behalf of themselves and future generations in which they asserted that governments actions of granting special permits to tree cutters violated their rights to a balanced and healthy environment. The apex court in the land in its judicial wisdom quite rightly and commendably held that the petitioners indeed have rights to file claims on their behalf as well as on behalf of future generations. The essence of the decision was a subtle recognition of the legal rights of future generations in environmental and climate justice.

Communities in Zimbabwe continue to face the deadly scourge of contaminated river bodies from poorly regulated mining activities causing a spiraling environmental injustice. Whilst commendable that Zimbabwe in 2020 ratified the Minamata Convention outlawing the use of mercury in mining operations, the continued use of this substance together with cyanide continues under the watch of responsible institutions poses a fundamental and critical question. What more can be done? Certainly, such acts call for a more robust and radical youth firing from all cylinders in the fight of demanding environmental justice. As will be shown in the comparative section of the essay, youths in the USA have successfully sought interdicts from the court against mining companies to adopt safer mining methods that protect the environment. This fleet can only be archived through a very rampant educational and awareness campaign from the youths. Youths all over the world have taken strides in lobbying against environmental injustice.

The comparative section will perfectly exude the massive power that youths yield in fighting for climatic and environmental justice, to penetrate the walls of injustice. To do so, the following tried and tested mechanisms should be utilized to fully capacitate the youths in this fight.

Curriculum restructure.

First, youth involvement and participation involve initiatives to lobby institutions to restructure educational curriculums to include Environmental and Mining law as compulsory courses to students. Curriculum restructure will equip student youths will the requisite knowledge to appreciate concerns regarding climate and environmental justice. Undoubtedly the exercise will enable youths to actively participate in crucial institutional activities such as amendment of environment-related laws, bills, and regulations. Curriculum restructures will therefore facilitate the smooth participation and involvement of youths from the grassroots level.

Advocating for Embracing of technology

As a corollary to the point raised above, increasing youth participation in climate and environmental justice can be sustained by strengthening youth advocacy in embracing various advanced technologies. An effortless way of increasing youth participation is through reserving youth quotas in national dialogue programs and capacitating them to lobby relevant ministries to adopt environmentally friendly policies. In any way, the continued dependency on fossil fuels in Zimbabwe is unsustainable. Youths bear the responsibility in advocating for the adoption of technology for instance in tobacco labour markets where most farmers still use fossil fuels to treat tobacco.The heavy reliance on diesel fuels further worsens the problem. Youths can actively and radically advocate for the adoption of environmentally friendly fuels such as bio-diesel, electric bicycles as alternative forms of transport. Such lobbying and involvement should be relatively easier as the covid-19 induced lockdown has given birth to faster and better ways to radically advocate for climate and environmental justice. The introduction of online applications such as ZOOM for instance provides a rather critical communication medium in which youths can participate in development programs. Moreover, various activities such as moot court competitions, debate competitions which are an academic way of stimulating discourse whilst driving across key issues should therefore be utilized with ease through such online platforms. In any event, technology advocacy can be tied to capacity building in research through the use of electronic journals to stimulate academic interest and knowledge dissemination around the issue.

Easing registration of Intellectual property rights

To add on, technology advocacy should be supplemented by government-assisted protection of intellectual property rights. The dearth of zeal amongst youths in developing technologies essential in achieving climatic and environmental justice can also be attributed to barriers of entry such as the exorbitant costs of registering intellectual property rights after inventions. Zimbabwe has already felt the fiery effects of climate change. The devastating effects of Cyclone Idai remain sad memories that reflect the urgency with which climate change should be tackled. The scourges of droughts in northern Africa, heatwaves, and locust plague ravaging the African continent are just a starter to the main course meal of destruction. Government and private sector can minimize the risk of life loss caused by these disasters by stimulating youth-driven innovation to assist in the replacement of fossil fuels for example.

Youths possess the intellectual capacity to create innovative systems such as advanced early warning systems and related technology that are vital in this fight. Yet, such innovations require protection in the form of intellectual property registration which is pricey. There is an undeniable need for stakeholders to incentivize this innovation through the provision of financial and technical assistance in the registration of Intellectual property rights in developed technologies.

Environmental activism

Another way of facilitating youth participating in climate and environmental justice is through facilitating ease of registration processes for related trusts, CSOs that can effectively lobby critical players to respect environmental laws in Zimbabwe. As already stated, Zimbabwe’s climate and environmental justice are in limping.  Government should prioritize incentivizing the registration of youth-related CSOs by reducing the registration costs of trusts and organizations.

The continued use of fossil fuels cannot be sustained since clean energy is readily available for use. Since youths are the leaders of tomorrow, they carry an important responsibility to ensure a clean future. This is confirmed by an Indian landmark case in Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v Union of India where the courts recommended the advocacy of independent tribunals and commissions to expedite environmental related litigation.

The ticking bomb: lessons from youths across the world

Youth experiences in the charge of climatic and environmental justice have been commendable. As already stated in the case of Oposa v. Factor young petitioners led to a landmark decision that realized the legal rights of future generations in climatic justice. Youths in Ghana have similarly launched a bamboo bicycle project which is a form of a non-polluting form of alternative transport that has successfully garnered a perfect balance between solving the transportation crisis whilst preserving the environment. In Ethiopia, a billion tree campaigns have successfully seen the plantations of more trees to solve the aforestation problems. In Barbados, secondary students of Lester Vaughan Secondary schools have with great success raised awareness amongst youth over the use of bio-diesel as a friendlier alternative fuel for diesel cars. More excitingly the UKYCC has successfully been taking strides in pressuring the UK government to invest in green jobs. These experiences mirror a minor fraction of a vast pool of inspiring youth-led initiatives in the fight for climatic and environmental justice. Surely, youths hold the key to justice.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In conclusion, climatic and environmental justice calls for a collective responsibility amongst the youths to be actively involved in the advocacy of environmentally friendly habits and methods of mining. From the analysis proffered above, youth involvement and participation in environmental and climatic justice is not only vital to the protection of the environment but also for the sustenance of life itself. In order to achieve the suggestions provided in this essay, the following recommendations whilst not exhaustive are essential. They are small steps to a big achievement.

As stated by a famous African proverb from an unknown author “Many small people, who in many small places do many small things, can alter the face of the world.

In conclusion, it is therefore recommended that:

  1. Stakeholders should prioritize awareness-raising, especially amongst the youths to capacitate them to understand the intricacies of environmental and climate justice.
  2. Stakeholders should advocate for curriculum review to make the environment and climate change-related courses mandatory in schools to equip youths with an appreciation of the urgent need to demand justice.
  3. Youths should actively advocate for environmentally friendly technology.
  4. Stakeholders should incentivize the development of technologies by assisting youths with registering intellectual property rights.
  5. Stakeholders should push for ease of registration of environmental organizations by reducing registration fees.
  6. Youths should also advocate for the establishment of independent environmental tribunals and courts to speed up environmental and climate-related litigation.

[1] Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, statement to the opening of the Word Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth, Lisbon, 8 August 1998. Available at https://www.un.org/press/en/1998/19980810.sgsm6670.html.

[2] Daisy Simmons 29 July 2020, Whist is Climate Change, https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/07/what-is-climate-justice/

[3] UNDP , June 2014, Environmental and Comparative Experience in Legal Empowerment.

[4] Walker, D., Pereznieto, P., Bergh, G. and Smith, K. (2015) ‘Partners for change : Young people and governance in a post – 2015 world’, (September 2014)

[5] Laframboise, K. We Will Not Be Bystanders: Greta Thunberg Tells Hundreds of Thousands at Montreal Climate March. Global News, 27 September 2019. Available online: https://globalnews.ca/news/5957337/ montreal-climate-change-march-sept-27/ (accessed on 28 October 2019).

[6] UNESCO. Opening Speech addressed by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of the Educating for a sustainable future, Rio+20 side-event; RioCentro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 21 June 2012 Publ: 2012; 5 p.; DG/2012/099.

[7]  Anthony Oyakhilome Justice 31 December 2020 Increasing Youth Participation in Climate Action: https://www.un.org/en/increasing-youth-participation-climate-action

[8] Furlong, A. and Cartmel, F. (2007) ‘Young people and social change: new perspectives’, p. 185. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-03266-5.

[9] HH 11-17

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