Senegal's capital turns out for first-of-its-kind climate march

by Kathryn M. Werntz | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 1 June 2015 11:58 GMT

Participants in a May 31, 2015, march to raise awareness about climate change and push for action on it gather near a national memorial on the shoreline in Dakar, Senegal. TRF/Kathryn M. Werntz

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“We must transition to only renewable energy, not just for the world but for our country,” says teenage participant

DAKAR, June 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In a first-of-its-kind march in Senegal, nearly a thousand people – including the country’s environmental minister – took to the streets of Dakar Sunday asking for action to deal with climate change.

“People in Senegal will march for anything, but they have never marched for climate before,” said Aissetou Diouf, climate advocacy manager with ENDA Energie, a Senegalese non-profit organisation.

“Africa is the continent most affected by climate change, so we are pushing people to transition from being observers of the problem to becoming engaged with it,” she said.

The march was part of a weekend international mobilisation, in countries from Europe to Africa, aimed at kickstarting public awareness and political support for action on climate change.

Assembling at a national memorial site along Dakar’s coastal road, hundreds of people arrived on local transportation – often rusted trucks with dark fumes billowing from the tailpipes.

Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development Abdoulaye Baldez  led the march.

“The question of climate change is very important to us in the government,” he said in an interview. “Our biggest challenge is to build the capacity of people in terms of resilience and adaptation.”

But some marchers said they doubted the government’s commitment to addressing climate change.

“Slowly people are learning about climate change through awareness-raising,” said Nene Sagno, in her 50s and participating as a member of a Dakar “march club” that supports marches of all kinds to promote freedom of speech. “But the president ignores climate change – I don’t think he’ll listen to us today.”

 

LOOKING TO PARIS

The march comes as U.N. climate change negotiations kick off in Bonn, and seven months ahead of negotiations in Paris that are expected to agree a new global pact to curb climate change and deal with its impacts. Senegal has much at stake, with climate change impacts already reducing rainfall inland and causing coastal flooding as sea level rises and storms worsen.

It, like many sub-Saharan African countries, will needing international funding to help it shift at sufficient scale to cleaner energy and adapt to new climate pressures, including on its farmers, experts say.

A range of local and national efforts are already underway in Senegal.

“Local people know the weather is changing and it’s affecting them – they need to know how to coordinate their efforts to do something about it,” said participant Mandu dos Santos Pinto, a strategist for the flood programme  “Live With Water” in Dakar’s suburbs.

The project is among a range of efforts in the Sahel, East Africa and Asia supported by Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED), a UK aid project to build resilience of some of the world’s most climate-vulnerable people.

“For example, our programme builds resilience by providing planning tools to help people organise themselves,” dos Santos said.

He said that “the success of today’s climate march will lie in whether or not it begins a movement”.

 

DEMANDS ON ENERGY, JOBS

Marchers, including hundreds of teenagers, many from the African Movement of Working Children and Youth (AMWCY), said the need to switch to clean energy was clear.

“We must transition to only renewable energy, not just for the world but for our country,” said 17 year-old demonstrator Joseph Ndecky. He could not define climate change and was not familiar with U.N. climate negotiations, but talked in detail about changing weather, deteriorating coastlines, and the impact of carbon pollution.

“I see climate change as an issue of child protection,” added Khady Diop, a woman in her 20s working for AMWCY.

Marchers Sunday carried homemade placards as they walked behind a small truck outfitted with a sound system and announcer who interspersed blaring popular Senegalese mbalax music with environmental messages.

“Yes we can! Green jobs and green economy!” read one of the signs held by a teenage girl at the march. Organisers put the number of marchers at 954.

High school student Ndecky and his classmate said they were going to look for jobs in sustainable development after finishing school in two years. For now, he hopes the march will get more teenagers to care about natural resources.

“We must start educating people at the household level about the environment,” he said.

Diouf said she hoped the march would at least lead those watching to ask, “Why are these people marching?”

“Our fight against climate change will not start in Paris,” she said. “It starts right here in our communities.”

(Reporting by Kathryn M. Werntz; editing by Laurie Goering)