Highlighting the southern African perspective at Youth4Climate and COP26

26 Nov 2021
26 Nov 2021

September 2021 saw the inaugural Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition event, hosted by the Italian government in Milan, highlighting the ideas and voices of young climate leaders around the world. Over 300 young people from 186 countries gathered to discuss four major themes around climate change; driving ambition, sustainable recovery, non-state actor engagement and climate-conscious societies. The aim of the event was to allow young climate leaders to develop and engage with a collective declaration which was presented to ministers attending pre-COP26. This document also provided a foundation for discussion at COP26 and highlighted the delegates ambitions for urgent climate action and social justice.

This is the first time youth were given an adequate platform to set the climate agenda at an international level and discuss what’s important to the younger generation. While the summit is an important step in the right direction there were clear limits to the accessibility of this platform to many African communities, potentially excluding some of the most important perspectives and voices from the most at risk countries. African Climate & Development Initiative MPhil student, Koaile Monaheng (representing the Kingdom of Lesotho), was selected to attend the first ever Youth4Climate summit and provided a valuable southern African perspective.

“[Youth4Climate] was an amazing opportunity and I felt honoured to be an African agent highlighting the African climate change experience at the multilateral stage. Africa is so often excluded or disregarded in the global context so it felt so important to drive home the message that there is so much capacity on an African level” says Koaile Monaheng, further explaining that, “as the Youth4Climate Africa group, we were united through discussions and consultations with the aim of raising the profile of African experiences at COP. We quickly recognised the downfall of operating in silos in our different working groups and pivoted to a common voice, leveraging on our shared lived experiences, anchored in the notion that the climate change narrative is not neutral.”

The importance of young voices in climate talks

As future leaders, young climate leaders provide a valuable perspective on what future generations see as important to prioritise in the climate discussion. Delegates at the Youth4Climate summit highlighted the need to prioritise environmental justice and focused on aspects of highlighting and mitigating climate related loss and damage (especially in the global south) which historically has been poorly engaged with at previous COP events.

The Youth4Climate delegation focused on four main themes through several working groups:

  1. Youth driving ambition - Finding ways to increase youth participation at the local, national and global scales
  2. Sustainable recovery - How can we build back from COVID-19 in a way that is sustainable and respectful of our planet’s needs? This theme focused on global energy transition and collaborative research and tech development.
  3. Non-state actors’ engagement – Asking leaders to improve infrastructure and access to financial mechanisms in developing countries to facilitate the engagement of entrepreneurs, artists, farmers and athletes from underrepresented communities in the push towards sustainability.
  4. Climate-conscious society - How can we improve awareness of the climate crisis and give citizens of the world the tools they need to take action?

“Youth participation is non-negotiable and seeing so many young people contributing to this discussion created a space of hope” says Koaile Monaheng, “It is really important to show that the climate change discussion is open to everyone and everyone needs to contribute. This summit really emphasised the transdisciplinary approach.”

A foundation for COP26

The focus of the Youth4Climate submit was to produce a manifesto to present to world leaders at COP26 in Glasgow. It highlighted the key themes of the summit and also provided a unique perspective from young climate leaders.

Koaile added “The Youth4Climate Africa Group produced an important document on African Youth Voices at Youth4Climate, giving prominence to the inclusion of marginalized groups in global climate change debates, decision making and governance. Therefore, placing emphasis on effective inclusion and participation to ensure real transformation rather than tokenistic inclusion of Africans.”

Koaile further went on to state, “After following COP26 the last two weeks and processing the promises made, I think we really need to focus on what happens after [COP26]. The follow up or implementation phase, especially in Africa, is key. We need real, tangible commitments.”


Click here to read the full Youth4Climate Manifesto

Read the key messages from the Youth4Climate summit

Watch the event highlights here


Koaile Monaheng, 28, is a Masters candidate from the Kingdom of Lesotho pursuing a degree in Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Cape Town (UCT) through the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI). He is a director of solar company Khantsa Energy​ and a 2020 Mandela-Rhodes Foundation scholar as well as a former research analyst intern at JustShare SA. At postgraduate level he ventured into Global Climate Change Governance which became the point of departure into greater scientific exposure through interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary training in Climate Change and Sustainable Development, through ACDI. He regarded this placement ideal to go beyond the global effort of climate change negotiations and instead focus more on the scientific basis of the climate crisis here at home in Africa, recognising the homegrown transdisciplinary effort required for our very survival.