Climate change is an existential threat to human well-being, and it is the young people of today who are most at risk of suffering the consequences, particularly in countries which are highly vulnerable to climate change such as Malawi.
In Malawi, nearly 8.9 million people (51 percent) are below 18 while about 13.7 million (78 percent) are less than 35 years of age. Over the past two decades, the country’s population grew at an annual rate of 2.9 percent, compared to the average of 2.7 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. Addressing climate change and population growth are therefore some of the most difficult challenges for Malawi to ably accelerate the 2030 Agenda in the next 10 years.
Climate change is already impacting on Malawi through droughts plus intense rainfall and flooding, which have resulted into loss of property and sometimes life—with Cyclone Idai being a graphic example. The economic consequences of climate change are increasing, making it more difficult to achieve priority development goals. The combined effects of floods and droughts result in losses of at least 1.7 per cent of Malawi’s gross domestic product annually.
Climate change comes in addition to ongoing environmental challenges that already impact on development. For example, soil erosion reduces agricultural productivity and increases siltation in lakes and thus reduces electricity production. Thus, climate change will worsen the negative social and economic impacts of existing environmental challenges.
Malawi Government has fully recognised the climate change threat. For example, the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) III includes agriculture, water and climate change management as a key priority area—reflecting the important links between the three. The MGDS III also acknowledges that climate change affects women, youth productivity and child development, thus government has identified that a more systematic approach to adapting to climate change and building resilience is required.
Young people will have to live longer with the consequences of the current environmental and climate change-related decisions than their elders. Given this, it is not surprising that youth are today pro-actively engaged in efforts to address climate change and demanding firmer action.
How can youth be part of the climate action?
Listening to the concerns of youth and engaging them in developing and implementing actions to adapt to climate change is very important. The more we increase the active participation and partnership with youth, the more likely it is that climate action will reflect the long-term interests of Malawi. Actively involving youth not only creates an impact on youth, but also on their families, friends and other relatives. It also ensures the next generations are ‘climate smart’.
Concrete actions that could help reduce climate change impacts and involve youth include building capacity in climate smart agriculture and associated value-addition activities such as processing and marketing. Training young people in mini-grid solar power systems and other renewable energy solutions is another opportunity as is providing skills in construction and maintenance of climate resilient infrastructure. Youth have a particular aptitude in the development and use of innovative computer and smartphone-based applications. This aptitude could be applied in the collection, analysis and dissemination of climate and development related data.
Apart from being innovative, young people are energetic, adaptable and can quickly make low-carbon lifestyles and career choices a part of their lives.
Young people should take the initiative to act now and be agents of change. In your social gatherings, schools and youth clubs, discuss climate change and what could be done to help Malawi adapt and cope. Also, practise good environmental and climate smart habits.
All decision-makers in government, the private sector and all development partners should listen to young people. Sustainable Development Goal number 13 calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has highlighted the importance of listening to young people in order to achieve this goal. We all have the responsibility to engage without further delay in policy and programming options to lead the path for a “Green Malawi”.