Esther Agbarakwe is a co-founder of the Nigerian Youth Climate Coalition, the biggest youth climate movement in Nigeria. She also serves as a technical Advisor to the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC). Recently she returned from Washington, DC where she served as an Atlas Corps Fellow with Population Action International. Currently Ms Agbarakwe is also a young climate change policy advisor and trainer with experience in creating, facilitating and managing youth-led projects. She has over eight years of experience working on sexuality and environmental issues. In the past, apart from being selected as one of the 'Women Deliver 100 Young Leaders' in 2010, Ms Agbarakwe was also a recipient of The Dekeyser and Friends Foundation Leadership Award in 2009, the Ford Foundation/LEAP Africa Nigerian Youth Leadership Award in 2010, Commonwealth Youth Climate Fellowship 2010, the Atlas Corps Fellowship Award in 2012 and received two nominations in the Future Awards in Nigeria under the Category of "Best Use of Advocacy" for 2011 and 2012 respectively. In addition, Ms Agbarakwe represented Africa at over 20 global governance meetings on sustainable development. She has also served roles as African coordinator of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) Youth and Children Major Group, and representative of African youths at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP 15, COP17), African Development Forum (ADF) and Rio +20, where she worked with a delegation from The Elders; Gro Harlem Brundtland, President Mary Robinson, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Fernando Cardozo 20 as one of the famous four "Youngers" demonstrating true intergenerational dialogue on sustainability.
How would you describe the trend of issues that have been faced by youth around the world within the past five years?
I believe that climate change is the biggest challenge of our generation and more than anyone else, the youth face unprecedented challenges as a result of it. They also share the responsibility of addressing it. Climate change will have serious and adverse consequences for many development sectors in Africa and threatens the economies and livelihoods of many African countries. Therefore the future of many young Africans are at stake. On Sub Saharan Africa, Floods, droughts and rising sea levels are just some of the environmental impacts of climate change. African youth will be disproportionately affected even though most young people are not readily involved in the continent's efforts to address climate change. Moreover few have mobilised themselves nationally and sub regionally to hold their government accountable and advocate for a clear policy of adaptation and mitigation. Young people have also offered many solutions to the climate crisis by engaging in entrepreneurship ventures producing solar lamps, planning trees and empowering many of their peers through their creativity and innovations.
Unemployment is another important issue for young people in the continent fuelling crisis and instability. With young people seeing the 'face of crisis' in Africa, they are also the solution. Green jobs present an opportunity to improve youth unemployment and many youth are ready to engage in the green economy in order reduce unemployment and protect Mother Nature.
Please expand on the widespread unemployment and other economic deprivations you mention above. How are youth dealing with these issues and what are their sentiments towards it?
Unemployment affects young people in Africa severely, especially as there are no safety nets for her young population. With young people representing the highest demographic count, unemployment is a key factor to the crisis in North Africa. I don't believe that Africa is destined to be perpetually poor or that she will never be able to feed her people and provide decent jobs for her youth. Many recent reports have shown that African economies are fast growing, which means that great economic opportunities will be made available to young people. Corruption will never help the issues of unemployment as often officials embezzle State Funds with no persecution.
African youth are rising to this challenge now more than ever before. They are making their voices heard through social media and through their votes during elections. Take the recent Kenyan Elections for example, young people are holding government accountable through budget tracking ventures such as BudgIT a creative start-up driven to review the Nigerian budget and public data in a finer detail in order to reach every literacy span. It is aimed at stimulating citizens' interests in help government reduce its waste. The start-up is run by young people. We are seeing youth interest in agricultural increase too. Youth believe that agriculture will provide under- and un-employed young civil society with employment and income. This in turn will provide the food we need via increased production, and ensures that farming is passed from one generation to the next.
To what extent have youth movements and groups developed in the past five years to support the youth in socio-economic affairs?
Let's take the African Youth Climate movement for instance. As the case is for other issues, youth participation in Africa has never been an organic process. It has to be induced. The same case occurred for the Youth climate change movement. It was only in 2006 that youth climate movements had begun. African youth began to organise themselves at national, regional and international climate process, lobbying and training young advocates at various levels. They have been supported and mentored by the international youth climate movement.
Over the past four years, the movement has implemented varied projects in various African countries varying from advocacy projects with university students, trainings, filmmaking to document youth best practices, a million youth actions, the making of solar powered products, involvement in policy making processes with the government and research among many others project. In Nigeria, The Youth Climate Movement has mobilised and empowered over 20,000 youths as economic and social actors since its inception in 2009 and plans to reach 5 million more youth in 2015 using social media and off-line activities. The movement has come a long way, but more still has to be done as funding and capacity issues persist.
What do global leaders need to take more cognisance of within platforms like the Post-2015 Developmental Agenda in order to support youth in socio-economic issues?
Our leaders need to understand that our world has changed radically. We have the highest generation of young people ever in human history. We are more connected and educated than ever before and we are willing to support development that meets our needs and the needs of other generations after us. We cannot do this if our planet is in peril, if unemployment is not tackled and young people don't have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services. We need leaders to understand that in order for us to lead after them, we need a healthy and safe environment. We need access to clean water and sanitation and urgent agreement to cut carbon emissions. We need our rights including our sexual and reproductive rights to be protected.
What are some actions that the youth can do in order to bring about change in their local communities?
Young people need to get informed about issues that affect them. They also need to know how to tackle them. Empowering young people is crucial. Half the world is under 25 years of age. Young women and men everywhere want decent jobs. They want a greater say in their own destiny and education is one of the most powerful, long-term, and sustainable solutions that the world has to help young people come out of poverty and improve their lives. Education can provide young people with the knowledge and skills they need to lead healthy and productive lives as well as promote economic and political stability.