The surge in the world’s population has a commensurate effect on natural resource exploitation and consumption. This in turn affects the ecological functioning of the earth, with its regulatory ecosystem functions. This may lead to risks like droughts, floods, and extreme weather events. This will be more severe if actions are not taken to dramatically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In undertaking such actions, youth play a critical role, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where 60% of the population is 25 years or less. Despite this reality, the potential young people have in the quest to attain sustainability in African cities is immense, youth are often left out of the discourse.
YouSustain Conference, organized by Green Africa Youth Organization (GAYO) in collaboration with the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Studies (C3SS), University of Ghana, and the Youth Climate Council, Ghana, created the forum for researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and leaders working on diverse aspects of sustainable development as it pertains to young people to discuss the adaptation and potential role of young people in promoting sustainability in Africa’s surge urbanization processes from a perspective of climate change. It was noted that Africa’s youth could be the key agents of sustainability in the region if their vibrance, zeal, and a strong sense of social awareness are leveraged for impact-making in their various local communities.
The Conference was held from 24th – 25th November 2022 and received attendance from various state and non-state institutions in Ghana, where it was hosted, and other African countries, including Uganda, Benin, Kenya, Nigeria, and DR Congo. There were presentations on the eco-design of biodegradable food packaging from corn husk for local food packaging in Benin, as a viable livelihood for young people, which also reduces wastage and carbon emissions.
Participants shared findings from their research or projects pertaining to young people and sustainability in Africa. There was also a round table discussion on both days of the conference where expert panelists with specializations in sustainability, climate advocacy, youth advocacy, and climate change shared their knowledge on youth engagement in Africa and the role of young people in promoting sustainability in sub-Saharan African cities.
Proceedings for the first day of the conference were initiated by the opening remarks speaker, Mr Desmond Alugnoa who is the co-founder of GAYO. In his remark, he underscored the importance of the conference in creating the right forum for youth engagement for sustainability in Africa. “This conference is intended to serve as a forum for young people to meet and share innovative ideas within the framework of a wider discussion on the sustainability of sub-Saharan Africa’s cities through youth leadership,” Mr. Alugnoa said. His speech was followed by a keynote speech which was given by Dr. Yaw Agyeman Boafo, a Senior Research Fellow of C3SS. Dr. Boafo shared insights on many ways young people are contributing to sustainability in African cities. For example, he emphasized current records of the global population reaching 8 billion with young people comprising over half of that number. He also hinted that young people are the active players in creating sustainability in African cities and thus their engagement by major stakeholders is imperative. “Young people are not mere victims but also solutions to our present climate change issues,” said Dr. Boafo in addressing the importance of young people in promoting sustainability in Africa. He ended his speech by calling for young people to disrupt the status quo, positively, innovatively, creatively, and collaboratively to ensure that we transform cities and communities sustainably for our unborn children.
A round table discussion immediately followed the keynote speech where panelists shared their expert knowledge and experience of the role of young people in promoting sustainability in African cities. “Young people are contributing a lot in terms of sustainability, young people are now seen in every part of the economy doing innovative things to promote sustainability”, said Mr. Gontorwon Saye Lah, one of the panelists, in sharing his knowledge of the role young people are currently playing in promoting sustainability in African cities”. Linda Acheampong Sarpong, an activist added that “more actions are needed than just talks”. She continued by saying young people make up a greater percentage of our population and therefore need to be at the forefront of decisions regarding climate change. The youth are positioned strategically and so they should act
Other experts also shared their expertise on the challenges and opportunities available to young people in promoting sustainability in African cities. In highlighting some of the challenges young people face in the promotion of sustainability in sub-Saharan African cities, Dzifa Acolor cited that “Young people do not have the necessary skill set, young people are still trying to understand climate change and sustainability of which most of us still do not understand the skills set required in dealing with it”. Mr. Matthew Azure also commented that young people lack access to financial capital and the technical know-how to materialize their innovations to help promote sustainability in Africa.
The second day of the conference climaxed with another roundtable discussion from experts who have a broad understanding of the role of relevant stakeholders in empowering young people to promote and contribute to sustainability in sub-Saharan African cities. One of the experts, Mr. Nii Noi Omaboe, stated that “Young people should start mobilizing as young people to influence policies, they can do this by getting involved in political affiliations. Politics and policies go hand in hand”.
The event was concluded successfully with a closing remark from Dr. Emmanuel Daanoba Sunkari, a lecturer at the University of Mines and Technology and a member of the conference’s scientific committee. The vote of thanks was delivered by Mr. Paul Dankwa, who expressed his sincerest gratitude and appreciation to all stakeholders and participants for making the YouSustain conference a success.