Written by Devi Lockwood
I’m standing next to a man wearing a yellow bicycle helmet, chinstrap buckled. From the chin down, he’s business casual, but his head is encased in neon. People in suits surround us. There are no bicycles in sight.
This man and I have run into each other outside the Nordic Pavilion in the Blue Zone of COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco. In the middle of tents full of formally dressed foreign diplomats, he seems joyously out of place. The man greets me with a smile. Inside COP, eye-to- eye contact with strangers is rare. Open smiles are almost extinct.
“I have to ask about the bike helmet,” I said, returning his smile. The man’s name is Andi Costa, I learn, and he’s a cycling advocate from Côte d’Ivoire. We step outside the conference tent to hear each other more clearly, standing side by side under a palm tree.
“I’m wearing this bike helmet for the future of Africa,” Costa says. “My presence at COP22 is to speak to Africans who face global warming.”
For three years, Costa has worked to promote cycling culture in his home country. His project, Green Transportation For All (mydreamforafrica.org), involves installing bike stations in universities across Côte d’Ivoire. He hopes to extend this work elsewhere in Africa.
“Students are the leaders of tomorrow,” Costa says. “If we train and immerse students in a green culture, then they’ll continue to live green.” Back home in Côte d’Ivoire, Costa gives presentations in front of the National Assembly and civil society to encourage the country to think of cycling and development as going hand in hand. “Right now we don’t have much in the way of cycling culture,” he says.
“In the general population, people know how to ride a bike, but don’t use it much.” Costa’s goals are three-fold: 1) to give young people a green method of transport; 2) to promote health; 3) to increase mobility. “Africa is still being developed,” Costa says, “and like the Americans say, ‘time is money.’ Let’s go!” His optimism is contagious.
In a COP22 of action, the time when world leaders have gathered to implement the ambitious targets outlined by the Paris Agreement, Costa represents a commitment from civil society to limit global average temperatures warming to below 2 degrees, and to do so in a way that mobilizes and energizes people.
“My presence here represents a change in mentality,” Costa says. “We need to change how we think about development. The last time President Obama visited Africa he said that Africa is the future. Africa can change the global conversation.”
In a country where almost 60% of the population is younger than 25, focusing on youth is key to enacting cultural change. Costa, with his focus on university students in Côte d’Ivoire, seems to understand this clearly.
“Children are the most important part of the future. When you go to NYC or Copenhagen or Paris, people get around by bicycle,” Costa says. “Bicycles are cultural. When I go home to Côte d’Ivoire, people tell me I’m crazy. And that’s okay, because it’s the good craziness that will change the world.”
Here’s to more of that “good kind of crazy” at COP22––goodness knows we need it.