Young Kenyan activist fights for climate justice

Julius Mbatia is a young Kenyan climate activist. He has been pushing for years for policies that will reduce the impacts of climate change that are forcing many people in his country to earn less, live in poverty, and go hungry.

“Countries like Kenya are the victims of CO2 emissions from rich countries. And in Kenya, only about 10 percent of the people have a certain amount of power and wealth to do something about climate change. My work as an activist fights the injustice that perpetuates this inequality.”

Young Kenyans deserve to have a say in climate policy.

Julius felt the injustice of climate change at a young age himself. “My mother used to sell fresh fruits and vegetables at a local market. Over time, the produce we normally sold during a particular season wasn’t available any more. Rising temperatures and more frequent droughts were ruining harvests. Our income dwindled and we couldn’t make ends meet. That was tough. I thought, ‘What’s happening? Why is this happening to us?’ That’s when I realized what climate change was and that I had to do something about it.”

Natural disasters and famine

Today, Kenya is still plagued by natural disasters caused by climate change. “Drought is a major problem at the moment. Livestock is dying and crops are failing. As a result, many Kenyans have lost their income and are going hungry. To make matters worse, last year we had a major flood that left 200,000 people homeless. Our tea sector yield is also declining rapidly. All these problems are creating inhumane situations that violate our human rights.”

Not enough space for young people yet

Julius is Global Climate Justice Manager at ACT Alliance, an organization that works to improve the lives of poor and marginalized people in more than 120 countries. He is also coordinator of Youth 4 SDGs Kenya, a partner organization of Hivos. This youth platform wants to give Kenyan young people a voice in shaping policy on climate and sustainable development. “In my work I mainly focus on young Kenyans because they deserve to have a say in climate policy. The government isn’t giving them enough opportunities to determine their own future. That’s unjust.”

Julius Mbatia. Photo: Churchill Oele | Hivos

Innovative ideas and perspectives

Although only 27, Julius has been fighting climate change for more than 10 years. Right after high school he started a youth organization to make people aware of the consequences of climate change. “It’s very important we involve young people. They have innovative ideas and perspectives and are critical of the ruling establishment. Furthermore, they have the most to lose if we fail, because they will still be on this planet. Unfortunately, those in power often see young people as naive, incapable, and unreliable, and exclude them from climate decision-making.”

Part of the solution

Fortunately, Julius’ work is bearing fruit. “Youth 4 SDGs Kenya has worked closely with the Kenyan government to ensure that young people can contribute ideas for developing key policy frameworks, including the National Climate Action Plan. We are also part of the Kenyan delegation that participates in the UN COP climate talks, where we represent Kenyan youth. But just giving young people a stage is not enough; they must be able to participate and decide. My dream is that there will be a special program within the government for and by young people that will let young people participate in decision-making about climate solutions. This way, young people can really become part of the solution. That’s what I’ll be fully committed to in the coming years.”

Voices for Climate Action

We work with Julius through our Voices for Climate Action program, which aims to ensure that local civil society and underrepresented groups take on a central role as creators, facilitators and advocates of innovative climate solutions. We help them organize and campaign effectively and provide a network in which they can reinforce each other. The program also works to create widespread societal support for locally-shaped climate solutions.