As Global Power Shift kicks off today, I couldn’t imagine a suitable and historic day like this to share my story of involvement in the climate movement.

From June 14th to 19th 2009, I attended a climate leadership workshop in Johannesburg along with forty young people from Central, Eastern and Southern Africa. When I flew there, I was (and am still) a freelance journalist working for Insight on Conflict. See, I am from Burundi and in my country we experienced a terrible civil war for twelve years. Through journalism I hoped I could help raise voices of local and unknown peacebuilders who are doing amazing work to get communities reconciled. What I didn’t know when I got off the plane that day, was that my life was about to totally transform. I was about to become a committed climate activist.  

40 young people and activists from Central, Eastern and Southern Africa attended the workshop 40 young people from Central, Eastern and Southern Africa attended the workshop

During the climate leadership workshop we were taught the basic concepts of climate change. We were also taught about community mobilization and the organization of local actions. The goal was to get prepared for October 24th; the first Global Day of Climate Action organized six weeks before the much anticipated COP 15 in Copenhagen. The hope was that if we could show the decision makers all the people across the world calling for action on climate change, they’d do it. 

The five-day workshop was very rich in terms of content and participation. I got to understand the real causes of climate chaos, where we have come from and where we are also. But most important, what can be done at different levels can be done to get back to the safe level of 350 ppm into the atmosphere. The energy and commitment from participants was amazingly inspiring, with everyone sharing stories, experiences and hope for the future. I returned to my country with so much energy, ready to organize and three months later I formally joined the Africa staff as assistant coordinator for Francophone Africa. In collaboration with Phil, Samantha and Adam, we coached the previously trained youth but also a growing number of organizers to better prepare for the October 24 event. Meanwhile, I got connected to a local network of activists and organizations in Bujumbura for this purpose. At the end, the event was a great success – of course with different proportions in different places – but success was beyond our imagination. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets and in the symbolic places with the same message: calling on world leaders to agree on a climate accord that reflects the needs of science and justice. 

With Samantha Bailey, one of the facilitators of the workshop

With Samantha Bailey, one of the facilitators of the workshop

 Unfortunately, despite the strong mobilization, this agreement in Copenhagen was not signed and was abated in the terrible cold of December 2009 in Copenhagen. But since then, has continued to expand its presence on the continent, recruiting a large number of organizers and partners in almost every country, organizing workshops to strengthen capacity in some key countries, establishing a network of trainers and local groups, and organizing annual days of action, not to mention an online presence in both local and international media.

Four years later, as Global Power Shift – a historic climate event – starts, it is time to look back and assess where the climate movement on the continent is, what are its strengths, its weaknesses, its struggles, its victories and failures. This assessment work was recently conducted by national and regional teams participating in GPS. Indeed, the African climate movement is still trying to define its goals, clarifying strategies and plan major actions able to confront powerfully the climate chaos.

Indeed, challenges remain immense and Africa. From the increased number of coal plants to limited progress in renewable, the devastating extreme weather events each year and the lack of funding for innovative projects, African activists are facing huge challenges. But there are also reasons to hope. Today, knowledge about climate change is gradually increasing; the number of activists and organizations working on climate change is also growing. The media talk about climate issues, the public opinion becomes aware, and minds start to open.  Decision-makers realize that sustainable development is impossible as long as we do not solve the problem of climate change, resilience programs are on their way and companies operating in the renewable energy sector are opening their doors in the cities, even the most remote ones. All of these constitute encouraging signs!

With the Istanbul conference, a new era in global climate activism begins. An era of growth for some or maturity for others. An era of strategic and ambitious actions, in brief an era of powerful shift. Timid actions, hesitations and immobility are no longer allowed. We clearly know our enemy and we know what to do in each region and country to make a difference. Participants will leave the Turkish capital more confident and motivated than ever, and refreshed in their vision and ready to embark on major campaigns and actions that switch the power over to the people. They will return home knowing that they are supported by their brothers and sisters around the world for the noble mission. No more time to waste, it’s time for action! And not just any action, but one that moves people, that goes to work and brings gradually change as desired to save the continent and the planet from the ravages of climate change.

As I sit here, I cannot help to be filled with excitement and overwhelmed with hope because tonight I will be with 500 young people from 133 countries will come to Istanbul and that is around 110 activists from the continent. It is an immense opportunity and I am feeling gratitude that I am here to welcome and support them as we, together, usher in a new era for our generation.