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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

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5 November 2021 - The newly published report, ‘Living in the Climate Crisis: Young People in Uganda’, shows that young Ugandans expect to see increases in early marriages, school dropouts and forced migration and displacement in their lifetimes, owing to the social and economic pressures brought about by climate change.

The study was funded by the British Academy and conducted by a team of young researchers in collaboration with the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and global youth organisation Restless Development.

Ahead of COP26, the research shows young people in lower-income nations want global leaders to prioritise education, training and environmentally-friendly work.

The report’s key recommendation to participants in global climate talks is to provide young people in Africa with external support to secure stable, green jobs. With a median age of 15.8, Uganda is demographically the third youngest country in the world, yet the youth labour under-utilisation rate of 67.9% makes it unlikely that these young people will find productive work.     

Charles Mankhwazi, Research Manager at Restless Development Uganda and co-author of the report said:

“Young people can deploy climate solutions at the scale and speed that the crisis demands, especially to help create green jobs. But their strong will in the face of climate disaster must be matched and supported by strong political will from leaders at COP. Listening to young people and supporting them to lead their communities out of climate disaster and towards environmental justice – this is how humanity can create a clean, green, and sustainable future.”

Evidence shows that young people overwhelmingly face poverty, migration or reliance on dwindling income from livelihoods in agriculture or charcoal-burning. Agricultural productivity has been halved in some cases due to unpredictable weather patterns and burning charcoal – a by-product of clearcutting by heavy industry – has led to young Ugandans being wrongly identified as primary culprits of carbon emissions and environmental degradation.

Currently, young Ugandans must adapt to rising temperatures and extreme weather patterns without additional support, education and training. Many are acutely aware of the climate crisis and its role in the loss of their livelihoods but lack access to accurate information about the precise impacts of climate change.

A survey of over 1,000 young Ugandans, conducted as part of the research, underlines the report’s recommendations, including the need for better access to up-to-date information, such as advance flood warnings:

  • 76% reported having their livelihoods disrupted by environmental changes over the course of the past year;
  • 72% noticed temperatures increased;
  • 62% of young Ugandans did not know where to find accurate information about local weather patterns;
  • And 74% reported not having adequate access to information about how the environment is changing. 

The survey also highlights the impact of climate change on mental health and wellbeing:

  • 64% of survey respondents felt anxious about environmental change;
  • And 57% were concerned that climate change will have a strong impact on them and their families.

The research is part of the project ‘Peak Youth, Climate Change and the Role of Young People in Seizing their Future’, funded by the British Academy through its Youth Futures research programme. The programme supports research into young people’s contributions to tackling sustainable development challenges worldwide.

Researchers have warned that young people’s voices will go unheard in the climate policy dialogues at COP26 because their participation in global climate policy dialogues is obstructed by structural inequalities, costs and visa restrictions as well as low vaccination rates and quarantine restrictions for those in countries most affected by climate change, including in sub-Saharan Africa.

In a Foreword to the report, Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, Founder of Fridays For Future in Uganda, writes:

“Right now, we are suffering the effects of the emissions from our parents, and many people tell us that we do not know what we want. But I want to assure you that the youth of the climate generation know exactly what they want”.

Peace Mbeiza, Restless Development Youth Researcher, said:

“Young people have the agency for climate action but are greatly hindered by a lack of access to information and skills on climate change, mitigation, adaptation and resilience. Therefore climate change education is a very crucial tool and should be harnessed to help young people adapt their livelihoods to the effects of climate change. young people.”

Dr Anna Barford, Senior Research Associate at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and co-author of the report, said:

“Young Ugandans speak with urgency and clarity about the need for climate action and the political engagement they would like to see. Hearing and acting on their words is vital to delivering environmental justice. Yet there is a danger that climate talks will not only ignore the need for training, education and more opportunities for productive work but might go as far as criminalising their livelihoods and perpetuating misleading narratives that they are to blame for damage to the environment.”

Dr Anthony Mugeere, Lecturer in Sociology at Makerere University and co-author of the report, writes in the Journal of Environment and Development:

“The struggle for climate justice is far from over. There is need for young people to not only continue to exert pressure on their national governments for more inclusion in climate change policy formulation and implementation strategies but also to build momentum for an equitable and sustainable global environmental management system during the annual United Nations Convention on the Climate Change Conference of Parties (COPs) held annually on various continents. … the youth voice on climate change injustices and the need for a just transition towards a low carbon society needs to be heard within and beyond the confines of the conference halls in order to result in tangible action against the climate crisis.”

Read 'Living in the Climate Crisis: Young People in Uganda' here.

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