CIVICUS speaks about civil society’s aspirations and roles in the upcoming COP27 climate change summit with Chibeze Ezekiel, coordinator of the Strategic Youth Network for Development (SYND).
SYND is a civil society organisation (CSO) that promotes youth participation and advocacy for environmental sustainability in Ghana.
What are the environmental issues that you work on?
SYND works for environmental sustainability by promoting youth participation in policymaking and project implementation. We focus on four thematic areas: climate change, biodiversity, forests and energy. In May 2019, with support from the World Bank and United Nations Development Programme, we established the Youth in Natural Resources and Environmental Governance platform. It is a platform for young people to share and exchange learning on their respective actions and help them embark on joint, coordinated campaigns.
To help build capacity so that young people can better advocate for environmental sustainability and help the government fulfil its climate obligations, we have also developed capacity building projects. As part of our efforts to empower students to become climate activists and environmentalists, we have also worked with schools. For instance, through our Children for Climate (#C4C) Action campaign we are empowering children to become climate champions. And we publish reports that highlight our activities and their impacts in the communities we work in.
Have you faced any restrictions when conducting your work?
Fortunately, we have not faced any restrictions working in Ghana. We believe that this might be because of our approach. We confront the government and question public officials on their policies, but we do it in a manner that will not jeopardise the work relationship we have built or put ourselves in harm’s way. This has worked for us, because our work relationship not only with the government but also the private sector has strengthened over the years, which has helped us continue doing our work.
How do you connect with the global climate movement?
We work in connection with similar organisations in other African countries as well as with international organisations advocating for environmental rights. In the African region, some of the organisations we work with include the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change, 350 Africa, African Climate Reality Project and the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance. We are also the West Africa Regional Node for ACCESS Coalition, a global network with about 70 members advocating for people living in poverty to have access to safe, reliable and affordable energy, and for environmentally sustainable and efficient energy systems globally.
Working with all these organisations has allowed us to transcend the local level and connect to the global. To contribute to this global work, we produce position papers and give input on policies, among other things.
What issues would you like to see addressed at COP27?
Over the years global leaders have made pledges and promises but they have not fulfilled them. We hope at this year’s COP more serious commitments will be brought forward. Global leaders shouldn’t be making promises they won’t keep and should instead get to work.
Climate finance is still an outstanding issue. There should be a clear understanding of how the mitigation and adaptation measures to climate change will be rolled out. Global leaders must provide communities with resources to adapt to climate change and assist them with mitigation plans. All of this will only be possible if adequate climate finance is provided.
Another priority is loss and damage. We are aware that vulnerable people and those living in underdeveloped communities are the ones suffering the most as a result of climate change. Many people have lost their homes, land and source of livelihood, and it is only fair they are compensated for the irreparable damage caused to them.
A few weeks back we travelled around Ghana to analyse how climate change has affected communities and what demands people had for the government. We conducted interviews and asked people about the situations they are going through and the solutions they would like to see implemented. We plan to present our video documentary at COP27 to show world leaders the real situation on the ground. This will give a clearer picture of what we mean by loss and damage, and hopefully put pressure for urgent action.
Energy transition, away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energies, is also an issue we expect to see discussed. Especially since there are industrialising ambitions in Africa, it will be interesting to see how leaders plan to make energy available and affordable during this transition. Africa has plenty of resources such as wind, solar and hydro, but its progress towards renewable energies has been very slow. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, only two per cent of global investment in renewable energies is invested in Africa, and only three per cent of jobs in the continent are in the sector. We want to know how global leaders plan to use their resources to help Africa with its energy transition.
Why is civil society participation in climate talks important?
The participation of civil society in COPs is important because it represents the voices of communities and is best placed to articulate people’s concerns and propose polices that will improve the lives of citizens. CSOs are also accountable to their communities, so when we attend global conferences such as COPs, we all go back to our respective countries to provide feedback and confront decisions made at the global level with the realities that people continue to live in. This pushes us to continue with our advocacy work. We continue carrying out engagement activities at the local, regional and international levels, holding our leaders accountable to their commitments and supporting their work to implement the policies agreed in global forums.
Do you think COP27 will offer enough space for civil society participation?
Because of the role we play, there is a space for CSOs to participate in COPs, although improvements in access could certainly be made. It is, however, unfortunate that CSOs only have observer status and cannot take part in negotiations. If they were offered an opportunity to interact with negotiators, they would get a better chance to convey their priorities and share their ideas.
COP27 in particular is tricky because it’s taking place in a closed civic space environment. But that is what the situation is in Egypt. More could have been done to offer a conducive environment for civil society, but we will have to work with what we are presented with. I believe there is still some room to have a discussion with the Egyptian authorities so they allow some form of demonstration and civil society can make the voices of people heard. The government should allow its citizens to participate without any restriction because their views are also important.
Civic space in Ghana is rated ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.