Youth ambassadors take on climate change

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Durban - "The earth has been diagnosed with a sickness, and we have to cure it!" That is how 15-year-old Shraddha Rajcoomar, one of the three South African Climate Change Youth Ambassadors, views the crisis.

Three youngsters passionate about the earth have been chosen as Climate Change Youth Ambassadors for South Africa at the upcoming 7th Conference of Youth (COY7).

Shraddha will join Aluwani Nemukula and Abigail Knox at the COY7, which will precede COP17 and takes place at Howard College at the University of KwaZulu-Natal from November 25 - 27.

This initiative, which aims to get the South African youth vocal about climate change, is driven by eThekwini Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department.

The Climate Change Youth Ambassadors will continue to work with municipalities across the country, beyond COP17, bringing real awareness and local action on climate change.

But for now, apart from preparing and training for the conference itself, the youth ambassadors will be raising awareness about climate change and COP17 in eThekwini.

BuaNews caught up with the three ambassadors ahead of the COY7. Shraddha has been interested in the environment for most of her life and almost all her school projects have been about climate change.

She has been involved in numerous school and community greening projects. Her research on climate change awareness in schools won her an award at the recent Eskom National Science Expo.

Shraddha is looking forward to meeting other delegates to exchange ideas and put words into action around climate change.

"The youth have to stop seeing the earth as another entity. Climate change is a disease and it affects everyone. The youth believe the weather predictions every day, why not believe the scientists when they predict how the earth will be affected?" asks Shraddha.

She has spoken at educator and learner workshops on climate change, compiled climate change educational resource material for schools, and given motivational presentations to encourage youth to take action.

Shraddha will be involved in presenting a workshop based on Durban's response to climate change at COY7.

Durban University of Technology student Aluwani Nemukula, from Limpopo, is an innovative young scientist who is passionate about sustainable development, carbon neutral designs and biomass energy.

The 29-year-old DTech Biotechnology student has been busy blogging for the United Nations University Vice-Rectorate in Europe, receiving international awards and presenting papers in the US, Europe and Africa.

His work makes him the perfect candidate to encourage the youth to become more active in addressing climate change.

"It is indeed a great honour to represent South African youth at COP17. As a Climate Change ambassador, I believe it is my responsibility to encourage change in youth perceptions on climate change and environmental sustainability," said Nemukula.

He said society needs to understand the impact and consequences of their choices.

"It is of great concern that 44 percent of South Africa's energy is used by only 36 companies and yet four million homes cook without electricity. Climate change is here and its effects are being felt globally. Reducing our carbon footprint and ensuring sustainable consumption and production should be an international endeavour, involving people of all ages," said Nemukula.

Nemukula said research revealed that due to poor or non-existent mitigation strategies, developing countries would be the most affected by climate change.

"The youth have the power to change the course of future generations. It is important that we embark on daily greening projects and recycling initiatives to ensure a safe climate future.

"The change in sea levels and climate patterns is affecting the African natural biodiversity. There is a need for youth engagement in preservation, protection of our natural resources and biodiversity in Africa to ensure food security and the prevention of extinction of our indigenous plant and animal species."

Knox, 25, the third ambassador, works in the environmental field as the KZN Sustainable Energy Forum Manager.

She is also a sustainability consultant for an environmental trust called BioRegional, which focuses on sustainable 'One Planet' living.

Knox said she will be attending COY7 in a volunteer capacity. "I will be giving a workshop with fellow climate change youth ambassadors on 'What climate change means for Durban: Local is lekker'. We will be interviewing Durbanites for their opinions and at the same time, we will share information and create awareness."

Fun and youth are words that seem to go hand-in-hand and that is precisely what Knox expects from COY7.

"I expect COY7 to be high energy and a lot of fun. I think we will be constantly surprised by how much the youth know and how brave and courageous we are! When there's not much to lose, there is lots to gain," said Knox.

Following COY7, Knox said she will be collaborating with youth to raise awareness. "I plan to resource the enthusiasm and flavour of the Green Campus Initiative (GCI) Green Police from UCT campus, to which I used to belong."

She urged: "Nobody deserves to inherit climate change. Be part of the solution and fight apathy in our generation!"