African youths must rise, demand action against climate change - Obasi


Prince Emeka Obasi Jnr.

A Nigerian born British undergraduate, a climate activist, Prince Emeka Obasi Jnr., has called on African youths to demand action against climate change.

Obasi who is also the founder of Our Tomorrow Foundation, a non-governmental organisation leading an African focused campaign against climate change in this interview, regretted that despite the huge threat climate change poses to the survival of the African continent, there is still little awareness among the people of the continent, particularly the youths.

According to him, his burning desire is to sensitize the youths to wake up to the reality of the danger climate change poses to their future and the need to act fast prompted the setting up of the NGO.

Below are excerpts from his interview.

You recently launched a climate NGO, ‘Our Tomorrow.’ Tell us about the initiative and what prompted you to set it up?

I decided to set up the NGO because I was alarmed by the lack of awareness about the dangers of climate change on the continent and the lack of urgency in tackling the crisis in Nigeria and the rest of Africa.

Particularly, I noticed that there is this lack of awareness among the youths about the dangers of climate change. I often use my experience as an example to highlight this lack of awareness.

I was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 2001 and would spend the first 15 years of my life in the country.

But it’s strange that despite being interested in current affairs, especially given that my father is a journalist, I never became aware of the environmental crisis which had begun to endanger Lagos until I came to England for my college education in 2017.

As I wrote in my letter to African youths some days ago, it was while here in England that I became increasingly aware of the problems of the environment and the challenges they pose, particularly to African countries.

So my idea is to create this awareness and to galvanize the youths to begin to demand action from policymakers with regard to tackling the issues that lead to climate change and its effects.

Specifically, what can we expect from the NGO? What will it be doing in this regard?

Specifically, Our Tomorrow has three broad agenda: the first is to wake African youths up to the reality of climate change and the threat it poses to their future.

The second is to sensitize African leaders, both those in government and those in the corporate environment, to begin to heed the clarion call for sustained action against climate change.

Thirdly, to mobilize resources, both material and human resources, to create sustained awareness of Africans, particularly the youths on the need to be actively involved in this battle to save our environment for future generations.

What activities do you have or plan to drive these objectives?

We will be holding a press conference on Tuesday, January 25th at the University of Lagos to formally announce the NGO.

Our website is also live and we will be laying out some of our activities there. We intend to launch the NGO formally in London in the coming months.

But between the time of the press conference and the formal launch in London, I’ll be travelling to different African countries and different states across Nigeria such as Kebbi, Rivers Anambra and so on, to observe the impact of climate change in these environments.

Subsequently, I will travel across Africa, to places like Rwanda, Kenya and some other countries to continue to create this awareness about climate change crisis.

I believe it is important for people to begin to visualise the threat of climate change. I believe that’s the way it will be easier to highlight its seriousness to be able to mobilize action.

Don’t you think that in a continent where the amajority of the people are still concerned about what to eat, many will not consider climate change a big issue?

Well, I agree with you that the socio-economic realities of our continent is an issue. But I also think that there is a general misunderstanding about the climate change crisis. It is not a zero-sum game.

I mean, people tend to think that they would rather be addressing the problem of hunger and poverty than be concerned about climate change. But in reality, there is a link and I will explain to you how.

Climate change is already a huge problem and a big threat to food security and security in general in Africa, and it is likely going to get worse if it is not urgently tackled.

Obviously, it is already contributing to food insecurity, population displacement, and it is going to put a lot of stress on water resources. Studies have shown that coastal degradation and erosion are going to be a major challenge in West Africa.

About 56% of the coastlines in Benin Republic, Ivory Coast, and Senegal are already eroding. You have erosion in many parts of Nigeria, such as the South East.

You can see the encroaching desertification in the North, which has hugely contributed to the security crisis we are witnessing in the region and the food crisis in Nigeria.

The farmers versus herders crisis is largely driven by climate change.

We are currently seeing the impact. Farmers are not able to go to the farms, which means that food supply is affected. Prices of food are going up as a result.

So, climate crisis is going to affect agriculture significantly and when you consider the fact that agriculture is the backbone of the African economy, employing millions of people, you will begin to appreciate the enormity of the problem that presently confront us.

So, yes, climate change should be the concern of the average African, whether rich or poor because at the end of the day, it is a problem that affects everybody. First of all, food has become more expensive.

So, I think everybody should be concerned about what is happening to our climate and indeed it is everybody’s problem and demands that everybody begins to talk about it and begins to demand action from those that have the capacity to make changes.

You have highlighted the threats posed by climate change. But these threats seem not to bother policymakers on the continent. Have you seen significant action on their part in this regard?

Unfortunately, no. I don’t think policymakers on the continent have done enough, quite frankly.

However, increasingly, I think more people are beginning to realise the threat that climate change poses.

For example, I saw the president of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, speaking at the recently concluded conference on climate change at Glasgow, Scotland, COP26.

He did a good job of highlighting the need for developed countries to step up the effort in tackling climate change.

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But at the same time, I think African leaders need to increasingly vocalise the danger climate change poses to the everyday lives of people on the continent; the dangers it poses to farming and to the stability of the continent in general.

I also think it’s important to also have collaboration among the countries on the continent because at the end of the day it is a continental problem; it is indeed a global problem.

But we can begin to tackle it at the continental level, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. There needs to be collaboration, for instance, among ECOWAS countries, the Southern African countries, the Central African states, the East African countries and so on.

What is important is that there should be collaborative efforts across the board. Individual states taking action on their own may not achieve much results.

Better results will be achieved when states come together to take serious steps against, for instance, desertification, by pooling resources together, to consider for instance afforestation.

There should also be preventive actions which could be led by the United Nations or the African Union. Those are some of the things that we should be looking at.

Africa should work together and collaboratively with other parts of the world to achieve better results.

You pointed out that President Buhari demanded more action from the developed world at COP26. I mean, that’s a sentiment many people share given that these developed countries are mostly responsible for the climate crisis we face?

Of course, this is a sentiment that I also share. The developed world must take the lead in the fight against climate change, simply because they are responsible for most of the global emissions.

The developed world must help fund the fight against climate change in the developing world also because we do not have the resources in this part of the world to effectively deal with the effects of climate change.

And then, when you consider that the issues of climate we face on the continent were brought about mostly by the activities of the advanced economies – Africa contributes only 5% of global emissions – it becomes important that the developed world begin to take the lead in terms of funding initiative aimed at tackling climate change.

Indeed, during the recently concluded climate change events held in Glasgow, the climate pact to deliver $100 billion dollars a year to African countries most affected by climate change was finalized.

So, to that extent, I think there are gradual steps towards helping developing countries contain the effect of climate change.

But I think a lot still needs to be done because of the enormity of the challenge.

But as I said earlier, African countries cannot fold their arms and wait for the advanced economics to do everything. There should also be actions from the leaders of the continent.

As you pointed out, you became aware about issues of climate after you moved to the UK. But I also know that in the UK and the rest of the Western world, there is climate change denialism. How much of a challenge is to be expected in the crusade against the negative effects of climate change?

Of course, climate change denialism is a very serious problem, especially in the West. You know, it is ironic that even though the West is largely responsible for the climate catastrophe that now confronts us, they are going to be the least impacted by it, compared to countries in Africa and other developing regions of the world.

So, it is easy for some individuals there to deny the impact of climate change, or to deny the existence of climate change, like the past president of the United States.

So, what you see is that these people have promoted resentment against some of the initiatives that are being developed to tackle climate change and even resentment against the idea that developing countries should be helped to fund climate initiatives.

It is a very big problem, but thankfully it is also changing gradually. Some of the public figures who were at the forefront of climate change denialism have been voted out of power.

In the United States for example, since Joe Biden became president, the country has rejoined the Climate Accord that was first signed in 2015.

We have seen encouraging signs that the international community is back on track as a united front against climate change.The denialists are being denied some of the voices that they used to have.

The quest you have embarked upon is a noble one, but you are a student. This sort of campaign requires resources. Have you thought about that?

Yes, but that’s not an issue we are dwelling on. I mean, this is not about traditional fundraising. I am more interested in developing a more innovative approach to the issue of funding.

But it’s too early to talk about these things now. We would rather pursue our objectives now. Our concern is to ensure that we get our message across to the youths of Africa and to influence policies aimed at tackling the impact of climate change.

And of course, in finance, once you create a good product, there will always be a market for it. So, the issue of funding is secondary. The primary thing is building a critical mass to push the agenda of tackling climate change.

But it’s also important to note that while most of the discussions about climate change have centred on the cost of action against it, experts have continued to warn that cost of inaction is much higher.

And we are talking hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the decade, probably much worse. Consider for instance, what Africa would lose if the Sahel region is allowed to cave in to desertification.

It would destroy wildlife and the livelihoods of millions. Certainly, the cost of planting trees, etc, to ensure that the region continues to support lives will be little in comparison.

These are some of the things we need to make people, especially policymakers, understand. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if a fraction of that cost is dedicated to awareness campaigns.

What is your message to the youths of Africa who are the focus of your NGO?

For me, the message is for them, the youths of Africa, to wake up to the reality of climate change, knowing that we are the leaders of tomorrow.

We are the inheritors of this continent and must begin to fight to ensure that the continent we inherit from our parents is not one that will be riddled in crisis; one where food insecurity and famine will become the order of the day.

We must also remember that we have an obligation to leave this continent a better place for those coming after us. So, we must begin to do something today.

I will say to us that the future of the continent is in their hands and is it is up to us to ensure that today’s leaders take action to ensure that tomorrow we are not left with a landscape that is beset by drought, desertification, erosion, food insecurity, among others.

So we should all wake up and take charge of our future and demand action from our present leaders.

It is a duty we owe to ourselves and to the generations coming after us and we cannot fail. We cannot afford to betray that duty.

For me, it is a struggle of a lifetime; one that I feel very honoured to answer and one that I hope every youth of the continent should be honoured to answer.

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