Under the #Stocktake4ClimateEmergency initiative, 26 cities and regions staged their local events that officially contributed to the first Global Stocktake. Three of these were led by youth from Africa in Accra, Ghana; Nairobi, Kenya and Kampala, Uganda. Leading the charge behind Kampala’s event is Walter Osigai Etipesit, a youth climate advocate who firmly believes in its generation’s power. “We are not tomorrow’s leaders. We are today’s leaders,” he declares.
Walter Osigai Etipesit, a passionate young climate advocate from Uganda, stumbled upon ICLEI’s call for hosting a local stocktake with a focus on youth. Wanting to seize an opportunity that he felt was often reserved for older people, Walter decided to host a local event in Kampala to gather young minds and discuss their climate ambitions.
To his disbelief, Walter received the notification of approval. He organized Kampala’s local stocktake on behalf of Marafiki United Green Youths Initiative, his personal crusade dedicated to mobilizing youth across Uganda for environmental care through climate education and tangible actions like recycling and waste management. Support also poured in from the Green Africa Youth Organization, Karamoja Youth Go Green, and Kampala’s Landscape Department.
The Local Governments and Municipal Authority Constituency (LGMA) to the UNFCCC, with ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability serving as the focal point, has been at the forefront of advocating to include local inputs into the Global Stocktake. Under the #Stocktake4ClimateEmergency initiative, 26 cities and regions organized local events featuring significant youth participation through a partnership with YOUNGO, the youth and children’s constituency of the UNFCCC.
This collaboration paved the way for three youth-led local stocktakes in Accra, Nairobi, and Kampala. What did the youth convey? During the COP28 session: “The Climate Catalysts: Youth and Local Leaders Spearheading Action in the Climate Emergency,” organized by ICLEI and YOUNGO, key outcomes were reported: Amplifying the youth’s demands for inclusive planning, adaptive governance structures, capacity building and upscaling youth to green economies jobs, and increased access to financing for youth-led climate initiatives.
Zoom into Kampala’s stocktake
Kampala’s youth stocktake saw over 100 participants, with 75% of them being young people from climate NGOs across the country. Walter ensured inclusivity by inviting young with disabilities and indigenous communities in northern and western Uganda. The attendees also included representatives of Uganda’s government, cities, academia, and civil society.
Held at the Grand Hotel Kampala on 9 November, the discussion on the current situation in Uganda centered around justice issues, including high levels of social inequalities, where poverty and gender intersect unequal education opportunities. Climate change brings flooding, drought, and famine, which increases these inequalities and the need for resilience building in cities.
Walter highlights the main takeaways from this local stocktake, “We call decision-makers for an inclusive planning process, where vulnerable groups, especially indigenous people, must be included. We also need adaptive governance structures that work with a bottom-up approach, where national leaders need to have the political will toward a serious implementation of the Nationally Determined Contributions to transform Uganda into a low-carbon economy. This can not be achieved overlooking local leaders and the diverse communities.”
Looking ahead, Uganda’s youth came up with suggestions like implementing strict environmental laws such as banning polythene bags and policies about plastic management, which will reduce air, soil, and water pollution. They also suggest setting up local climate hubs to build a network for capacity learning and green skilling programs to scale up youth into the green economy.
Uganda’s youth also demand climate education at schools, and there is an imperative need to include vulnerable communities, especially indigenous communities, in local climate plans. Walter adds: “We have great ideas, but we need resources. Leaders always say that young people are agents of change. How can we lead the charge if they don’t unlock the finance for it?” And he concludes, “Organizing this local stocktake has been a powerful initiative, uniting the voices of youth as a meaningful contribution to the global dialogue. It’s our chance to proclaim to the world that the youth are not just present; we are here to make an impact.”
As shown by Walter’s leadership in Kampala, the local stocktakes provided an opportunity to platform youth voices and integrate their ideas into climate policy. Local governments, in collaboration with youth organizations, should continue with annual “Town Hall COPs” to ensure climate policies are advancing the community to a resilient future.
Meet Walter Osigai Etipesit
“I’m not a climate activist,” he states with conviction. “Rather,” – he says, “I’m a youth climate advocate. I’m a strong believer in the power of dialogue. Dialoguing with my peers, regional and national political leaders, and, why not? With world leaders too.”
As a COP28 Delegate, Walter has the opportunity to do precisely that: to dialogue with leaders from all over the world. To achieve this task, he has plenty of experience on his shoulders. Apart from being co-founder and Director of Marafiki United Green Youths Initiative, he is also a Youth Sounding Board Member for the European Union in Uganda, a Climate Champion at the Commonwealth Youth Council, an alumnus of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) – a climate program launched by US Vice President Kamala Harris, and a member of YOUNGO.
The list of labels could go on and on. How did a 24-year-old from the Bukedea district in Uganda become a world-renowned youth climate advocate?
Behind all those achievements, he is a “storyteller,” as he describes himself, whose own life narrates the urgent need for climate action. He was ten years old when his uncle died of lung cancer. “He was employed in an area with numerous unregulated factories, leading to high air and water pollution levels, resulting in widespread contamination. Following this, my father contracted an infection linked to contaminated water, and he required surgery. Fortunately, he survived.”
Just around that time he first learned about the concept of “climate change” in 2009 when watching the news about COP15 held in Denmark. He connected the dots and understood why it had not been raining in his village for a long time and why fresh food in the fields was scarce. “Climate change is very physical. As a child, I could actually experience what was happening. So, I had two choices: to do nothing or to do something. That’s when I became a climate advocate,” he says.
At school, he started a “green club” for nature conservation. As more students were on board, they could plant trees in their community while spreading a strong message to other young people who replicated the initiative in his town, from primary schools to the university level. From local to national, joining forces with other youth groups advocating climate action. “I’m passionate about climate change because I’m not only a victim but a change maker in my community”, Walter reflects.