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Our Burning Planet: Follow the lead of young people


Zimkhitha Sulelo is chairperson of the City of Cape Town’s Energy and Climate Change Portfolio Committee.

While politicians talk and make adjustments, young people from all over the world are demanding action on the climate crisis now before it’s too late.

According to an Afrobarometer survey, 59% of South Africans do not know what climate change is and only 17% are climate change literate. No matter where you stand on the climate change debate, the truth is many people are already experiencing the effects of rising temperatures. Several municipalities in the Eastern Cape have been without water for months. When the city of Cape Town was facing Day Zero it was the citizens’ behavioural change that helped to turn things around. The question, then, is: how can we as government at all levels influence behavioural change on a wider scale?

If you follow global trends, the tell-tale signs indicate it is the young people that are taking charge of climate change action. Just last month there was a global strike from 20-27 September inspired by 16-year-old Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg.

In Cape Town, I was part of a large group of people who marched to Parliament on 20 September, even though there was no one to meet us at the gate to receive our memorandum. Contained in the memorandum was a plea to both provincial and national government to declare a national climate emergency, stop issuing new licences to coal-fired power stations and fossil-fuel mining operations and commit to 100% renewable energy by 2030.

And moving on, October is a very busy month in the climate change space with many symbolic events happening in the City of Cape Town and globally. October is Transport Month as transport is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions. Transportation makes up about 30% of Cape Town’s carbon footprint. While we appreciate the need for transport to expand to accommodate the growing population, at the same time it can’t be business as usual.

The C40 World Mayors’ Summit in Copenhagen will run from 9-12 October and it is reported that 70% of the cities that signed the Paris Agreement are already experiencing the effects of climate change. While politicians talk and make adjustments, young children from all over the world are demanding action now before it’s too late.

If it’s the young people who are taking the lead, is it not about time that schools in South Africa start teaching Climate Change as a subject way before Mandarin and Kiswahili? DM


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