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Millen-Zs Take the Mic to Talk About the Future of This Planet

While the global north causes 92% of carbon emissions, the real impact of climate change will be felt in the global south. The ones who will feel it most will be our young people. Sanlam Investments’ most recent Critical Conversations entitled ‘Climate for Social’s Sake’ included a panel of millennials and Gen-Zs whose focus was on finding future-fit solutions to act on now.

This hard-hitting, all-women panel included:

  • Akhona Xotyeni, Youth Advocate at the Danish Royal Embassy
  • Ayakha Melithafa, Climate Justice Activist and the youngest commissioner on the Presidential Climate Commission
  • Luleka Dlamini, PhD Candidate
  • Morategi Kale, PhD Researcher in Human Geography
  • Lerato Mbele, Business Presenter and Host

For each panellist, protecting the planet hit very close to home. Melithafa’s mom is a small-scale farmer who was devastatingly impacted by the ‘Day Zero’ drought in 2017. Xotyeni was raised by her granny in the Eastern Cape, whose subsistence garden was similarly destroyed by the drought. For Kale, it was realising that inequality isn’t inevitable; it is possible to change the political systems we’re living under. And for Dlamini, it was seeing the shortened stems of the sugarcane in KwaZulu-Natal, that her hometown is so dependent on. So, each person came to climate activism through their lived experience.

Here are some other key points from the Critical Conversations event:

Climate change holds a deep meaning for young people: What came across strongly is that climate change feels personal for most millennials and Gen Zs. In fact, an Ernst and Young study found that 37% of young people engage with climate issues daily and 80% of that 37% feel depressed from eco-anxiety. More countries must be more accountable. Young people want concrete action, not just pledges. They want hard conversations around climate reparations.

According to the Centre for Environmental Rights, by 2040, it’s predicted that residents of Khayelitsha will need to queue at standpoints for water. In Limpopo, it’ll be too hot to work outdoors by 2060. South Africa is getting hotter and drier. Policy- and decisionmakers need to get closer to communities to understand how our most vulnerable are already being impacted.

It’s getting hotter by the day: The International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2021 report shows temperatures in southern Africa are expected to double, compared to what will happen in the global north. A poll run as part of the Critical Conversations event found that 80% of attendees believe children in Africa already suffer more from climate events than children on other continents. Youth unemployment is a massive issue as is an unequal, sometimes inaccessible, education system that doesn’t adequately teach children about climate action.

Renewables for a better future: South Africa is uniquely positioned to be a world leader in renewables. Kale said, “In 2020, there was R300 billion in total investments in renewables; double what’s invested in fossils and nuclear combined.”

All the panellists agreed that the move to renewables needs to be handled carefully. Kale pointed out that the coal industry employs over 82,000 people in Mpumalanga alone. The energy transition will take place over the next 20 years and will cost around R6 billion. She further indicated that we need to ask ourselves these questions: “How many young people will be displaced? How do we reskill and reintegrate individuals into the economy?”

Change is needed: The consensus from the panellists was that our current capitalist systems are not serving society. We need to start imagining what a post-capitalist era could look like that prioritises human needs and wellness. The current obsession with consumption isn’t compatible with getting to 1.5 degrees Celsius and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

It’s time for action: We need ways to mobilise people and link them up. At a practical level, it’s about seeking ways to invest in infrastructure and urban planning. We need to bridge the gap between the broader idea of green climate funds and immediate ground action. Funds like the Sanlam Sustainable Infrastructure Fund can play a pivotal role in injecting money into the country’s key construction pipeline projects.

More young people at the table: While the focus has been on tech solutions, the lens needs to broaden to policymaking. We need to include young people, who are traditionally marginalised in these spaces. Currently, not many historically disadvantaged people are ‘in the room’ – nor do they have the resources and respect to participate fully. The success of the Not Too Young To Run Bill in Nigeria is proof there needs to be a push against the pervasive global elderly-led governance. That applies to corporates as well.

Funding social action: Impact investing does just that and is especially important to millennials and Gen Zs because it’s a way for people to generate robust returns while contributing to real social returns. For example, Sanlam’s Legacy Range of Funds prioritises job creation and preservation. Its SME Debt Fund serves a similar purpose in the small business sector. Its Climate Fund contributes to reaching net-zero emissions goals.

Sanlam Investments’ Head of Distribution, Jason Liddle, says the views shared in the conversations were very insightful. “SI’s purpose is to become Africa’s preeminent sustainable investment house. We are doing this precisely for the reasons cited at the event. For the world future generations will inherit. From our side, we are doing all we can to exercise our proxy voting rights and shareholder engagements to influence large corporates. We have also launched products and funds to drive sustainable investing on the continent. A sustainable future is what drives us as a business.”

Watch the full Critical Conversations recording. The next edition of Critical Conversation will be on 16 May 2022, focusing on public-private partnerships.

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