The global environmental movement desperately needs young, energetic voices to fight to push governments and corporations into action. These are the people whose future is at stake.
There are large swathes of South Africa where the support structures to find and nurture these voices are missing. The voices therefore stay muted.
The Environmental Sustainability Programme aims to change this by creating formal structures for informed voices to challenge the lack of activity on environmental issues. It is a partnership between the South African Institute of International Affairs (Saiia) and Sasol.
What sets it apart is the penetration into communities and its ability to connect voices with experts who can help guide them.
High school students from Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape come together to debate and negotiate solutions to environmental challenges in their areas, and the wider community. In each case research papers are written in teams of three, on at least two topics related to environmental sustainability.
Last year this saw submissions on topics ranging from biodiversity to climate change and the oceans.
Rather than being merely theoretical, the programme requires that the teams interview a local entity to create a case study and recommendations on how young people can address the problems they identified.
They then look at international case studies, with the help of experts from the institute. The best team in each province goes to the institute’s national young leadership conference.
The finalists get expert feedback on their work – from groups such as the United Nations Development Programme. This continues beyond their year as finalists, with an alumni network ensuring the students continue to work around sustainable development.
Last year 115 principals and educators from 91 schools helped facilitate the programme before it got to the national stage.
It is through organised platforms such as this that young people will have a say in what sort of world they inherit.