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Minding Africa’s mental wellness amidst the heat of a climate crisis crucial; a case Study of COP28

Over the last two weeks in Dubai, African activists at the forefront of climate justice during COP28 have confronted a formidable battle.

The unyielding heat of Dubai mirrored the intensity of negotiations within the conference halls, where African representatives tirelessly advocated for a sustainable future.

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Despite their apparent resolve, a deeper fatigue persists, arising not only from the intricate negotiations but also from the weight of unfulfilled promises and broken deals. Amid passionate pleas and fervent negotiations, a critical aspect often overlooked is the need for a comprehensive wellness check to safeguard the mental well-being of these frontline warriors—the African delegates.

Dr. Loise Lambert, a distinguished positive psychology expert, workplace well-being advisor, and COP28 attendee, underscores the significance of acknowledging the toll on mental well-being during these critical discussions. Her sentiments encapsulate the collective struggle faced by African delegates, grappling not just with the complexity of negotiations but also the emotional burden of witnessing the profound impact of climate change on their communities.

According to the 2021 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the repercussions of climate change have led to a significant direct impact on millions of individuals globally, especially those residing in vulnerable and low-income areas.

The report emphasizes that extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and disruptions in agricultural patterns that have adversely affected millions of people. Referring to the 2020 IPCC report, it was noted that over 100 million individuals were already facing the consequences of climate change, with projections indicating a potential escalation in the decades ahead unless robust mitigation measures are implemented.

These latest figures highlight the pressing need for immediate and collective efforts to address climate change and its profound effects on communities across the globe (IPCC, 2021; IPCC, 2020).

In Kenya, many organizations addressing personal wellness and emotional exhaustion, such as the Leadhers Africa, Minet and others have emerged as pillars of support. Through conferences featuring speakers from across the continent, these foundations sheds light on the emotional toll of environmental advocacy, focusing on discussing emotional exhaustion in work environments and providing a platform for activists to share experiences and strategies for maintaining mental well-being.

The strength of our people, whether in negotiation rooms or grassroots efforts, lies not only in the continent’s resilience against climate disasters but also in its inherent understanding of community. Ubuntu, the philosophy of interconnectedness, becomes a potent tool in our fight—not just for the land but for mental stability. Peer support groups and shared narratives of hardship and hope form a consistent rhythmic pulse, providing healing and nourishment to those on the frontline.

However, relying solely on internal strength and interventions from home may prove insufficient. COP28 and future climate negotiations must prioritize the mental wellness of participants.

Ideally, competent mental health services, accessible to all delegates, are not a luxury but a necessity. Flexible work arrangements, acknowledging the emotional toll of negotiations, can be a transformative approach. The impactful break from COP on the eighth day further underscores the importance of these considerations.

Diversity and inclusion must be integral to climate justice negotiations. Ensuring representation from all corners of the continent, including seasoned veterans and passionate youth activists, cultivates a richer network of experiences and perspectives, fostering a sense of belonging and leading to more equitable solutions.

Moreover, self-care should not be underestimated amidst the whirlwind of negotiations. Encouraging delegates to prioritize sleep, exercise, and healthy eating is not a sign of weakness but a strategic act of resilience, especially given the high costs of food at COP28.

A rested mind is one which is sharp, capable of navigating complex arguments and standing firm against ulterior interests. COP28 is not merely about securing climate deals but also about safeguarding the mental well-being of those fighting for our collective future.

By acknowledging the unique challenges faced by African delegates and prioritizing their mental health, we can create a space where they stand tall in the heat, their voices clear, their minds sharp, and their spirits unbroken.

Let climate justice negotiations be a testament not only to environmental justice but also to the unwavering spirit of Africa—a continent that heals its wounds with ubuntu and fights for its future with unwavering resolve, one mindful breath at a time.


The author is the Human Resource manager at Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA)

Ann Kobia Gitonga
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