By Lincoln Majogo
is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are
processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be
included from birth. A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its
lifeline; it is condemned to bleed to death”
Kofi Anan-Former secretary-general of the United Nations.
Environmental and climate justice play a vital role in community development and the sustenance of life. With a wide range of disastrous effects of climate change already being felt in Africa, youth involvement and participation in confronting the intricately complex predicament facing the continent has never been this important. The United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has noted that “climate change is happening now and to all of us.”But what is environmental and climate justice?
Prominent writer Daisy
Simmons defines “Climate justice” as a term, and more than that, a movement,
that acknowledges climate change can have differing social, economic, public
health, and other adverse impacts on underprivileged populations”
Similarly, in defining environmental justice
the UNDP opines that
“At its core, environmental
justice is about legal transformations aimed at curbing abuses of power that
result in the poor and vulnerable suffering disproportionate impacts of
pollution and lacking equal opportunity to access and benefit from natural
The worthwhile definitions reflect the core
issues that underpin the present climatic change movements. The twin concepts
of environmental and climatic change affirm the symbiotic relationship between
human rights and environmental and climatic justice. The growing global
momentum of youths’ involvement in Climate and environmental justice is a testament
that youths hold the key to achieving sustainable development which remains the
sole beacon of hope against severe poverty and its allies of human misfortune. The
essay seeks to unpack concrete ways in which youth involvement and
participation can be utilized to facilitate sustainable development and the
protection of environmental rights as provided for under section 73 of the
Constitution of Zimbabwe.
Undoubtedly, the ravaging covid-19
pandemic has worsened the existing social and economic inequalities all over
the world. It is for this reason that
youth involvement and participation, with all of its vibrancy and intellectual
arsenal, ought to be interrogated particularly on how improving such participation
is essential in public civic rights education and lobbying for transparency and
justice on climate justice. Besides the
fact that the UNDP estimates that youths (15-25) make up a fifth of the world
opines that ‘young people’s engagement
is important now, while they are
still ‘young’, but as the timeframe for the SDGs elapses, today’s young people
can develop into tomorrow’s
active and engaged adults who continue to work for the achievement of the goals.
In summation, youths cannot continue to be sidelined in matters that hold golden keys in determining the quality of their future. In an astoundingly moving speech by Laframboise, K. the status quo cannot continue “because this is an emergency, and we will not be bystanders. Some would say we are wasting lesson time. We say we are changing the world so that when we are older, we will be able to look our children in the eyes and say that we did everything we could back then. Because that is our moral duty, and we will never stop doing that . . . (omitted) . . . We will do everything in our power to stop this crisis from getting worse, even if that means skipping school or work . . . (omitted) . . . …The people have spoken, and we will continue to speak until our leaders listen and act. We are the change, and change is coming
The purpose of this essay is to offer ways in which youth involvement and participation in environmental and climatic justice can be facilitated in a manner that advances sustainable development. Thus, the overall objective is to proffer insights drawn from contemporary youthful experiences all over the world on mechanisms that can be adapted to facilitate the aforementioned involvement and propel Zimbabwe towards the realization of section 73 of the Constitution. To achieve this objective the essay will be structured as follows: first, it will unpack the relationship between education and youth involvement in climatic and environmental justice, second, it will proffer effortless ways to achieve such involvement after which it will do a comparative analysis of youthful experiences drawn from all over the world regarding the fight for environmental and climatic justice and lastly it will lay out recommendations to achieving these goals.
Nexus between education and increasing participation*
play a very critical role in their participation in environmental and climate
justice. But what is a youth? Or rather who are they? Whilst the definition of
youth is not generic, the African Youth Charter classifies youth as any person
between the age of 15 and 35. Similarly the Zimbabwean Constitution also
defines a youth as a person between 15 and 35 years of age. The definitions
shown above appositely confirms that youths form an integral part of the
population. Remarking on the importance of education and the youth, Irina
Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO reiterated that:
is the most powerful path to sustainability. Economic and technological
solutions, political regulations, or financial incentives are not enough. We
need a fundamental change in the way we think and act. We know this is a tall
order. This calls for revising curricula and learning objectives. This calls
for teaching and learning about climate change, disaster risk reduction, about
have been alienated, almost entirely secluded in key institutional discussions
addressing this issue. Anthony Oyakhilome Justice aptly stunningly captures the
horrible effects of this seclusion from an incident that occurred whilst she
was taking part in a cleanup initiative with YALI. She recounts as follows:
“While we were working, a young man
walked up to me and asked, “Why are you people doing this?” I told him that we
were trying to keep the environment cleaner and safer. “Are they paying you
guys to do this?”, he asked. “Plus, isn’t this supposed to be the job of the
The dialect resembles a quite self-detached view regarding the responsibility to demand environmental justice amongst the youths. Furlong & Cartmel attempts to dissect the reason for this harmful and toxic detachment by asserting that “On the one hand, a reason for the underrepresentation of young people in decision-making processes appears to be the lack of political awareness, knowledge or disinterest in politics by younger generations. The remarks by the UN, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that “climate change is happening now and to all of us,” calls for collective responsibility. Education is key in informing youths about the importance of undertaking the collective responsibility of demanding justice and lobbying for policies that mitigate harm to the climate.
The extent of environmental harm occurring in Zimbabwe requires educating the youth about the effects of environmental injustice. CSOs have had to step in and bail out the endangered communities in Zimbabwe whilst incapacitated youths have hopelessly looked on. For instance Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association(ZELA) successfully obtained an order from the High Court interdicting Imani mine from carrying out mining activities without an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate. Whilst noble, this development goes to show an acute shortage of educational knowledge as to the importance of an EIA certificate, especially amongst youths.
Patently, the cogent rationale of making an EIA certificate mandatory before undertaking mining activities is to assess the impact that activities will have on the health, environment, and well-being of communities. This importance has been remarked by the courts for instance the High Court in Debshan Pvt Ltd v The Provincial Mining Directorin declaring that a mining company could not start activities without an EIA citing environmental and climatic concerns. The decision mirrors a plethora of decisions from progressive jurisdictions that recognize the importance of the preservation of the environment. For instance, in a landmark Philippines’ case of Oposa v. Factoran a group of represented minors filed lawsuits on behalf of themselves and future generations in which they asserted that governments actions of granting special permits to tree cutters violated their rights to a balanced and healthy environment. The apex court in the land in its judicial wisdom quite rightly and commendably held that the petitioners indeed have rights to file claims on their behalf as well as on behalf of future generations. The essence of the decision was a subtle recognition of the legal rights of future generations in environmental and climate justice.
Communities in Zimbabwe continue to
face the deadly scourge of contaminated river bodies from poorly regulated
mining activities causing a spiraling environmental injustice. Whilst
commendable that Zimbabwe in 2020 ratified the Minamata Convention outlawing
the use of mercury in mining operations, the continued use of this substance together
with cyanide continues under the watch of responsible institutions poses a
fundamental and critical question. What more can be done? Certainly, such acts
call for a more robust and radical youth firing from all cylinders in the fight
of demanding environmental justice. As will be shown in the comparative section
of the essay, youths in the USA have successfully sought interdicts from the
court against mining companies to adopt safer mining methods that protect the
environment. This fleet can only be archived through a very rampant educational
and awareness campaign from the youths. Youths all over the world have taken
strides in lobbying against environmental injustice.
The comparative section will perfectly
exude the massive power that youths yield in fighting for climatic and
environmental justice, to penetrate the walls of injustice. To do so, the
following tried and tested mechanisms should be utilized to fully capacitate
the youths in this fight.
First, youth involvement and participation involve initiatives to lobby institutions to restructure educational curriculums to include Environmental and Mining law as compulsory courses to students. Curriculum restructure will equip student youths will the requisite knowledge to appreciate concerns regarding climate and environmental justice. Undoubtedly the exercise will enable youths to actively participate in crucial institutional activities such as amendment of environment-related laws, bills, and regulations. Curriculum restructures will therefore facilitate the smooth participation and involvement of youths from the grassroots level.
Advocating for Embracing of technology
As a corollary to the point raised above, increasing youth participation in climate and environmental justice can be sustained by strengthening youth advocacy in embracing various advanced technologies. An effortless way of increasing youth participation is through reserving youth quotas in national dialogue programs and capacitating them to lobby relevant ministries to adopt environmentally friendly policies. In any way, the continued dependency on fossil fuels in Zimbabwe is unsustainable. Youths bear the responsibility in advocating for the adoption of technology for instance in tobacco labour markets where most farmers still use fossil fuels to treat tobacco.The heavy reliance on diesel fuels further worsens the problem. Youths can actively and radically advocate for the adoption of environmentally friendly fuels such as bio-diesel, electric bicycles as alternative forms of transport. Such lobbying and involvement should be relatively easier as the covid-19 induced lockdown has given birth to faster and better ways to radically advocate for climate and environmental justice. The introduction of online applications such as ZOOM for instance provides a rather critical communication medium in which youths can participate in development programs. Moreover, various activities such as moot court competitions, debate competitions which are an academic way of stimulating discourse whilst driving across key issues should therefore be utilized with ease through such online platforms. In any event, technology advocacy can be tied to capacity building in research through the use of electronic journals to stimulate academic interest and knowledge dissemination around the issue.
Easing registration of Intellectual property rights
To add on, technology advocacy should be supplemented
by government-assisted protection of intellectual property rights. The dearth
of zeal amongst youths in developing technologies essential in achieving
climatic and environmental justice can also be attributed to barriers of entry
such as the exorbitant costs of registering intellectual property rights after inventions.
Zimbabwe has already felt the fiery effects of climate change. The devastating
effects of Cyclone Idai remain sad memories that reflect the urgency with which
climate change should be tackled. The scourges of droughts in northern Africa, heatwaves,
and locust plague ravaging the African continent are just a starter to the main
course meal of destruction. Government and private sector can minimize the risk
of life loss caused by these disasters by stimulating youth-driven innovation
to assist in the replacement of fossil fuels for example.
Youths possess the intellectual capacity to
create innovative systems such as advanced early warning systems and related
technology that are vital in this fight. Yet, such innovations require protection
in the form of intellectual property registration which is pricey. There is an
undeniable need for stakeholders to incentivize this innovation through the
provision of financial and technical assistance in the registration of
Intellectual property rights in developed technologies.
Another way of facilitating youth participating in climate and environmental justice is through facilitating ease of registration processes for related trusts, CSOs that can effectively lobby critical players to respect environmental laws in Zimbabwe. As already stated, Zimbabwe’s climate and environmental justice are in limping. Government should prioritize incentivizing the registration of youth-related CSOs by reducing the registration costs of trusts and organizations.
The continued use of fossil fuels cannot be sustained since clean energy is readily available for use. Since youths are the leaders of tomorrow, they carry an important responsibility to ensure a clean future. This is confirmed by an Indian landmark case in Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v Union of India where the courts recommended the advocacy of independent tribunals and commissions to expedite environmental related litigation.
The ticking bomb: lessons from youths across
Youth experiences in the charge of climatic
and environmental justice have been commendable. As already stated in the case
of Oposa v. Factor
young petitioners led to a landmark decision that realized the legal rights of
future generations in climatic justice. Youths in Ghana have similarly launched
a bamboo bicycle project which is a form of a non-polluting form of alternative
transport that has successfully garnered a perfect balance between solving the
transportation crisis whilst preserving the environment. In Ethiopia, a billion
tree campaigns have successfully seen the plantations of more trees to solve the
aforestation problems. In Barbados, secondary students of Lester Vaughan
Secondary schools have with great success raised awareness amongst youth over
the use of bio-diesel as a friendlier alternative fuel for diesel cars. More
excitingly the UKYCC has successfully been taking strides in pressuring the UK
government to invest in green jobs. These experiences mirror a minor fraction
of a vast pool of inspiring youth-led initiatives in the fight for climatic and
environmental justice. Surely, youths hold the key to justice.
Conclusion and Recommendations
In conclusion, climatic and environmental
justice calls for a collective responsibility amongst the youths to be actively
involved in the advocacy of environmentally friendly habits and methods of
mining. From the analysis proffered above, youth involvement and participation
in environmental and climatic justice is not only vital to the protection of
the environment but also for the sustenance of life itself. In order to achieve
the suggestions provided in this essay, the following recommendations whilst
not exhaustive are essential. They are small steps to a big achievement.
As stated by a famous African
proverb from an unknown author “Many small people, who in many
small places do many small things, can alter the face of the world.”
In conclusion, it is therefore recommended
- Stakeholders should prioritize awareness-raising, especially amongst the
youths to capacitate them to understand the intricacies of environmental and
- Stakeholders should advocate for curriculum review to make the environment
and climate change-related courses mandatory in schools to equip youths with an
appreciation of the urgent need to demand justice.
- Youths should actively advocate for environmentally friendly technology.
- Stakeholders should incentivize the development of technologies by
assisting youths with registering intellectual property rights.
- Stakeholders should push for ease of registration of environmental
organizations by reducing registration fees.
- Youths should also advocate for the establishment of independent
environmental tribunals and courts to speed up environmental and
 Kofi Annan,
former Secretary-General of the United Nations, statement to the opening of the
Word Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth, Lisbon, 8 August 1998.
Available at https://www.un.org/press/en/1998/19980810.sgsm6670.html.
 Daisy Simmons 29 July
2020, Whist is Climate Change,
 UNDP , June 2014,
Environmental and Comparative Experience in Legal Empowerment.
Walker, D., Pereznieto, P., Bergh, G. and Smith, K.
(2015) ‘Partners for change : Young people and governance in a post – 2015
world’, (September 2014)
Laframboise, K. We Will Not Be Bystanders: Greta
Thunberg Tells Hundreds of Thousands at Montreal Climate March. Global News,
27 September 2019. Available online: https://globalnews.ca/news/5957337/ montreal-climate-change-march-sept-27/ (accessed on 28 October 2019).
 UNESCO. Opening Speech
addressed by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of the
Educating for a sustainable future, Rio+20 side-event; RioCentro, Rio de
Janeiro, Brazil, 21 June 2012 Publ: 2012; 5 p.; DG/2012/099.
Oyakhilome Justice 31 December 2020 Increasing Youth Participation in
Climate Action: https://www.un.org/en/increasing-youth-participation-climate-action
 Furlong, A. and Cartmel, F. (2007) ‘Young people and social change: new
perspectives’, p. 185. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-03266-5.
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