A Challenge to CHOGM Youth: Here Come the Hummers .....
There’s a whole lot of buzz right now in Kampala about what to do about climate change. Yes, it is because of environmental champions like Wangari Mathai and Al Gore, but here in Kampala, from what I can tell, it’s because people are realizing that Uganda is losing the battle and it’s getting worse by the year.
Since I arrived to Uganda on Monday, several editorials have appeared in both of Uganda’s daily newspapers. The articles range from how to reduce the carbon footprint in the home, to daunting statistics about the global climate crisis. These have teased my thirst to know more about what Ugandans and specifically Ugandan youth are doing about climate change.
More interesting is the commentary reminding readers about people power in Uganda. Earlier this year Ugandan youth mobilized and protested in the streets of Kampala. They protested the Government of Uganda’s proposed give-away of a portion of the Mabira Forest Reserve to the Mehta Group of Companies for sugarcane growing. Unfortunately, 5 people died during the demonstrations, but not in vain. The Government of Uganda withdrew the plan, and this was a victory for environmentalists, for civil society and a victory for future generations of Ugandans.
Today, this story was brought up by delegates at the Commonwealth Youth Forum during the opening session on “Climate Change and Sustainable Living.” Overall, I was impressed with the delegates. They asked panelists interesting questions, demonstrated lots energy to do good work, and talked about their passion for sustainable living in a time of severe climate change. However, I was surprised not to hear more personal stories, examples and suggestions for tanglible action in the movement to fight Climate Change.
But, before I continue, allow me to digress and paint the climate change picture in Uganda:
The Facts: (Strike the organ music…. Here come the chilling statistics)
• In Uganda, due to Climate Change, farmers lose 120 billion Uganda Shillings annually (that’s about 71.2 million USD)
• In Uganda, disasters which include floods, drought, pests, disease reportedly destroy 800,000 hectares of crops annually (that’s about 2,000 acres)
• In Uganda, climate related disasters contribute to over 70 percent of the natural disasters.
However, there is also some good news:
• Uganda is being proactive. There are several solar power start-up companies, there are solar power street lights in Kampala, and community organizations are facilitating community clean-ups and education programs in slums.
• Uganda is on the verge of long-term peace and security in Northern Uganda. This means more opportunity for education, employment and investment, and potentially clean technology investment.
• Uganda’s GDP grew steadily by about 6 percent since 1998.
• On a personal note, I was out in the Wakiso District the other day (about 50 minutes outside of Kampala) and a local engineer working on a construction project asked if I could help him to bring wind-power to rural parts of the country.
Unfortunately, all of this good news does come with a footnote. As Uganda grows and the urban centers further industrialize, carbon emissions are likely to increase. So, therein lies the opportunity (note: TODAY) for youth to do something in the grassroots and grasstops.
So, here are a few ideas:
• Adopt innovative solutions to change attitudes and habits. This begins on the community level, in the home, in the school, in the slum. One excellent example is the SeSe Islands Ball Project in Uganda. A young entrepreneur named James organized local children in the SeSe Islands to participate in community wide plastic bag clean ups. The children are taught about the dangers of waste and litter and then spend time collecting plastic bags throughout their community. These plastic bags are then converted into soccer balls for the youth to play with, and also, sold on the local market for a couple hundred Uganda Shillings.
• Get Moving. Don’t wait for Government to introduce policies, it’s time for youth to introduce polices to the Government. Form partnerships and relationships with local, district and national Government representatives that can become the Climate Change Champions. Don’t just host meetings and summits with them, but work on education and awareness campaigns that could lead to incremental reductions in carbon emissions country-wide.
• Develop new networks. Establish relationships with universities around the globe that participate in cultural exchanges, do cutting-edge research and offer technical expertise in alternatives energies (i.e. Kigali Institute of Technology is a great place to start). These are great networks that could help to build new knowledge, potentially funding, and hopefully lead to long-term friendships and partnerships in the public and private sector.
• Maximize the power of the Internet. Blog on places like “Global Voices,” use Facebook and YouTube. The best story is a personal story. If you have a story then tell it and spread the word. Let people know what’s happening in your country, because it’s likely happening to them too.
There’s a lot that of work to do, and many ways to go about getting it done. But, at the end of the day, the youth are the best leaders to lead the climate change movement. So, my challenge to the CHOGM Youth is this:
You’re already aware climate changes is a problem, you’re energetic, and you’re ready to make an impact it's time to make moves to fight climate change. It’s time to take it to the next level, because our shared future depends on it. And if that’s not enough, then let me leave you with the following story:
“You know, here in Uganda we have 6 Hummers.” At first, I thought my friend Vincent was trying to be funny. “Hummers in Uganda?” I responded. “Yes. They are moving around town and they eat the gas. I don’t like it.” I thought to myself, would these gas guzzling vehicles be the new Ex-Pat vehicles for long trips to the North? For Safari companies? Would tomorrow’s fleet of aid and development agency vehicles be replaced with hand-me-down Hummers? I certainly hope not. Do you?