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A Young African Leader's Perspective on COP 21
December 17, 2015

Woman stands on a stage with large letters spelling “COP21.” (Photo courtesy Peace Sasha Musonge.)
Peace visits COP21 exhibitions in Paris. (Photo courtesy Peace Sasha Musonge.)

Peace Sasha Musonge is a 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow who attended the historic COP21 summit on climate change in Paris. During her Ph.D. study in biosciences, she has also attended the 2015 World Bank Group Youth Summit on climate change in Washington and debated the effects of climate change on the African continent on Voice of America’s Straight Talk Africa.

In spite of the terror attacks that took place in Paris, I was not deterred from attending COP21. I went to Paris very charged and engaged since these were to be historic climate talks. Before the talks, INDCs were submitted by different member countries, showing a bottom-up and participatory approach. That meant that countries who pollute the most would map out a way to support the developing countries from continents such as Africa.

Arriving at Le Bourget in Paris at the start of the conference, I found a lot of liveliness and optimism in the Blue Zone, where country delegates, diplomats and scientists held discussions till late into the night. I met with some of the chief negotiators from East and Central Africa and got their view on the progress of the talks. Most of the negotiators were very optimistic that the outcome would favor climate adaptation in many African countries.

Woman stands in front of sign for Wangari Maathai (Photo courtesy of Peace Musonge.)
Peace Musonge stands outside a conference room at COP 21 named for environmentalist Wangari Maathai (Photo courtesy of Peace Musonge.)

As a young civic leader, I believe some of the most exciting engagement took place in the Green Zone here at COP21. I saw a lot of creativity and positive energy, especially from the youth groups in the Green Zone, where nongovernmental stakeholders, academics, civic organizations and business communities highlighted their climate change–based activities.

During the past two weeks, I networked with passionate climate activists from different parts of the globe, from young children to adults. What struck me the most was the strong representation of high school and university groups, for example, the China Youth Climate Action Network. It was comforting to know that young Chinese students are taking climate activism seriously.

One of the biggest side events at COP21 was the Global Landscapes Forum, with many sub-Saharan youth in attendance. They showcased amazing landscapes initiatives. One young graduate started a fruit-tree-planting initiative to combat climate change and youth unemployment. During the Africa Land of Business event, I was able to network with fellow African climate activists. The discussion focused on the Mayombe forest — which is known as the Amazon of Africa and spans four countries (Angola, Congo, DRC and Gabon). I had the privilege of sharing my current research on “south-to-south” cooperation to combat climate change with the Angolan environment minister. We discussed the opportunities for future collaboration between indigenous communities, like the Mayombe forest inhabitants and communities in the Amazon in South America, who are both fighting for their rights.

The passion and drive reflected in the civic society arena demonstrated to me that communities are willing to combat climate change, and I hope that the different governments live up to the promises they have stipulated in their INDCs, especially when it comes to funding Africa’s climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

I believe we should stop pointing fingers, since climate change has not been caused by a single factor, but by many different ones. As Africans, we should work collectively and strengthen and improve our climate and weather centers, especially in Dakar, Khartoum and Cape Town. As young people who make up over 80 percent of Africa’s population, we are the generation who will face the effects of climate change in the coming years. We need to work in unity with both the public and private sector to promote green lifestyles and to leapfrog older technologies, as we did with the mobile phone revolution.

Act locally and think globally. Let’s keep going green, and see you in Marrakech for COP22 in 2016!

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.