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Youth of African diaspora consider climate solutions at US summit

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US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during the African and Diaspora Young Leaders Forum at the National Museum of African American History and Culture during the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC on December 13, 2022./AFP
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Dec 14, 2022 - 10:13 AM

WASHINGTON — A group of young Black Americans and their peers from African countries on Tuesday highlighted their common anxieties over climate change, shared as members of the global African diaspora.

They were gathered at the African and Diaspora Young Leaders Forum in Washington, held on the sidelines of the Biden administration’s US-Africa Leaders Summit, in which some 50 leaders from the continent are participating this week.

Michael Regan, the first Black American head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, called on the people in attendance to throw themselves into humanity’s fight against a warming world.

“Young people have always been at the forefront of movements to change, and the environmental movement is absolutely no exception,” he said.

“Your generation is leading the charge and fighting to secure a healthier, more just tomorrow.”

For activist Wafa May Elamin, society must “allow young people to really take charge” to tackle the “massive” climate challenges ahead.

Elamin, a 30-year-old Sudanese-American, said she had been waiting for such an event for “a really long time” — the most recent iteration of this summit was organized eight years ago, during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Other attendees of Tuesday’s meeting, which was organized by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, included Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black, South Asian and female US vice president, and Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo.

‘Guardians of our planet’ 

Speaking at the convention, actress and activist Sabrina Elba — a United Nations goodwill ambassador for the International Fund for Agricultural Development — said the environmental conservation of the immense African continent is especially close to the hearts of people whose ancestors came from Africa.

Elba recalled how her mother, who immigrated from Somalia to Canada, instilled in her a remembrance of their ancestral home: “As early as I can remember, she would say ‘give back, give back, give back, give back to the continent, so we can go back.'”

It was this relationship to Africa that inspired Elba — whose husband, the British actor Idris Elba, also spoke Tuesday — to get involved with the UN.

“It only took one visit back home to see a drought or famine or people really being affected by an issue that they have very little output towards,” she said.

For her, the priority is to support the people living in areas in need of preservation.

“These people are the custodians of our planet,” she said.

‘Not a monolith’ 

But according to Elamin, funding for the fight against climate change is not distributed fairly.

Regan acknowledged the unequal realities of working for a better planet.

“Countries should be required, in some way, shape or fashion, to ensure certain resources absolutely reach those who have been disproportionately impacted,” the EPA director said.

Jamaji Nwanaji-Enwerem, a doctor and assistant public health professor of environmental health at Emory University in Atlanta, was among those in attendance.

“African is not a monolith,” the 32-year-old said.

“So being able to just hear the stories and hear about other people’s experiences goes a long way in helping to develop solutions that are meaningful for all of us,” she explained.

As the attendees discussed such possible solutions, Regan announced the United States would allocate $4 million for Peace Corps volunteers to work on projects combatting climate change in 24 Sub-Saharan African countries.

“Are we doing enough? No. Should we be doing more? Yes, but in a democracy, it’s slow,” he said.

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