Solving the Climate Crisis Inclusively
By Raakhee Suryaprakash
“I have no time to be angry, I am not just a girl from India I am a girl from Earth. … I am not here to speak about the future. I am the future. … my generation will live to see the consequences of our actions today. … new vision for a new future. You need to invest your time, money and effort in us to shape our future.”
-- Vinisha Umashanker,
Earthshot Prize 2021 finalist at COP26 World Leaders Summit
“I am at COP26 to raise global awareness and consciousness around ways to protect and heal Mother Earth. I am here to gather allies from and for indigenous communities around the world. As the first stewards of the land and ocean our traditional knowledge can guide the way. All together we hold the keys to solving the issues of militarization, climate change and climate colonialism. We are not passive victims and I am here to amplify the voices of those who live on the frontlines [of the Climate Emergency]”
-- Sheila J. Babauta,
Obama Foundation’s Asia-Pacific Leader, youngest elected leader 21st Northern Marianas Commonwealth Legislature, introducing 44th US president Barak Obama ahead of his address at COP26
Image: UN / Tim McKulka
As the Glasgow Climate Summit (COP26) went into overtime to reach an underwhelming agreement, it’s the voices of young women at the summit, in the sidelines and protesting outside whose voices that truly resonate. Amidst a climate emergency that needs to be addressed immediately to avoid a tipping point, one thing this most exclusionist of climate conferences in recent times has revealed is the need for inclusive, indigenous people–led, gender equal, multi-layered, just transition if we are to ensure “climate action now”. The “too male, too pale and too stale,” (quoting former Irish president & UN Human Right Commissioner Mary Robinson on COP26) rooms of “blah, blah, blah” (quoting Greta Thunberg) are too committed to maintaining the status quo that’s as patriarchal as its polluting and as climate unjust as its gender and socially unjust.
As I tracked the COP26 – sessions in tandem to it and news from it – online from Chennai amidst the devastating flooding, power-cuts and lost internet and mobile signals that accompanies the annual monsoon and cyclone season in my city (climate frontline– and third world–problems that are slowly but incrementally creeping into first world lives too), it becomes urgent to act in the interest of people and planet not fossil fuel lobbies and the interest of other carbon intensive wealthy individuals, megacorps, MNCs, industries and trailing world leaders who are focussed only on re-election and the bottomline. This bias was glaringly obvious at the Glasgow COP where fossil fuel lobbyists were welcomed into the negotiations (blue zone of COP26) while leaders and activists from the frontlines of the climate catastrophe – indigenous and developing communities – were denied a seat at the table. COVID19 became the convenient fall guy to keep out activists and crowds with personal testimonies of loss and damage to share as most were restricted to the green zone and the streets of Glasgow if they could even afford to be there.
In answer to a vital question on “how to achieve a cultural shift from an extractive society to an inclusive system” during the Vital Voices webinar “The Intersection of SDG 13 with Issue Advocacy” ahead of the scheduled penultimate day of COP26, Carolina Rudnick of Fundacion Libera stressed the connections between climate change, modern slavery and human trafficking for the same systems that exploit people are also those that exploit the planet. Forced labour and exploitation powers the dirtiest industries with their ginormous ecological and carbon footprints. The actions of these exploitative and extractive juggernauts in turn accelerates climate change and the vicious cycles continues to enslave more people. Veronica Sabbag of United Voices 4 Peace thus rightly recommended “persistence and action at all levels” to achieve a robust, just and multidimensional power transition. Youth activist and documentary film maker Kasha Sequoia Slavner – joining the session from Glasgow called for the trifecta “Decolonize, Decarbonize and Demilitarize” to dismantle oppressive systems of power and empower grassroots voices.
This phrasing has made me eager for the release of her documentary 1.5 Degrees of Peace because global warming goes hand-in-hand with global warmongering. And in answer to my question on how to get grassroots voices heard in places where they can influence policy change, Kahea Pacheco of Women’s Earth Alliance with her experiences at the intersection of climate, law and gender justice (SDG 13 + SDG 5, SDG 10 & SDG 16) empowering, enabling and amplifying grassroots voices in corridors of power had a very insightful answer. She said that by providing grassroots leaders with support and whatever resources they needed to secure a seat at the table was key. The tools of empowerment – to ensure bottom-up development and just transition – community leaders, especially women leaders and indigenous leaders, need to be equipped with technology, tools, money, mentors, allies and alliances so that they are empowered to raise their voices where they need to be heard.
Kahea emphasized the need to highlight the role of women and indigenous people as agents of change and climate-gender-social just solutions rather than the shopworn idea of them as victims and powerless beneficiaries looking for hand-outs. Habiba Ali the clean energy entrepreneur (SDG 13 + SDG7, SDG1 & SDG8) from Nigeria is a prime example of a women leader and powerful agent of climate action enabling climate-gender-social just solutions in her country. Through clean cookstoves sold by a network of women tonnes of carbon emission (2.9 tonnes of CO2 annually) were halted while tacking poverty and providing decent work and better lives and livelihood to many Nigerian women. In response to the food wastage due to halted supply chains following the harvest and COVID19 lockdown, the 7 solar drying hubs set up across northern Nigeria - headed and operationalized by women’s collectives – has saved over 210 tonnes of carbon dioxide by reducing food waste all while creating new products and revenue streams for women, food producers and farmers in Nigeria. That’s powerful climate action and economic growth; that’s sustainable development and advancement of the global goals.
Similarly Indian teenager, “innovator, artist, entrepreneur and environmentalist,” Vinisha Umashankar’s climate action and leadership through her clean energy–clean air innovation the solar ironing cart got this schoolgirl a “seat at the table” at COP26 through her recognition by the Earthshot Prize and Royal Foundation. She got to address world leaders and participants at the meeting to discuss clean energy and innovation at the Glasgow climate conference. Her powerful GenZ voice was amplified and heard by them and the world at large on the crucial subject of climate just solutions. Vinisha reminded everyone that there is no STOP button for climate change and exhorted us all, especially the world leaders and industry leaders present, to “Stop talking and start doing” and support the ecosystem restoring innovations and projects of the Earthshot Prize 2021 finalists and winners instead of “an economy built on fossil fuels, smoke and pollution.”
At the SHE Changes Climate: Champions of Solutions COP26 event while “Exploring the cause and effect of the absence of women in decision-making”, the panel – the very opposite of the usual manels of COP26 – highlighted how in countries with higher status of women there was better climate policy and how statistically women in power bring in better climate policy and better implementation of it. While emphasizing the worrying trend that while “the climate crisis affects us all yet only men are making the decisions that affects all our future,” they demonstrated the urgent need for the implementation and mainstreaming of the Gender Action Plan: For while activists on the ground and protesting on the street of Glasgow during the conference were mostly led by young women and girls and across the globe multitudes of climate solutions are being presented by women innovators, entrepreneurs, farmers, community and grassroots leaders, inside the conference at the negotiating table there were no women.
Just 7% of world leaders and heads of delegations at COP26 were women and only 16% of attendees were women. A far-cry from the 50-50 power sharing goal. Even worse is the fact highlighted by Vital Voices CEO Alyse Nelson: only 2% of the world’s development dollars went to women-led initiatives. Hence the Champions of Solutions panel’s recommendations are spot-on:
Changing vulnerability to strength by amplifying and seeking inspiration from others on the path to just transition. Boosting the “Race to Resilience” by building bridges, creating networks, seeking out allies and thus empowering and taking along women changemakers for as ecology demonstrates, “diversity maximizes resilience” and finally being courageous, persistent and insistent in the quest to usher in an era of climate-gender-social justice and much needed SDG13 – Climate Action.
Such sustained efforts to secure a seat at the table will go a long way in countering public inertia and complacency, misinformation campaigns, manels as well as the powerful fossil fuel and other lobbies committed to maintaining the polluting and patriarchal status quo. The Climate Rights 4 All video marathon shown online and at COP26 on November 5th at least was a impactful shared space for concerned citizens from across globe as it put together myriad 1-minute videos of people’s testimonies of how climate change affects them personally and their hopes from world leaders at the Glasgow Summit (here is my two-cents worth!).
While introducing Obama, Sheila Babauta described the plight of her islands, as much on the frontlines of climate change as beside the deepest point on the planet the Mariana Trench:
“On my islands storms are now unpredictable and frequently transform into super typhoons strong enough to impact our economy, destroy homes and create fear at the very sound of wind gusts and heavy rain all while our shoreline continues to disappear. As a son of the Asia Pacific, President Obama understands how indigenous people are keepers of the land and we are deeply connected to it. He recognises that impacted communities must have a seat at the table as we ensure accountability and action for all parties who create large emission.”
Obama himself hoping to be more effective than when he was the US president attending a climate summit, at COP26 as a “private citizen” and self-described as the “hype man” for the head of the US negotiating team “climate czar John Kerry” (see the meme in my other article “The Joke That Is Negotiating Environmental Policy” here) emphasized that “cynicism is the recourse of cowards. We cannot afford hopelessness.” To address the collective climate grief and climate anxiety he shared his mother’s advice for whenever he felt anxious, helpless or depressed, “Don’t sulk, get busy.” Great advice just like his powerful words to Rep. Babauta when she was but a young girl questioning the most powerful man on the planet about the militarization which in turn shaped her journey to a place of leadership and the COP26 itself: “Several years ago I asked President Obama a question about the military presence in the Pacific islands. He answered, raise awareness, gather allies and unify voices.”
In conclusion as we work to ensure just transitions to address the threat multiplier that is climate change, I urge you to remember this quote from American climate scientist Dr Katherine Hayhoe at the prolonged COP26: “When you are taking action for climate, it’s not for climate change, it’s for you. It’s for your family, it’s for everything you love, everyone you love, every place that you love – that’s why you’re doing it.”
For your reference & to remind you these are the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs):
(SDG 1) No Poverty, (SDG 2) Zero Hunger, (SDG 3) Good Health and Well-being, (SDG 4) Quality Education, (SDG 5) Gender Equality, (SDG 6) Clean Water and Sanitation, SDG (7) Affordable and Clean Energy, (SDG 8) Decent Work and Economic Growth, (SDG 9) Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, (SDG 10) Reducing Inequality, (SDG 11) Sustainable Cities and Communities, (SDG 12) Responsible Consumption and Production, (SDG 13) Climate Action, (SDG 14) Life Below Water, (SDG 15) Life On Land, (SDG 16) Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions, (SDG 17) Partnerships for the Goals.
And to read about 33 women working to advance the SDGs in India, do check out:
She Is: Stories of women advancing the sustainable development goals in India compiled by Elsamarie D’silva with illustrations by Supreet K. Singh (Notion Press: November 2021).