Kelo Uchendu, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Nigeria, founded the Gray2Green movement in 2018.
Grey2Green raises awareness about climate justice and works on student-led engineering projects to innovate new sustainable technology. Gray2Green began as a campus effort among seven friends working to spark conversations about climate change among their peers, but has since grown to include over 700 youth climate activists and parents, at the University and beyond. Kelo connects with like minded global changemakers through USAID’s Youth Lead program.
Growing up in Nigeria, Kelo saw firsthand the impacts of climate change on his community, particularly in pervasive droughts with devastating consequences on local agricultural economies. Now, in his work with Gray2Green, Kelo works to improve public understanding of the causes and effects of climate change, and to galvanize his community to combat environmental change.
He’s especially passionate about educating his peers on environmental topics. One major accomplishment of Gray2Green has been persuading the University of Nigeria to incorporate climate change into its curricula, so that the rising generation of professionals enters the workforce with a solid understanding of major environmental problems — and solutions.
“The youth climate movement brings that unrivaled energy to climate action,” Kelo says. “They approach issues in ways that parents would never think of.”
Kelo also wants to harness the passion and creativity of young people toward a greener future for Nigeria. He believes that it is essential for developing nations to incorporate sustainable practices while also building their economies, and that the key to this is developing sustainable technology and fostering collaboration between a variety of national stakeholders.
Using Nigeria as an example, Kelo explains that a major issue for his home country is transitioning to sustainable power sources. He believes that power is essential for developing nations’ economic development, but that Nigeria and other countries need to be thoughtful about power sources and invest in renewables.
“Renewables give developing nations an opportunity to substitute away from convention and towards the advantages of low-carbon technologies, which have a huge range of benefits” Kelo says, “So, they are actually better-suited for our most vulnerable communities.”
According to Kelo, renewable energy also has unique potential to provide electricity to off-grid and otherwise hard-to-reach communities, making it not just an important step towards sustainability, but also a climate justice measure.
Another focus for Kelo and Gray2Green is electrical mobility. Kelo’s interest in transportation technology began when he led a team of 12 fellow engineering students to design and develop a prototype electric vehicle for the Shell Eco-marathon competition. Afterwards, he joined a vehicle innovation research group at the University of Nigeria, where he contributed to the development of the first locally fabricated electric campus shuttle. Kelo sees electric mobility as an essential component to sustainability, both in Nigeria and worldwide.
“The transportation industry contributes a whooping 24% to global carbon emissions, yet it is an indispensable part of our day-to-day life. So we cannot talk about transitioning to a more sustainable future without rethinking the transportation industry”.
Kelo’s work on electric vehicles highlights Gray2Green’s focus on engineering innovation as well as traditional activism. Individuals in the group have worked on a range of sustainable technology projects, including Creation Energy, a system which generates electricity from wastewater. Now, Gray2Green’s leadership is working on an energy-efficient stove intended to replace wood-burning cooking practices in Nigerian communities.
Kelo and his peers believe that in order for developing nations to substitute away from conventional approaches and toward the advantages of low-carbon technologies, they’ll need more than just scientific innovation; instead, it is key to merge the insights of the government, private sector, and academic research.
“There are big issues here, but we can’t move forward if the academy, government, industry, and community don’t work together.”
Furthermore, Kelo believes that securing a sustainable future for Nigeria will require support from the global north.
“In the Global South, people are directly reliant on ecosystems that are collapsing. My ask of those in the Global North is that if you have the resources to support mitigating the impact of climate change in other countries, do it. Not as an act of charity, but as the moral thing to do.”
Though the climate crisis looms large, both in Nigeria and around the world, Kelo and Gray2Green are hopeful that young people will be able to lead the way toward solutions.
“Youth bring attention to the need for urgent action,” Kelo told me in an interview. “Yes, we have adults who have done great work in climate science and that is great, the youth climate movement has the unique ability to bring a voice of morality: It is our future that is at stake."