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Chibeze Ezekiel: Inspiring a new generation of climate champions

February 19, 2021
topic:Climate action
tags:#Ghana, #environmental activism, #conservation, #renewable energy, #Chibeze Ezekiel
by:Bob Koigi
Chibeze Ezekiel is an environmental activist from Ghana whose campaigns have involved standing up to the government in opposing construction of a coal power plant and coal import port that the government eventually cancelled due to sustained pressure.

Ezikiel’s activism had won him the 2020 Goldman Environmental Prize - the Nobel Prize for the environment.

In this interview with FairPlanet, Ezekiel speaks about his new approach to protecting the environment, which involves creating a youth movement, his campaign to stop the construction of a coal power plant and why he believes renewable resources are the panacea for energy poverty.

FairPlanet: Your years of activism against a proposed coal power plant and a coal import port in Ghana led to the government stopping the project. What would you attribute that success to and how has it emboldened your environment campaigns? 

Chibeze Ezekiel: That success came to be due to teamwork and the tremendous support from our various partners. Standing on the success chalked, we have consistently been promoting renewable energy since 2016 after [the] government announced plans to shut down the coal plant. 

Through 350 G-ROC, an environmental conservation organisation, we have been to communities to capture stories of citizens already using renewables and in 2019, we engaged 5 local government structures, known as District Assemblies in Ghana, to mainstream renewables into their respective Medium Term Development Plan (MTDP) as a pilot exercise. 

Again, through Strategic Youth Network for Development, SYND, we formed the Youth in Renewable Energy Movement campaign in 2020 to whip up public awareness levels as our contribution to the implementation of the Renewable Energy Master Plan (REMP).

How effective would you say your campaigns have been in spreading awareness on environmental conservation and climate change? Are you seeing any changes among the government, institutions and the general population?

Our campaigns have been effective especially on climate change, which has led to our recognition and active participation in national climate change discourse, for example on [the] National Adaptation Plan (NAP) development and the Nationally Determined Contributions (Gh-NDCs) review processes. 

You are an avid clean energy advocate. How sustainable are renewable energy sources in addressing energy poverty and deficit in Africa?

The provisions in the Africa Agenda 2063, specifically on Goal 7, suggest that Africa believes in renewable energy development, which gives us the basis to run our advocacy campaign. Africa is blessed with vast renewable energy resources, such as solar, thus it makes economic sense to maximise this resource.

You founded Strategic Youth Network for Development (SYND) to tap into the power of Ghana’s youth in making environmental and social change. Tell us a bit about the activities you have so far spearheaded and to what extent the organisation has achieved its mission.

SYND seeks to promote youth inclusion in the governance of our Natural Resources and Environmental (NRE) sector. We successfully launched the Youth in Renewable Energy Movement campaign in 2020 to create public awareness and attract interest in renewables. 

Through the support of the French Embassy in Ghana, we have built the capacity of our members on the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) and the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to participate meaningfully in the national discourse. 

We also published some advocacy materials to help in educating young people and society on climate related issues. 

We have also initiated the Children for Climate Action (C4C) programme where we educate school pupils on climate change with the aim of building them up as climate champions at home, community, schools and among their peers.

We are currently in the process of developing a Youth Strategy for Climate Action in Ghana to serve as a framework to determine how young people can be engaged at all levels with respect to climate change decision-making processes.

It is often said that environment and climate change debates should involve the youth, yet most of them don’t have much interest in the subject. What is the role of young people in this agenda and what should be done to spark interest among young people?

The youth interest in climate change debate is growing largely due to youth-led global campaigns such as Fridays for Future, engineered by Greta Thunberg. 

However, I do admit that there is the need for more momentum or enthusiasm among the African youth. There is more work that needs to be done to incentivise them to be actively involved. Simple measures such as awarding them with certificates of recognition, featuring them on relevant TV and radio programmes, among other initiatives, can go a long way in getting them to take active roles and own this crucial duty.

What is the toughest thing about being an environmental activist? 

It is about persuading people to change from a habit they have acquired over the years or stop pursuing ‘business as usual’ approach, especially when those who have been practicing such behaviours have benefitted from them at the detriment of the planet. 

In your opinion, are governments and the global community doing enough to address the environmental and climate crises? What would you want to be done differently? 

Admittedly, some efforts are being made to address the environmental and climate crises, such as development of policies, programmes and relevant legislations. 

However, these efforts are meaningless if governments are unwilling to provide the needed investment as well as enforce even more laws. There should be more partnerships through the cross-pollination of ideas and best practices, including transfer of appropriate technology. 

Communities that are required to stop or change from activities that affect the environment should be provided with better and sustainable sources of livelihood.

As an environment champion, what is your message to the global community on the environmental situation at the moment? 

Members of the global community must show commitment by performing their roles based on their expected tasks towards ensuring environmental sustainability.

You were recognised as the 2020 Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient for Africa. What does this win mean for you and your activism? 

For me it means there’s reward for pursuing the collective good of society. In terms of activism, it has further triggered a stronger desire to increase the rate and passion of raising younger climate champions to participate and influence climate decision making processes at all levels.

What future plans do you have? 

My first introduction to climate change was in 2009 through a World Bank Institute and British Council programme dubbed Youth Master Trainers on Climate Change.  I therefore seek for partners or supporters to replicate and sustain such programmes, primarily to build the capacity of young people as climate champions.

Image by 350 .org

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
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Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg attends a climate strike arrangd by the orgatisation "Fridays For Future" outside the Swedish parliament Riksdagen in Stockholm, December 20, 2019.
© PONTUS LUNDAHL / Contributor
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A young protester holds a placard and shouts slogans during a demonstration by hundreds of school children outside the South African Parliament calling for action on climate change in South Africa, on 19 June, 2019, in Cape Town.
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