Nigeria’s youth: an asset or a consumer time bomb?

 

In the nineties and noughties, advocates of climate justice were often dismissed as civil-society quacks whose views were easily disregarded as impossible to implement. Fast forward to 2020. Climate justice is now a cornerstone of climate policy. The phrase ‘just transition’ underpins the European Green Deal’s plan to achieve a climate-neutral economy by 2050. What has changed?

Beyond the political headaches of dividing carbon budgets between countries, the problem of climate-change inequality is increasingly seen as a problem of intergenerational inequity. And from this angle, it resonates with all youth everywhere. Put simply: most adults today, given the choice, still value more highly the immediate benefit of, say, an air conditioned, uncrowded car ride over a hot bus, train or walk, or eating favourite vegetables all year around no matter their origin, or paying relatively less for fossil-fuelled electricity, than they value the future wellbeing of their children and grandchildren. With less than 10 years in which to turn around the most damaging climate change impacts, such attitudes have passed their use-by date for millions of youth who accuse today’s leaders of stealing their futures.

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Consider Nigeria, Africa’s largest country and richest economy. Despite being flush with gas and oil resources, Nigeria suffers from political short-termism, questionable governance and is a lower-income country. Nigeria’s population of 208 million is projected to double by 2050, and its capital, Lagos, will swell to an unbelievable 100 million by 2100. Today, more than 60 % of Nigerians are under the age of 25, and a staggering 43 % are below 14. This massive youth population is a huge potential asset – providing education and training transmits the skills they need to become climate-conscious income generators in a fast-growing and modernising economy. Without climate change and new skills being embedded in their education, this asset is instead a ticking consumer time bomb.

At the political level, a long-awaited climate change bill has languished for more than two years. International partnerships such as the UN Economic Commission for Africa run programmes training university graduates, including women, to become influential policy advocates. But across the board, insufficient education funding leaves climate change training to civil society.

Youth organisations such as the International Climate Change Development Initiative Africa (ICCDIA), are taking the lead at grass-roots levels, for example, developing the Teach Recycling Early Manual about waste management, one of Nigeria’s most pressing urban problems. More funding from domestic and international sources could help to scale up practical training across Nigeria, building demand for deeper changes at the national policy level as teens become adults. As ICCDIA says, ‘teens are the future of our world and we depend on them to survive’.