Meet Almaaz:

Almaaz is a Climate Change Activist and a High School Liaison for the Youth Climate Action Plan at the South African Institute of International Affairs (Saiia). Almaaz is in grade 9 at Roedean School and a Multi-award winning debater. She has used the Climate Change agenda to influence policies and leaders at the provincial, national and global levels. She is a regular speaker at both South African and Global events advocating for climate change and youth inclusion in framing the climate agenda. Almaaz believes that “solving climate change is achievable but sustaining climate change gains and maintaining the SDG is complex as this requires a deep understanding of the intersectionality of the climate agenda.”

What are the causes that are important for you and the youth today and why?

The simple things like living in a clean environment. Breathing clean air. Swimming in a clean ocean where fish aren’t going extinct. Living in a sustainable city where you don’t feel guilty to switch on a light because of the carbon-intensive economy that powers it.

I am of the opinion that most of the issues we face today are because we have lost sight of the small things that are meaningful to humanity. We are the generation living with the effects of many harmful social structures and ideologies. It is our mission to decolonize and decentralize many systems. We, the youth, have learned from past mistakes. We aren’t only leaders of the future, the youth are leading now.

What are the projects you are currently working on? What are the challenges you and your organization are facing today?

I am passionate about solving climate change as I believe it is an intersectional topic and crucial to solving most of the world’s problems.

We know that the climate crisis will only be solved if everyone channels their energy and works towards the same goals – the SDGs, to be exact. That’s why we have started a movement among the youth in South Africa to foster a culture change towards protecting our environment. One of our first steps was to organize and mobilize ourselves in a very orderly manner. We did this by starting the Youth Climate Action Plan (YCAP), the first-ever youth climate action plan for South Africa to be submitted as part of the South African delegation’s submission for COP26. I am the national high school liaison of the project and my job is to make sure high schools are equally represented by youth from across the country.

How do you think we can involve young people who want to make an impact but do not have easy access to opportunities of getting involved (because of language, lack of network, difficulties to access and use technology tools…)?

One of the main aims of the YCAP is to make sure everyone has a voice in the final document and to uplift people from the grassroots level up into the implementation plan. For example, I am the high school liaison for the YCAP and I am responsible for making sure all high school students from all socio-economic backgrounds are included. Some challenges we face include: how do you get everyone’s voices heard? How do you appeal to all people?

We have planned a roadshow to teach people about climate change because those that don’t understand climate change will just be followers and can’t truly contribute. Education is the first key step. We have to make the structure simple and easy to understand and this involves storytelling and art.

What is your advice for young people who want to make a positive impact? How should they begin?

Young people are often questioned and ridiculed when they try to advocate for a cause. We must always keep in mind that if your intentions are true you can never be wrong. So many like-minded people are doing the same thing around the world. It would be wonderful if we could all come together to create one strong yet diverse driving force.

In order to solve the climate crisis, we need to innovate and create new technologies. We have to encourage youth to be part of the change, involve them in decision making and we will inherently see a greater focus on long-term, pressing issues, such as climate change and the deployment of AI technologies. In terms of the climate crisis, the more perspectives, the better.

What would you like to tell decision-makers?

When we the youth speak to one another, we speak simply and can make a very complex matter simple. This creates a sense of hope and unity, which is exactly what we need. Climate change is a very complex issue, and we have to create a message of unity and hope, rather than only criticize and not encourage the so-called apocalypse paralysis.

Governments don’t provide multilateral regulations and don’t inspire people to change. Regulators have great plans and laws, but implementation very often fails, which is the most important step! Regulators often regulate companies, which is very good, but sometimes they have never even worked in a company. The policy is not available in different languages and is not even written in everyday, understandable language. What we need in terms of regulation is for everyone to have a voice. We must recognize, especially with climate change, that a one-size-fits-all strategy will never work. We cannot be solely academic in the way we convey information. We must incorporate art and storytelling to open the hearts and minds of people.

(Photo courtesy of Almaaz Mudaly, copyright: Almaaz Mudaly)