- Green Rising
- Profile: Climate leaders with answers
Profile: Climate leaders with answers
Ezekiel Nyanfor, 25, founder and executive director of Liberian Youth for Climate Action (LYCA)
Lockdown for many people was a time of isolation, introspection and taking on new hobbies – many of them short-lived. Not so for Ezekiel Nyanfor. The young Liberian studying public health remembers it as a time of spiritual and intellectual awakening. When classes moved online, he chose to skip a semester and take a deep dive into educating himself about the climate crisis via the internet. Every day he read about the Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC framework, the Kyoto Protocol and other international agreements.
In early 2020, he and a small group of like-minded friends founded the Liberian Youth for Climate Action (LYCA), a movement that aims to focus on education, eliminating waste, planting trees, promoting ecological renewal and sustainable livelihoods. Starting an energetic reforestation drive in five communities, he hoped the movement would spread to the whole country.
“Liberia has a unique advantage in discussions about climate change,” he says. It is home to the second-largest expanse of upper Guinean forest in Africa. “Essentially we function as the world’s third lung, along with the Congo basin and the Amazon rainforest.” Three years on, Nyanfor is one of Liberia’s leading young climate activists and developing a toolkit to help other young Liberians become climate ambassadors. “Their task will be to educate young people on what it means to love and to cherish the benefits of nature.”
Nyanfor learned about the importance of self-sufficiency and self-motivation at an early age. Born in Monrovia in 1998, he lost his father when he was five, a victim of the second Liberian civil war. His paternal grandmother took him to live with her in the countryside. A schoolteacher, and a believer in education, she became his greatest childhood influence.
“She would sit me down,” he said, “and tell me there was no one who would play a key role in your life apart from yourself. You have [within you] what it takes to become who you want to become. Remember the family you are from, your background, and always remember how proud we are of you.”
When the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, declared 2020 to be the year of climate action, Nyanfor leapt in himself. At a time when most people were focussed on Covid-19, “we established LYCA as a platform that young people in Liberia, or even across Africa, can use to champion climate action in their local communities.”
The first priority is climate education. Nyanfor wants climate to be a formal subject taught in primary and secondary schools. He and his colleagues have set about making change happen themselves, creating the “Africa Climate Ambassador Toolkit”, a climate research education document that is being rolled out across Liberia, focussing on biodiversity, conservation, loss and damage, climate entrepreneurship and youth inclusion. “I was not taught about climate change in school. [We now know that] the climate crisis is an evolving situation. We’re going to keep updating the toolkit, so academics can use it, teachers can use it, everyone can use it. At school, [learning about] climate change is cool.”