By Esther Nakkazi
Uganda held a national conference on climate change that brought together representatives from all the districts in the country. The African Initiative Congress on climate Change (1-4th November) started with the opening by Maria Mutgamba, the minister of water and environment. About 750 people participated in the conference, half of them students from all over the country.
I will not write about the obvious- (all the papers presented were said to be available on the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) website but what was unique about this conference. Noteworthy was the tree hugger poem, the student participation and sustained interest throughout the conference by participants.
It should also be noted that Uganda’s agenda for the 2009 climate change Copenhagen conference was clearly spelt out. (Check out another article on this blog.)
I liked the poem by Ife- Piankhi about hugging a tree. It was well composed and felt so urgent you would actually hug a tree if it were near you; only we were in a conference room at Speke resort Munyonyo. I liked this poem because of its uniqueness- we are kind of fed up with the usual message of ‘plant trees’ to save the environment.
Ife’s poem was simple- go out hug a tree- that in my opinion also meant that we need more trees. Can we hug what we do not have? NO. or what we do not care for? NO. During the week I actually felt an urge to hug a tree.
In Uganda we have just had a very successful campaign to become a friend of the gorilla. This resonated well with becoming a friend of a tree. My tree friend would be the beautiful gigantic oak tree- it is so big I wonder if I would be able to hug it.
It started with one brave hand; the question was unclear and probably targeted to the wrong panelist. But that was it! We then had many interesting questions from the students. When the congress got into small working groups, the students were ready to volunteer as rapportuers.
The classic one was a student who told us that we were comfortably sited in this hall, which was built on a swamp. That all of us also had mineral water plastic bottles but there is no plastic processing plant in Uganda.
Other students were concerned about the polythene bag (kaveera) ban that is never fully implemented, land laws, tree planting programmes in schools etc. It is interesting that youth were very enthusiastic about climate change and knew quite a lot when many adults don’t get it at all!
There was consensus from the students: that climate change should be integrated in the school curriculum. This was a serious recommendation that also caught the ear of the members of parliament who were present and Jessica Eriyo, the minister of state for environment.
For the 300 students who attended the conference, the invitations were deliberate, the topics well thought out and with good intentions. Organizers started with having a student’s representative on the organizing team. Then they held a nationwide essay competition with the winner emerging from Arua district.
Prof. Nelson Sewankambo, the director African Initiative said: -the participation of youth in this conference is amazing. We have to engage the youth if we have to make a successful intervention in climate change.
Climate change intervention is about intergenerational equity or inequity so we have to engage the youth. The major question is -How can we consume with out disadvantaging future generations? –asked Sewankambo.
The youth raised issues, asked questions and their hands shot up to volunteer for the different tasks including rapportuering, making presentations etc.
“We must keep this spirit burning and excite the young people, so that they can be active participants. They are showing an example of what should be done in the face of climate change. Most of us, our thinking has become rigid but the youth are change agents and will play a role in the way we intervene.”
Prof John English, the executive director CIGI said it is only the youth who will take the debate forward.