African Women and Youth Leading the Fight Against Climate Change: We are No Longer Asking

From November 8 -16, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will host its 27th Convention of Parties (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt. The conference, convened by the Egyptian Presidency, will be the first on the African continent since COP22, held in 2016 in Marrakech, Morocco. This year’s COP happens against the backdrop of increasingly loud warning signs from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other bodies about the catastrophic effects of human activity on the climate and its disproportionate impact on Africa. In its latest report, the IPCC has reiterated the imperative to contain the global rise in temperatures to within 1.5℃ of pre-industrial temperatures. 

In light of the increased global urgency around climate change, COP27 is set to prioritize mitigation, adaptation, climate financing, and partnerships, and collaboration as its core focus areas. Members of the African Feminist Taskforce (AFT), in collaboration with the Women and Gender Constituency, one of nine official observer groups under the UNFCCC, and in solidarity with broader Global South constituencies, have put forth a concrete set of demands for COP27.

Our 27 demands focus on including women’s and youth leadership in climate processes; a just and equitable energy transition, climate finance, just technology; and the intersection between climate, social, and economic justice. 

While Africa ostensibly remains the world’s least industrialized continent, only contributing 3.8% to global greenhouse gas emissions, the continent faces various anthropogenic climate change impacts, with temperature rises, coastal degradation, rising sea levels, and extreme weather events already a reality. This year alone, the continent has witnessed and experienced massive floods in Nigeria, Chad, South Sudan, Ghana, and my home country, South Africa, among others. These climate change-induced disasters have displaced millions. In the Horn of Africa, a multi-year drought is wreaking havoc on the region, with 15 million young people now out of school as a result. In North Africa, this has been seen with the heatwaves in June of this year, causing significant damage to crop harvests in Tunisia.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, with the World Meteorological Organization forecasting that average temperature rises for most of Africa will have surpassed 2℃ by the end of the century. So while the deleterious effects of climate change affect everyone, it is clear that the African continent, in general, and African women and girls, in particular, are presently most vulnerable to its impacts. As African eco-feminists, this necessitates a far more aggressive approach to combatting climate change that prioritizes the needs of those who continue to be rendered most vulnerable owing to the devastating intersection of environmental racism, capitalism’s insidious logic of extractivism and patriarchy. 

African women and girls must be meaningfully included in leadership and decision-making processes related to setting this continent and the world more broadly on a different path to safeguard the future of humanity.

This must begin with the meaningful representation of women and girls in national and global climate policy processes. Such representation should not be more than just a numbers-ticking exercise. It should instead reflect and speak to our diverse lived experiences as African women and girls to ensure that climate responses are appropriate and relevant to the context. And at this year’s COP, context will matter, with the issue of loss and damages provisionally on the agenda.

To this end, African feminists are demanding a dedicated, debt-free finance facility to support African countries dealing with the losses and damages caused by climate change. This demand for just climate financing includes a call on developed economies to accelerate climate investments into Africa and end new investments in fossil fuels. At present, signatories to the Paris agreement have pledged, but have yet to deliver on, USD100 billion in climate financing yearly, of which only a fraction is earmarked for Africa. This is despite the continent needing nearly USD250 billion per annum to meet its climate financing needs. 

It will be vital to ensure that private-sector funding does not crowd out public-sector funding and that profits are not the overarching objective of these funding obligations.

A profit-centred approach will further exacerbate the already fragile finances of most African states. A key component of centering needs over profit is to invest directly in women and girls in the Global South. 

Over the past 30 years, the obsession with profit-making over the needs of people has not only caused financial ruin for much of the continent but has also exacerbated the worst aspects of the climate crisis. For African women and girls, one of the key ways to reverse this trend is through a gender-transformative approach to not only climate finance but also at the level of policy, technology and support for climate adaptation and mitigation programs via an intersectional lens.

This should mean both economic investment and institutional support for renewable energy, and climate mitigation and adaptation programs that women and young people lead.  Institutional support will also require expanding the rights of African women and youth and their integration into policy-making and implementation. Despite performing the role of land custodians, women on the continent have few land rights with which they can assert control over land and resources. A move towards entrenching women’s land rights will play a pivotal role in protecting the environment and ensuring women can access the resources to facilitate a just transition. 

While these measures are vital for the African continent, simply demanding them is insufficient to move the needle. A core element of the fight for climate and environmental justice will be a wave of sustained and supported activism from women and young people on the continent. That is, streamlining gender and youth as a core element to realising the implementation of these critical and urgent global ambitions translated across several commitments and policy positions. 

As the world changes on all fronts, we will have to claim our space and insist that our voice, experiences and leadership be taken with the seriousness deserved. And at COP27 and beyond, that is what African women and girls will be doing. We demand African eco-feminist climate justice in our lifetime – and our lifetime is now. We are no longer asking. 


Zukiswa White is a queer-feminist and pan-African activist-organizer, popular educator, and projects specialist working at the intersections of gender equity, racial justice, and sustainable development. She works with the Women & Gender Constituency as coordinator, supporting the work to build a global response to climate, environmental, and gender justice.

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