Q&A: What does the youth inclusion theme at CBA14 have in store?

Joshua Amponsem is leading the youth inclusion theme at the 14th annual community-based adaption event. Here he tells prospective participants why they won’t want to miss out on these lively interactive sessions.

Article, 25 August 2020

Joshua AmponsemJoshua Amponsem is founder of Green Africa Youth Organisation (GAYO), a Ghana-based youth-led advocacy group that seeks to mobilise young people to drive environmental change and community development. 

He is leading the youth track at next month’s 14th annual community-based adaption event (CBA14). These sessions will explore the question of how institutions can transform to take advantage of young people’s energy, creativity and knowledge in delivering local level adaptation.

Q: Why is it important to have youth voices leading their own theme at CBA14?

JA: At international events you’ll often see youth representatives invited to give their inputs. But, actually, the agenda has already been set, the structure of the sessions has already been decided, and the youth representative has to slot into whatever’s being discussed.

They don’t get the chance to truly express themselves or to get across issues that are important to them. Inputting in this way is limiting, frustrating and tokenistic – like a box-tick. And of course, the outcomes of the event won’t speak to young people’s needs and priorities – because they haven’t been heard. 

Another frustration is the way ‘youth’ are bundled together in one category. Yes, we might have our younger age in common – but we have different experiences, interests and aspirations. We’re studying different things, we’re working in different sectors, we have different areas of expertise. #

Discussions that invite inputs from ‘youth’ as one generic group don’t recognise these differences, and are difficult to engage with. To get younger people really involved in solution-focused discussions that can drive community adaptation, much more resource needs to go to unpacking the ‘youth’ category and understanding nuances.

It’s fantastic that one of CBA14’s five tracks is dedicated purely to young people. It will recognise youth in all its richness, and the sessions will be open for all to participate in whichever way they choose. It’s a great opportunity to unravel what’s needed to get all youth – of different ages, races, places – involved in locally-led climate adaptation.

Young man pushing a cart with branches.
A youth-led initiative to restore fragmented habitats and nature reserves protect and conserve biodiversity in Tarkwa, Ghana (Photo: copyright Green Africa Youth Organisation)

Q: What can young people offer to local climate action that others can’t?

JA: Climate change has deep and far-reaching consequences for everyone – we’re all vulnerable. But for young people, the ramifications run deeper. In 50 or 60 years’ time we’ll still be here. And as things stand, we’re on track to inherit a broken planet.

So climate action to limit the damage, or even turn things around to create a future where the planet and its people can thrive, really is, for young people, a matter of life or death. Young people bring a real sense of urgency to the climate debate. We want change! And the impact of youth-led climate movements over the past couple of years shows young people, with their ideas and energy, are drivers of change.

A second point is about technology. Across Africa, the uptake of technology has been intense. Take the dramatic shift to mobile devices. With the smartphone revolution, information can be accessed instantly, problems can be solved more quickly and at significantly less cost.

Young people, having grown up in this technological revolution know how to use technology and generate information to solve problems. We’re seeing more and more youth apply their technical know-how to the climate problem – and to adaptation.

For instance, in Ghana, a youth-led startup (Soil Solutions) has developed a do-it-yourself, low-tech test kit for farmers to analyse their soil for pH level, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The results are quickly matched with environmental conditions to provide farmers with the type of crop that is most suitable for them.In a rapidly changing climate, such innovations are needed to help smallholder farmers adapt to the impacts of climate change – increasing temperatures, extended dry periods, and floods among others.

Q: What do you see as the role of young people in shaping local climate action?

JA: Young people take an ambitious approach to problem-solving. In relation to climate change we’ve seen the creativity and entrepreneurial drive of youth come to the fore – setting up initiatives, NGOs and businesses that not only help tackle the climate problem but also generate green jobs.

We need to shake off ideas that the climate problem can only be solved by scientists or politicians. If you open up the space to young people, you’ll see the ideas and solutions come flooding in.

Q: Who should come along to the youth sessions at CBA4?

JA: The youth track isn’t just targeted at young people. In the sessions you’ll meet young people who are doing amazing work that others can be inspired by. However, it is the support and resource from institutions and local governments that are crucial for getting grassroots youth-led adaptation projects off the ground.

We’re trying to bridge the gap – to create a space where organisations working on adaptation can link up with young people who are working to help their communities adapt. We want to explore how these two groups can work together more effectively. It’s a fantastic opportunity to share stories, make connections and build new partnerships.

Community youth produce and supply compost from livestock and market waste to increase soil water retention during dry periods in New Edubiase, Ghana (Photo: copyright Green Africa Youth Organisation)

But this is more than just networking: institutions need to be part of these conversations. There is growing pressure from all directions – young people, the media, government, UN agencies, international NGOs and others – for institutions to demonstrate how they are proactively integrating adaptation into their policies, strategies, plans and activities.

They also need to show how they are engaging with young people to tap into their innovations and creativity in the communities where they operate, to implement adaptation to escalating climate impacts. At these sessions, institutions will hear innovative, workable youth-led adaptation solutions that they’ll be able to take back and implement in their own organisations.

Q: What do you find exciting about CBA going digital?

JA: There are two very positive things about CBA going digital. Firstly, it will dramatically open up access to the event. Financial constraints often make it difficult for young people to attend international events. More young people will be able to participate in a virtual CBA – that’s pretty exciting.

The second is the way that going digital can act as a leveller. International events can sometimes be quite formal. High-profile experts on panels or moderating the sessions can be intimidating for younger people, and they might be discouraged to stand up and speak up.

At virtual events, the physical barriers aren’t there – those who might feel shy about getting up in front of a microphone or putting their points across on stage will be more likely to speak up. And virtual events tend to be more fluid – at physical conferences, participants raise their hand and wait in the queue to be heard. But when it’s online, participants can contribute at any time.

At last month’s taster session we got a sense of how highly interactive CBA14 will be, with people getting to know each other in the chat box as soon as the session began, and the online chat stream buzzing throughout. You really felt part of the conversation as it unfolded.

Q: What’s your 30-second elevator pitch for the CBA14 youth track? 

JA: At these sessions, you’ll be able to hear innovative, workable youth-led solutions that are making a tangible difference in helping communities adapt. You’ll learn what’s working in different countries, across different contexts. And you’ll be able to draw your own conclusions from what you hear – decide what path you’ll take.

What contribution will you make to the global push to adapt to climate change, to build resilient communities and economies?